Chairman, Heartland Football Club of Owerri, Chibuzo Etuemena, has rejected the alleged claim by the Deputy Speaker, Imo State House of Assembly, Ugonna Ozuruigbo, that he led the former Nigerian champions to relegation in the outgone season.
Heartland suffered relegation to the lower league for the first time in their history this season, prompting calls by some stakeholders for a probe of the events that led to the demotion.
A statement by Ozuruigbo at the weekend announced the dissolution of the board of the Owerri-based team with Etuemena now to serve as the general manager of the club. The speaker also accused Etuemena of leading the club to relegation.
Reacting to the statement yesterday, Etuemena said, “I wish to state here that I took over as chairman of Heartland FC from the same Hon. Ozuruigbo about three months ago, specifically on July 25, 2016.
“By this time, Heartland were already deep in relegation having placed 18th position on a 20 team league table with 29 points after 28 matches in addition to a suspended three points deduction punishment, three-match closed doors ban and other sanctions from the League Management Company (LMC).
“Under my predecessor, Heartland were already eliminated from the Federation Cup at round of 64 by one amateur team at Oleh in Delta State and the Imo State FA Cup was also won by Papilo FC, who defeated Heartland in the final, thereby creating a record of being the only other team to win the cup since the creation of Heartland in 1976.
“With this, it was obvious that I was inheriting a very poor team that was poorly assembled, poorly-prepared and poorly-motivated in that season by my immediate predecessor yet, that was not the only challenge.
“The management team I took over from had left very sour relations with key stakeholders which made it difficult for Heartland to get the needed co-operation. For instance, the state FA and the state sports council were being denied the little stipend that accrue to them whenever Heartland play their home matches while many other stakeholders were treated with disdain and this did not give them any room to support Heartland until I came and started reconciling them with the club.”
He also alleged that the management team that preceded his tenure had “either ruffled shoulders or offended many referees, football officials including officials of other clubs, LMC officials and even some NFF officials and Heartland were therefore, suffering a silent backlash which accounted for the position the club found itself before I came in.”
He urged his immediate predecessor to take responsibility for Heartland’s relegation “because these facts are known to everybody.”
On the dissolution of his board, Etuemena said he would only accept that if the order came from the state
Government, which appointed him as chairman of the club, adding, “If my position is to change, the same government will write and inform me that I am no longer the chairman of the club but this has not happened.
“I have checked and found that the government has neither removed me as chairman nor has it directed anybody to dissolve my management team.”