BY ADEBAYO OLODAN
Carl Onora Ikeme last week officially announced that his association with football has come to an end despite his recovery from acute leukaemia.
When the news of the 32-year-old being diagnosed of the disease was announced July last year, it was apparent that it was going to be difficult if not impossible for the goalkeeper to return to active football anytime soon.
For 18 years, Ikeme was on the books of Wolverhampton Wanderers and he could have kept goal for the team on their return to the Premiership but for his illness.
Ikeme has proven beyond doubt that he is not just good between the sticks, this time he fought a battle on the hospital bed and he was able to come out without losing his life to cancer.
It was interesting to see high profile goalkeepers such as Petr Cech, Iker Casillas, Joe Hart among others sign one Carl Ikeme song in honour of the former Super Eagles keeper following his retirement from football.
Ikeme made his debut under former Super Eagles coach Sunday Oliseh in the Africa Nations Cup qualifier against Tanzania in September 2015.
The discovery of the Wolverhampton Wanderers goalkeeper coincided with the retirement of Vincent Enyeama, who is the nation’s trusted keeper for over a decade. Many had spelled doom for the national team until the emergence of Ikeme.
Ikeme was the quiet and not the domineering type like Enyeama, yet he gets the job done on the pitch. The Wolves keeper never had any issues with his teammates or coaching staff compared to his predecessor.
Unlike many other keepers who had terrible debut in goal for their national teams, Ikeme kept goal for the Eagles like he had been with the team for a while leaving coach Oliseh to shower him with praises after the match.
With a toothless Eagles attack and an uncoordinated midfield, Ikeme was the solitary reason Nigeria secured a draw against the minnows.
“Carl Ikeme had a great game for us. He saved us from defeat, “Oliseh said after the match.
He went on to impress in other matches for the Super Eagles and he became a crowd favorite leaving many to forget how good Enyeama was during his time in goal for the national team.
That Nigeria qualified for the 2018 World Cup should be attributed partly to the heroics of Ikeme between the sticks and it was not out of order that he joined the rest of the squad as an alternate player on the trip to Russia.
Nigerians would have seen a much better Francis Uzoho if the veteran Ikeme were to be still active. Ikechukwu Ezenwa and the erratic Daniel Akpeyi would also have grown in confidence and stature between the sticks.
Now that Ikeme’s career is over, I was particularly impressed to read that the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) offered to fund his coaching course programme and to install him as goalkeepers’ trainer in the senior national team. Ikeme was a hero with the national team and he deserves such treatment from those at the helms of affairs at the NFF.
For a long time, we have not seen the NFF show their support to an ex-international the way they have rise in support of Ikeme. In the past, the NFF have reneged on their promises and it remains to be seen whether the football house will fulfill its pledge to Ikeme this time.