“I’m happy with what I’ve achieved.”
With those words, Carl Ikeme not only brought an end to his short but positively eventful football career, it also highlighted the fact that the England-born Nigerian is a champion.
The 32-year old retires at an age when goalkeepers are in their prime, but his short period with the Super Eagles of Nigeria was quite a rewarding one for both parties. The one-club man has been with Wolverhampton Wanderers through thick and thin, from being a 14-year old to going down the muddy waters of League One and up to the Premiership before suffering relegation back to the Championship with the Midlands club.
In top form as Wolves undisputed number one, his call-up came at a time the country was looking towards her players living abroad but with Nigerian roots. Carl Onuora Ikeme, who is of Onitsha descent in eastern Nigeria, made his debut for the Super Eagles in 2005 against Tanzania in their African Cup of Nations qualifier. The match ended goalless, and his clean sheet, earned with numerous saves, was the difference which pulled out a point for the Eagles.
In the aftermath of the match, the Legendary Kanu Nwankwo gave a proverbial assessment, stating that the country “gained a son” with Ikeme back playing for his paternal nation. Mercurial Jay-Jay Okocha also proclaimed that Nigeria “finally got the keeper we have been waiting for.” The man he was to succeed, Vincent Enyeama, also gave him “credit” for the wonderful performance, while Ikeme himself was humble, declaring it as “a great feeling putting on that jersey for Nigeria and a dream come true.”
Ikeme first got his call of duty in 2007 but injury held him back and he was lost in time. Eight years later, he, however, thought someone was winding him up when he was notified by his club of another opportunity to represent his fatherland. Thrust into action by then Super Eagles coach, Sunday Oliseh, he would go on to make nine more appearances for the national team, three of which were crucial in laying the foundations that took Nigeria to the Russia Fiesta. He kept clean sheets in the double-legged preliminary qualification tie against Swaziland, while it was at Zambia, in the qualifiers proper, where his calm persona helped the defence hold forth to defeat The Chipolopolo 2-1 right in their backyard, inflicting on them their first home defeat in World Cup qualifiers since 2009, and those three points set the tone for a successful qualifying series which is always a rugged affair in Africa.
Described as a “captain-type player” by his club, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Ikene was thought to be the long-term successor of Enyeama the country has been searching for in goal before a routine test during preseason last summer broke the news of his acute leukaemia condition. The news left Wolves distraught, but it was in Nigeria that it caused more ripples, the nation left shattered and emotions poured in from all corners of the country, while the ‘keeper with a pair of safe hands promised to bounce back.
His importance to the national set-up was highlighted when an NFF team led by President, Amaju Pinnick, departed from its non-challant attitude of the past towards its players to visit him at The Christie Clinic in Manchester where he was undergoing chemotherapy treatment to show their solidarity, and he was also invited to take the ceremonial kick off at the Super Eagles’ pre-World Cup friendly encounter against England in London.
A year on from the news and he has kept his promise, defeating the disease just like he keeps out goals, but just as Stilijan Petrov discovered, its was not medically possible to return to the playing pitch.
The imposing 6ft 3in goalkeeper was duly honoured in Russia, being listed as the 24th squad member of the national team to the FIFA World Cup party, while Iceland, whom have striker and Ikeme’s former teammate at Wolves, Jon Dadi Bodvarsson, in their squad, sent a solidarity message to him and presented him a signed jersey on the eve of their 0-2 defeat by the Super Eagles.
Ikeme played over 200 games for Wolves but his time as a Super Eagle will be well remembered, and his absence which will be felt because of his assured displays in goal was aptly described by Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr, who stated prior to the Russia tournament that his “biggest regret is the absence of Carl.”
The sports desk and management of TheCable congratulate Carl Ikeme, a Super Eagle, for soaring high in victory above Acute Leukaemia, and wish for him a happy retirement.