IN July 2017, the news that Nigeria’s first choice team goalkeeper, Carl Ikeme, had been diagnosed with acute leukaemia, came to many Nigerians as a rude shock. He had returned abnormal blood results during the pre-season medical of his English Championship club, Wolverhampton.
The development was reminiscent of Kanu Nwankwo, another Nigerian soccer idol, whose career was almost cut short after he was diagnosed with a heart valve defect in 1996. Following this disheartening diagnosis, Kanu bravely submitted to heart surgery which turned out quite successful. “Papillo”, as he was fondly called, emerged from it to achieve more memorable feats in football.
Similarly, Ikeme accepted a tough and unpredictable treatment for his ailment. And after “a tough year of intense chemotherapy”, he announced in June 2018 that he was in complete remission from acute leukaemia. This had immediately raised hope that he could continue with his football career which was in ascendancy before it was punctuated.
But sadly, he announced, last week Friday that after consultations with medical experts he was retiring from the game of football which he loved so much. Though caught by surprise, the soccer world has since been reacting with compassion and empathy, offering him words of gratitude and encouragement.
For instance, the Executive Chairman of his club, The Wolves, Jeff Shi said of him: “Having been at the club since the age of 14, Carl is far more than just a player in our eyes – he is our brother and an important part of our family. When Carl came to tell us his news, yes there was sadness, but also great happiness to see him so healthy and hungry for the opportunities that lay ahead of him”.
His international teammates in the Super Eagles, officials of the Nigerian Football Federation, NFF, and other Nigerians are not left out: They have also reached out to Ikeme with love and encouragement at his moment of trial and triumph over adversity.
Ikeme came to the consciousness of most Nigerians after he was invited to replace retiring Vincent Enyeama as goalkeeper of the Super Eagles. He had then gone ahead to earn 10 caps for Nigeria, particularly helping the country to qualify for the just-ended FIFA World Cup in Russia. He is reputed to have played over 200 times for Wolves before hanging his boots.
Though he could not make it to the World Cup, he was widely regarded as the “24th player” on the Super Eagles team list, with Technical Adviser Gernot Rohr, expressing regret over his unavailability due to ill-health.
We join all Nigerians to appreciate Carl Ikeme for his patriotism and services to Nigeria. We pray the Almighty keeps him safe and make his healing permanent.
Thank you, Carl Ikeme!