Enyimba midfielder, Ikechukwu ‘Mosquito’ Ibenegbu was at his emotional best when he received Sunday Sports Vanguard at his palatial family house in Abakaliki. Pouring out his career adventure, the slim Ibenegbu went down memory lane for a career that has spanned 13 years. The Industrial Micro Biology graduate of Imo State University recounts the roles late Shuaibu Amodu and Kelechi Emeteole played in his career. Eagles camp. In this interview with BUCHI JNR, Ibenegbu says his family is his greatest career possession, revealing also that not playing in Europe is his biggest career regret.
You appear very popular here in Abakaliki. Just at first asking, I was directed correctly to your home…..
IBENEGBU: (Cuts in) Yes, I was born and brought up here. My parents live here too. My family stay here too. Though I’m from Ideato, Imo State, I feel comfortable here. Abakaliki is a small town but organised, quiet and peace loving. Each time we are on break or off season, I come down here to spend the period with my family, parents, relations and friends too.
How large is your family?
Three kids, a girl and two boys. Girl first and then two boys.
I can call you ‘mosquito’ even in your house….
(laughs) You are free. It is a nick name people call me all over especially my fans.
You missed Enyimba’s crucial games last season especially in the CAF Confederation Cup group stage as well as in the knock out stages…
(Cuts in) I felt so bad about it. Missing those games especially the quarter finals and semi final games against Rwanda and Raja Casablanca. It was hard to take because I was signed to contribute my quota to the success of Enyimba. It was really sad but then I commend my teammates for holding out high in my absence and reaching as far as the semifinals. I know many did not expect us to go that far because we started slowly at the early stage. I just hope that in the coming season Enyimba will win all the trophies we compete for on the domestic scene so that we can go back to the continent.
What in your opinion made Enyimba not to win the CAF Confederation Cup this year?
It is sad we lost. It is a team game so we lost as a team. If we had won as had been the case in the past, it would still have been a team success. But personally, I thought I would have won my first African trophy this year with Enyimba. Remember, in 2009 I came close to winning the CAF champions League with Heartland but we lost to TP Mazembe in the final on away goal rule. We won 2-1 in Owerri but lost 1-0 in Congo.
Looking back at your trophy cabinet, what do you see?
(Laughs) One League trophy which I won with Enyimba in 2007 and two FA Cups which I won with Heartland in 2011 and 2012.
Tell us about your Super Eagles career.
I was invited for the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations finals preparation but I did not make the final list. I was also in the final training camp for the 2012 AFCON. I payed in a friendly match against Angola but again missed the final cut. But before then, in 2007 I was invited to the U23 Eagles for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China, though I did not make it to China.
What would you say is your career regret?
The dream of every player is to play in Europe. Of course, such player would also want to play for his national team. I also share this dream or ambition but it doesn’t seem to have come especially playing in Europe. It is not that such opportunity never came for me to move. I remember in 2009 when I was playing for Heartland of Owerri. I was invited for trials by Bnei Yehuda of Israeli which Dele Aiyenugba was keeping for at the time. When I arrived Israel, I stayed with Dele in his house and the trial was successful. They started negotiating my transfer with Chief Ignatius Okeahialam, chairman of Heartland. But because of our CAF champions League semi final against Kano Pillars, Okeahialam asked me to come back and that discussions will continue after the match.
We won the game 4-0 in Owerri and 1-0 in Kano. After that, we started preparation for the final against TP Mazembe and along the line Yehuda coach scouted another player elsewhere and signed him. I lost that opportunity.
We beat Mazembe 2-1 in Owerri and lost 0-1 in Congo, losing the cup on away goal rule. Of course, since then, some managers have been calling but at the end nothing came. That was how close I came to playing in Europe.
How long do you think you can still play before retirement?
I don’t know precisely how many years. Right now I still feel strong to continue I don’t want to retire because of injury. But whenever I feel weak and can no longer play, maybe in three or four years, I will quit. But God decides everything.
Among Nigerian players, who is your idol?
John Obi Mikel. I love him so much. He is so humble, calm, gentle and accommodating.
In Europe who is your idol?
Cesc Fabregas. He plays the kind of football I love and play too. He gives passes quickly and never holds onto the ball for long. He also follows his passes for supports in search of goals.