His emergence on the Nigerian soccer scene as the newest kid-on-the-block and goalkeeping safe-hands came with fanfare. Without much ado, many immediately considered Carl Ikeme as the capable replacement for long-time Super Eagles Keeper and Captain, Vincent Enyeama, who retired from international duty under controversial circumstances. But the breaking news about his health status has set rolling a season of disturbing thoughts among Nigerian soccer fans who have come to appreciate the ebullient keeper whose roots are traced to Onitsha in Anambra State
Carl Onuora Ikeme, born in Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, the 31-year-old proved an instant hit on his National team debut with the Super Eagles. Dazzling and in spectacular form on the day, many sang his name to high heavens as the nation’s new goalkeeping hero.
He won the hearts of Nigerians in that first game against Taifa Stars of Tanzania in Dar es Salaam that ended goalless. Ikeme was indeed the difference between defeat and a vital point for the Super Eagles. Indeed, his stepping on to the scene came at a time when Nigeria, as a football-loving nation, was in dire need of safe hands in the goalposts.
Suddenly, the great dreams seem to be going awry with the goalkeeper, who plays for English second tier side, Wolverhampton Wanderers, being diagnosed with acute leukaemia. Reported to return “abnormal blood tests” during pre-season testing with further checks confirming the diagnosis, the England-born goalkeeper, who has been capped 10 times for Nigeria, is now undergoing a course of chemotherapy as he begins his battle against the disease.
Like his heralded arrival on the soccer scene, Nigerians are already rallying around him in this trying time, believing that he needs all the support and encouragement to overcome this shocking and saddening health challenge. Already, inspiring and encouraging words have continued to pour in from his English club, teammates, Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and its top officials.
One of such from Wolverhampton’s top shot said; “We all know what a fighter and a competitor Carl is, and I have no doubt that he will take all of those attributes into this battle.”
Support has also come from within as the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) President, Amaju Pinnick is all for Carl to upstage the disease. According to Pinnick in his Twitter account, “The Nigerian football fraternity and indeed the world, pray for @Carl_Ikeme as he faces this tough but not impossible journey. We believe.”
Conveying the goodwill of millions of Nigerian football fans, the NFF boss stated thus: “We believe this strength will see @Carl_Ikeme through. Stay strong @Carl_Ikeme and have faith. You will beat this like a champion.”
Pinnick, who is also a CAF Executive member, further said, “As devastating as this is, we also know @Carl_Ikeme possesses the fighting spirit associated with Nigerians. We are behind Carl completely.”
Fans are also happy with assurances from the NFF General secretary Mohammed Sanusi that the Nigerian football family will rally round the player in his difficult period. In his words, “Our thoughts are with Carl at this difficult period. The NFF and the football fraternity in Nigeria are taken aback by this sad development, knowing how strong Carl has been in goal for Nigeria since he made his debut in 2015.”
Explaining that the player has already commenced the chemotherapy, Sanusi said, “We want him to stay strong and remain the self-assured man that he has always been, and we will continue to pray for him and wish him the best with regards to the treatment.”
As get-well and goodwill messages continue to pour in, the Forefront stable also join millions of fans and well-wishers to pray for the success of his treatment and complete healing that would see him returning in good health to his club and international duty for Nigeria in the nearest future.
Though he will be greatly missed as the nation battles oppositions in the 2018 World Cup and African Nations Cup qualifiers, the Eagles should be ready to work hard and keep the campaign flag flying in solidarity with the ailing keeper.
Carl, you were quoted as saying after keeping a clean slate in the 2-0 victory over Niger Republic that, “I hope to continue from where I left off if given the chance,” certainly the opportunity beckons on you now and Nigerians eagerly await your return to take your rightful place in the Super Eagles.
The Forefront family joins millions of Nigerians and football fans the world over to wish Carl Ikeme quick and speedy recovery.