Nigerian soccer legends whose careers were ruined by injury
A lot of Nigerian soccer stars started their careers on a very bright note with the dream of playing the round leather game for as long as their bodies could carry them, but unfortunatly some of them had their dreams cut short by injuries prompting them to announced their sudden retirements from the ‘beautiful game’. DAPO SOTUMINU reports
GBENGA OKUNOWO: Gbenga Okunowo played mainly as a right back for the Golden Eaglets, the Flying Eagles, the Olympic soccer team (the Dream Team) and the Super Eagles. His career in eight different countries was ruined by injuries that put an abrupt end to his career. Okunowo, played in S.L. Benfica, CD Badajoz. He also played professional football Greece, Romania, Albania and Ukraine. Injury forced him to move around Spanish amateur clubs after an earlier stint with Barcelona. He was in Maldives and England just to remain relevant and still earn some foreign exchange playing in a less flamboyant league in England. After some failed trials in Poland and Norway, Okunowo returned to Nigeria to play for Akure-based Premier League club, Sunshine Stars. He retired fully at the age of 34.
JOE ERICO: Joseph Erico, remains one of Nigeria’s most outstanding goalkeepers, for services to the national team. He was at the Ethiopia ‘76 African Nations Cup. He performed excellently at the Kaduna ‘77 National Sports Festival where he sustained a career wrecking knee injury. The injury was so bad that doctors at the National Orthopedic Hospital, Igbobi decided that they were going to amputate Erico’s leg from the knee. He planned with his family members who smuggled him out of the hospital. He continued his life as a coach, where he rose to the level of the national team coach in 2002.
NDUKA UGBADE: As a youth player, fresh from St. Finbarrs College Akoka-Lagos, Ugbade was captain of the Nigeria U-16 male soccer team that won the maiden 1985 FIFA U-16 World Championship in China. In the quarter-final of the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Saudi Arabia in 1989 he picked up a knee injury against the former USSR. But because the Flying Eagle had used up all their substation he had to complete the match and went on to score the equalising goal in the match later call ‘the Miracle of Damman’ after the Flying Eagles won the penalty shoot out 5-4 coming from four goals down. He featured in the Nigerian national team for some years, but was plagued by injuries and poor form in the later years of his career which denied him of the opportunity of starring at the 1994 World Cup. The injury forced him to early retirement.
EMMANUEL AMUNIKE: The former African Footballer of the Year moved to Spanish giants FC Barcelona in 1996 for a fee of $3.6 million. But he had his career at top flight cut short after he suffered a serious knee injury which in the process denied him a regular place in the Catalans team and also deprived him of a second consecutive World Cup with the Super Eagles at France ‘98. He never fully recovered from his injury and was released by Barca to play for Spain second Division Albacete and later Busan l’Cons of South Korea and Al-Wahdat SC of Jordan before retiring from football at the age of 33. He retired to become a football scout and now settles into full time coaching after helping Nigeria’s Under-17 to in the FIFA World Cup.
VICTOR AGALI: Agali’s outstanding professional football career was ruined by injury that forced him out of the round leather game, saying if not for the injury, he would have still been playing. He declared that he lost a lot to the injury. Adding that injury is what he would never wish any of his enemy because it is not a good thing to any footballer. “I was doing well until I sustained this injury and since then, I have not been okay.” Today, Agali has a very bad knee, which would most likely make mobility very difficult for him when he gets older.
YISA SOFOLUWE: Popularly called the ‘Defence Minister’ because of his prowess as full back in the Nigerian national team and at club football. Sofoluwe won 40 caps and scored 1 goal for the Green Eagles between 1983 and 1988. He played at the 1984 and 1988 African Nations Cups. He also played in Belgium as a professional footballer, but was cut short by an injury that is still ravaging his good health. He hardly walks a few meters without stopping to regain full balance as he limps.
STEPHEN KESHI: During his playing career, Keshi earned 60 caps for the Super Eagles, this made him Nigeria’s second-most capped player at the time of his retirement. He was Nigeria’s captain to the USA 94 FIFA World Cup and the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations. He also played club football in five countries, most notably Belgium, France, Cote d’Ivoire. A knee injury ruined Keshi when he was at the peak of his career. He soon took to coaching where he was very successful coaching Togo, Mali and Nigeria. He emerged as the second African to have won the Africa Cup of Nations as both a player and a coach.
JEROME ULOMA: A Super Falcons dependable defence Trojan. She had a very bright career in the Nigeria national women’s team and in the clubs until she sustained an injury that saw her knee twisted in a match playing for Nigeria. She was sponsored on series of surgeries abroad by the Nigeria Football Federation until the NFF declined further treatment of the national team player and that marked the end of her promising football career. She has gone into oblivion.
PRISCA EMEAFU: The Super Falcons’ captain while preparing for the country’s participation in the women’s soccer event of the Sydney 2000 Olympics at the Obasanjo Farms Hotel, Ota, sustained a career wrecking injury while running away from armed robbers that attacked the team’s camp. She missed the Olympics after accidental severance of the ligaments on her lower leg. It took a five-hour operation to save her leg and she was ruled out of football as a career after she had skin grafting in the United Kingdom.