Cut down in their prime: The plight of Nigeria’s injured footballers

January 31, 2021 Off By Oha

Footballnews.com.ng looks at some Nigerian footballers who had their blossoming careers cut short by injuries and ailments and how they’ve been faring ever since

After winning the 1996 Atlanta Olympics football gold with Nigeria as the No.1 goalkeeper, Joseph Dosu had a blossoming career ahead of him, or so he thought.

For most footballers from Africa, playing at such global competitions was a dream come true, as it gave them the platform to showcase their talents to the world and perhaps, take their careers to the next level.

Scouts would flood match venues, taking notes and comparing performances, before approaching players who caught their fancy.

Indeed, Dosu seemed destined for greatness as one of the best goalkeepers of his era, after his Atlanta performance, but fate, unfortunately, turned his career in the other direction, leaving him shattered.

‘They said I’ll be on wheelchair for life’

He had just signed for Italian Serie A club Reggiana after the Olympics but never got to play for them after an accident along the Ikorodu Road in Lagos in 1997, damaged his spinal cord and ended his career even before it began.

had gradually become one of Nigeria’s top keepers before misfortune struck.

“My career was short-lived because of the accident. It happened after we beat Guinea 3-0 to qualify for the 1998 World Cup in France. After the game, we went back to Sheraton, our hotel, and I prepared to visit my wife and children. I was with a friend, Saturday, a policeman on my way home when I had the accident,” Dosu told The PUNCH.

“Suddenly, everywhere went blank; all I could see were cows everywhere. As I tried to control the car, I veered off the road. I asked the guy beside me, ‘Saturday are you okay?’ And he said, ‘Yes I’m okay.’ And I told him, ‘I’m not okay.’ So we were waiting for help and suddenly Taribo West’s car was passing by though he wasn’t inside. They saw us and rescued us and took us to Eko Hospital.

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“The first thing the matron did was to smell my mouth to find out if I was on alcohol. And I replied immediately, ‘I don’t drink and smoke. It’s just an accident that can happen to anybody. Before I knew it, I passed out and when I woke up, I found myself in Plaster of Paris.”

Thereafter, Dosu realised he would never play football.

“A lot of things were said, ‘he can’t walk again, he is finished, he will be on wheelchair for life.’”

Dosu has been on crutches ever since, but has been able to live a normal life managing several football projects,  including an academy that has constantly produced some of the country’s brightest young talents.

“I have a strong mind and I also had people beside me; I had my family and friends. I saw them every day, we talked, all I was just asking for was to get back on my feet and walk.

“It is not an easy thing to retire at a tender age because I had an accident, but then, life goes on; it is not the end of life, we need to move on,” Dosu added.

‘I thought I’m going to die’

emerged in Nigerian football in 2015 as a largely unknown face, and fate did play a key role in the invitation of the then 29-year-old shot stopper, who was then filing out for Wolverhampton Wanderers in the English Championship.

After then Super Eagles coach Sunday Oliseh fell out with the team’s goalkeeper and captain Vincent Enyeama, English-born Ikeme got his chance in between the posts, following an invitation from Oliseh.

But critics saw Oliseh’s invitation as a hasty move to replace Enyeama and wondered whether the 6ft2in tall Ikeme could fill the big boots left behind by the former Lille keeper, who had risen to become one of the most acclaimed goalkeepers in Africa.

Ikeme proved them wrong, with some decent performances on his Eagles debut against Tanzania in a 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier at the Benjamin Mkapa National Stadium, Dar-es-Salaam on September 15, 2015.

The tie ended goalless, with Ikeme on several occasions denying the Taifa Stars a chance to take maximum points.

The towering shot stopper’s best moment was an amazing save in the 67th minute when he denied Thomas Ulimwengu with a long stretch before scrambling to Mrisho Ngassa’s follow-up around the post, with both shots coming from inside the six-yard box.

Instantly, Ikeme became a fans favourite and he didn’t disappoint in the next nine games he featured for the Eagles, before he was forced into early retirement in 2017 after he was diagnosed with Leukaemia.

This ended his dream of featuring at the 2018 World Cup, after playing in three of the Eagles’ qualifying games.

Ikeme had reported for pre-season training feeling physically fit and anticipating an exciting campaign ahead of the season, when tragedy struck.

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Ikeme had no idea his world was about to be turned upside down.

“I had a couple of blood tests at the start of pre-season that showed my platelets were a little low. There was no massive alarm. I carried on training – I was fit, I was healthy,” he told BBC.

“We did a hard session, then went to the gym. I had a bleeding nose. I never told the doctor anything because I knew he would pull me out of training – for some reason, this time I told him about the nosebleed and a slight headache.

“I had another blood test, which was still low, so he said we had to see a specialist. You take a little gasp of breath when they tell you what they are testing for but I never thought, a few days later, it would be cancer.

“I was at Homebase when I got a call from the doctor. I was expecting him to say everything was fine. I can’t remember him saying ‘you’ve got cancer’ but I do remember him talking about Geoff Thomas and Stan Petrov and that it was going to be a tough year for me and my family.

“I remember being in the car park and tearing up.

“At the time my daughter Mila was four. I thought ‘Am I going to be there for her?’ My partner Saba was heavily pregnant and due to give birth a week later. I thought ‘I am going to die’.”

Ikeme has been involved in punditry, as well as several charity works and campaigns to create public awareness on Leukaemia.

‘I was unconscious for weeks’

Fifteen months after helping the Golden Eaglets lift the 2007 U-17 World Cup trophy in South Korea, Daniel Joshua was involved in an accident, which paralysed him.

Joshua, who played as a central midfielder during the tournament, was on his way to the Flying Eagles camp in Abuja from Kaduna when the accident occurred and has been unable to walk, with several reports claiming he now begs for survival.

“It (accident) happened on December 12, 2008 along the Abuja-Kaduna road, while on my way to Flying Eagles camp, where we were preparing for the Nations Cup in Rwanda. I was rushed to Minna after the accident and I was unconscious for two weeks,” Joshua told our correspondent on Tuesday.

The once dynamic defender has been unable to walk 13 years after the accident and says the sports ministry and the Nigeria Football Federation has turned a blind eye to his plight despite his plea for help, while majority of his Korea 2007 teammates have long forgotten about him.

He said, “Then Niger Governor, Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, flew me to Germany for operation in January 2009, where I was until the money was exhausted and I returned to Nigeria to continue treatment.

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“I’m not doing anything, I am still down in Kaduna. Up till now, I cannot walk. The last operation I did was in Germany back then. After that, I have not had any other operation. I use crutches now, but I’m trying to learn how to walk with it, so I use a wheelchair to move around.

“The NFF has not supported me in any way. We wrote to them and the then sports minister, Sani Ndanusa, they acknowledged the letter, and promised to help, but I didn’t I haven’t heard from them.

“Out of all my former colleagues in the Eaglets, only Macauley Chrisantus has been of help to me, I don’t know where the others are.”

Without a job and movement largely restricted, Joshua has his mother to thank for survival.

“I stay with my mother, a widow, and she provides food for me, though I don’t like it. We’ve been managing because she  isn’t doing anything too.”

Injured Yebsaya deported, depressed

While many of the footballers suffered career-ending injuries but bounced back to move on with their lives, several others have been unable to cope with the trauma of having to part ways with the beautiful game.

One of such is former U-23 star Kaseem Yebsaya, who is currently in a psychiatric hospital in Taraba State.

Yebsaya played for Turkish side Denizlispor in the mid-1990s and helped the national U-23 side qualify for the 1996 Olympics, though he was excluded from the final squad that claimed Africa’s first football gold at the global sports showpiece in Atlanta, USA.

Dutch giants Ajax came calling for Yebsaya’s services after several of their star players who won the 1994/95 UEFA Champions League and the league titles, including Nwankwo Kanu and Finidi George,  left the team between 1996 and 1997.

Yebsaya was seen as one of the perfect replacements for the outgoing stars, but failed a trial with the Amsterdam-based club due to injury and has reportedly been depressed ever since.

“Tijani Babangida accommodated him (Yebsaya) in Holland for three months when his ill-health issues started and was homeless following his rejection from the Ajax camp,” a former footballer and Yebsaya’s friend, Yusuf Ubale, stated.

“As time went on, his health issues degenerated and was deported to Lagos, from where he was transported to Kaduna. In Kaduna, he was seen roaming the streets before he was moved to his village, Takum, in Taraba State.

“I got to know about his ill-health when he was in Takum. I went to see him but I was shocked to  find him dressed shabbily and uttering words I couldn’t understand. I recorded the video interview with him and posted it on my Facebook wall seeking financial assistance to help rehabilitate him.”

‘I felt I was given a death sentence’

Former Super Falcons fringe goalkeeper, Bidemi Aluko, was forced to quit football after she was diagnosed of breast cancer in 2017.

She needed funds to undergo treatment and chemotherapy, but more devastating was the realisation that she would not play football again.

“I’m done with my medical treatment,” she told The PUNCH.

But Aluko admitted she passed through hellish times when doctors initially broke the news that she had cancer.

“It started April 13, 2017 and I didn’t tell anybody about it until after two years when I spent all I had and was down to zero level that I started calling for help.

“When I got the news it was like I was given a death sentence, it sounded like that. But I was able to overcome most of the fear, I put it behind me and I focused on God.

“We were able to raise some money, which I used for treatment at University College Hospital, Ibadan. I got help from  within and outside the country, including non-sports people.”

Aluko isn’t working at the moment but hopes to go into business.

“I’m not doing anything, I’m just surviving by the grace of God. If I can raise enough funds, I can go into business.

“I can’t question God, the sickness which ended my career came and that is just it, maybe that was how God wanted me to stop. It’s painful to stop half way, though.”

 Akusobi, Apam down and out

Blessing Akusobi still limps from the injury she suffered playing for the Falconets at the 2006 U-20 Women’s World Cup in Russia.

Akusobi tore her ligaments in the quarterfinal clash against Brazil at the Torpedo Stadium in Moscow after a Brazilian player landed on her left leg following an aerial duel.

“I still feel sharp pains in the leg,” Akusobi said.

Another player who was regarded as one of the brightest young prospects of his generation but had his career hampered by injuries was Onyekachi Apam.

Apam was part of the Flying Eagles side that reached the finals of the 2005 U-20 World Cup and the men’s football event of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, losing to Lionel Messi’s Argentina on both occasions.

Apam, now 34, retired in 2014 aged 28, after failing to overcome his injury worries and fulfil his potential.

Following the inability of some of the footballers to live normal lives after sustaining career-ending injuries, Dosu urged them to get over their challenges and get back again despite the setback.

“Mental health is not just for sports persons alone, it is what we experience generally and it takes the grace of God for you to overcome it. When you fall down, check why you fell, rise and move on,” Dosu told The PUNCH.