On the eve of English Championship game between Wolverhampton Wanderers against Hull City, Nigerian Carl Ikeme was surprised to be told by his coach, Kenny Jackett that his first choice goalkeeper would be dropped from the team, first time in three seasons.
The reasons, the coach said, was that Ikeme “must work hard in order to win back his place in the Wolverhampton Wanderers starting lineup.”
The coach told the Express & Star that “Carl Ikeme hasn’t done a lot wrong but it’s a football decision and one I felt confident in. Since I’ve been here, which is just over two years now, he has been the number one when fit. He’s got to really work hard to regain his place.”
The coach had to settle for the team’s loaned goalkeeper, Emiliano Martinez, who is another top-class goalkeeper. Wolves, however, played out a 1-1 draw against Hull City in that match on 18 August.
The 29-year-old Ikeme received the notice with disappointment. He kept his cool, believing that he must raise his game as directed by the coach.
Ikeme with a fan in Dar es Salaam
Fortune would however smile on him when he was called by the Nigeria’s new coach, Sunday Oliseh against Tanzania in a 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match away in Dar es Salam. This was a dream come true.
The Solihull-born keeper told Wolves Express & Star early July this year that “if I can keep playing well for Wolves hopefully that call (playing for Nigeria) will come.
“It’s not my choice; if it was my choice to get picked I’d pick myself for every international game. My father was born there and a lot of my family members are still in Nigeria so it would mean something to myself and my whole family. But the main thing for me is worrying about my Wolves form.”
Luckily for Ikeme, the call-up given to him by Oliseh turned out to be real deal in his international career in the Super Eagles as he was surprisingly given a starting shirt after Nigeria’s first choice goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama, excused himself from Tanzania match because of his mother’s death. A rather disappointing Oliseh was forced to look the way of Ikeme, amidst fear and doubt among Nigerians of what a debutant goalkeeper could do in a crucial match against Tanzania.
The faith Oliseh had in Ikeme turned out to be a master stroke as the Wolves man made no fewer than six stunning saves to prevent the Super Eagles from suffering a humiliating defeat in Dar es Salam He was adjudged Nigeria’s best in this match.
After the match, the goalkeeper continued to receive accolades from Nigerians and even from his Coach Oliseh. Chief Taiwo Ogunjobi, a former Secretary-General of Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) said there was hope for a new Super Eagles following the discovery of goalkeeper Carl Ikeme.
“The goalkeeper, Carl Ikeme is the revelation; he put up a yeoman’s job. He really saved the team, “Ogunjobi confessed.
Mr. Gboyega Okegbenro, former Group Sports Editor of the Daily Times, believes the sterling performance of the debutant would give Enyeama a stiff contest in the Eagles, even as he praised him for saving Nigeria’s day in Dar es Salam. “Stand up and take a bow new Super Eagles goalkeeper Carl Ikeme, quite a performance to be proud of,” he said.
“I don’t like to single out players from the team but I have to admit that Carl Ikeme had a great game for us against Tanzania,” Oliseh said of the goalkeeper who saved his Eagles from embarrassment in Dar es Salam.
On his way back to his base in London, Ikeme could not hide his happiness and he was full of thanks to Nigeria which helped him to find his form back. At the same time, he sent a strong signal to Coach Jackett that he had been working harder to win back his place in the Wolves squad.
“Great honour to make my debut for the Super Eagles, thanks to my family, friends and fans for your support,” Ikeme said on his tweeter handle.
With Wolves playing against Bolton Wanderers this weekend, it is expected that Coach Jackett would want to capitalise on the exploits of his goalkeeper in his first international debut for Nigeria to unsettle his English Championship opponents.