Ikechukwu Ezenwa has admitted to being shocked at Gernot Rohr’s decision to demote him for young upstart Francis Uzoho as Super Eagles first-choice goalkeeper in the lead up to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Ezenwa was the safe pair of hands Eagles coach Rohr had trusted in to help Nigeria qualify for Russia following the forced retirement of Carl Ikeme and the less than impressive showing of Daniel Akpeyi in Nigeria’s 2-0 reversal at home to South Africa in a 2019 AFCON qualifier in June 2017.
The 31-year-old was impressive in the final four games of the qualifiers as the Super Eagles booked their place in the Mundial with a game to spare.
With the hard work of securing their World Cup berth done and dusted, the former Enyimba keeper expected to retain his position as first-choice for the tournament proper but Rohr had other ideas.
“When we arrived at Austria, the first training session the coach [Rohr] called everybody and made it that Uzoho was going to play the first, Ezenwa the second, Daniel third,” Ezenwa revealed in an interview with Lagos-based radio station Lagos Talks.
Rohr’s bombshell came as a shock to Ezenwa especially as Uzoho who had only made his debut months earlier, played no part during the qualifiers.
But even though he’d been demoted for a then 19-year-old who used to “pick balls for me” in his first stint at current club Heartland a decade ago, Ezenwa said he bore no resentment towards Uzoho and even resolved to support him although he kept hopes alive of reclaiming the number one jersey.
“As a Nigerian man and [an] Igbo man I never gave up, I told myself that [having] kept for the country in the qualifiers, and we still qualified anything can still happen. You don’t have to give up. This is something that has happened. Although it’s going to be a shock that Uzoho came in, he didn’t participate in the qualifiers, he didn’t play any game, he came in and became number one.
“So the only thing I had to do, I’m a man that fears God, and this is our career. The last thing I promised myself is, for me to wish my fellow player bad, I can never do that. Than for me to do it, I said it’s better to stop this career and look to other business now that he’s going to be the number one.
“He’s a younger brother to me, I remember vividly in Heartland when I was playing, he was picking ball for me, then in my career because I started very early.
“So, I knew him in Owerri when he was picking ball. He was a ball boy in Heartland games. So I went and encouraged him, I said: “Guy, I’m happy for you, you’re number one, so make sure you sell yourself in this competition. So that was my wish to him. I told him, it’s not going to be easy, And by the grace of God, he tried then, he did very well during the World Cup.”