Ikechukwu Ezenwa has described how fellow goalkeeper Francis Uzoho became unmotivated and gave off the wrong “attitude” because of his disappointment at being dropped to third-choice at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
Uzoho had been installed as first-choice at the 2018 World Cup by national team manager Gernot Rohr over the more experienced duo of Ezenwa and Akpeyi.
But the 21-year-old lost his position before the trip to Egypt owing to lack of game time at his both his parent club in Spain and at Omonia Nicosia where he was on loan.
Rohr pencilled in Ezenwa as his first-choice going into the Nations Cup but an injury to the Heartland goalkeeper saw Akpeyi become the de facto number one at the tournament.
Speaking on Lagos-based radio station Lagos Talks, Ezenwa said Uzoho wasn’t too pleased with being overlooked in favour of Akpeyi and showed it in his attitude to training.
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Ezenwa said he noticed Uzoho’s belligerence in training and remonstrated with him, reminding him of the change in fortunes a few months ago at the World Cup when he had been favoured over both experienced goalkeepers.
“I called [Uzoho] when he was like, in training sessions, showing attitudes that I’m no longer the number one, [I said] “come on boy, come here, what’s your problem, Are you okay? Because they announced that you’re not going to be the number one due to one or two club engagements you’re not having, now Daniel is playing. What about me that was supposed to be the number one with the way things were going had it been it was not this injury, and I’m out of the position, Daniel now got the position. So how would you feel if you were in my shoes?,” Ezenwa revealed.
“You don’t have to show that attitude that you’re worried and every other thing. You should pray you’re injury-free so that you’ll play to every level of your career.”
That proved to be the kick up the backside Uzoho needed and when he was eventually selected to start Nigeria’s last game against Tunisia in the bronze medal game, Ezenwa was on hand to offer more advice.
“I called him and told him this is the first game you’re going to get. I told him this might be a game that will revive you. We’re human, we’re bound to face challenges. And after that game, against Tunisia he was running straight to me, I have that picture, he was running straight to me. He ”chop knuckle” with me and said Ezenwa you’re a pastor. I said “you see? Now the only game you kept gave us a bronze medal” so, what are we saying?
“This is how life is. You don’t have to show people you’re angry or anything. Remember you came to the World Cup and you kept. I didn’t show that I was angry, but I felt bad that I qualified and I didn’t play. I left that behind and moved forward in my career. So in any situation, you find yourself Uzoho, this is the lesson. Don’t you show the coaches or anybody that you’re not happy.”