After six years with Enyimba and two league titles, the last of which he lifted as captain, Ifeanyi Anaemena felt it was time for a new challenge but his decision to leave the eight-time league champions was fueled in part, by a belief he was disrespected and unwanted by the club he captained.
Centre-back Anaemena was unveiled on Tuesday alongside goalkeeper Enyimba teammate Theophilus Afelokhai as Rivers United’s latest acquisitions in an epic move that generated ripples across the country.
Both players were snapped up on free transfers after their contracts with Enyimba lapsed with Anaemena signing a two-year deal that will see him reportedly pocket a salary in the region of one million naira monthly.
Not a lot of people saw the move coming with both hugely-experienced players stalwarts of the Aba Elephants and 28-year-old Anaemena in particular, a cult hero at the Enyimba Stadium.
But the centre-back told busybuddiesng.com that much as he loved playing for Enyimba who gave him his first taste of topflight football as a 24-year-old, he felt his time at the club had run its course and it was time to move on suggesting the club didn’t do enough to keep him.
The realisation that his cycle at Enyimba was at an end was made stark by the club’s actions as his contract wound down which left him feeling disrespected and surplus to requirements.
Anaemena says Enyimba did not act professionally by allowing his contract lapse and the lack of “concrete information” regarding their plans for him was unbecoming conduct towards their captain. And when he was unpaid as teammates received their pay after the season was curtailed with the club demanding his signature in return for his entitlements, he knew then he had to make a move.
The consequence of Enyimba’s conduct was to nudge him towards the exits and into the waiting hands of Rivers United manager Stanley Eguma who had long coveted the player.
And while a lot has been made about the size and allure of the financial package offered by the Port Harcourt club, Anaemena who rejected bigger offers from Kano Pillars and Plateau United in order not to uproot his young family from their south-east base, says his move to Rivers United offers him the chance to play for a club and manager that truly wants him.
“I think in football, people say it’s about money, sometimes it’s not about that money,” Anaemena told busybuddiesng.com about the motivation for his move to Rivers United.
“Before now, if Enyimba should be professional, I think they should have renewed my contract before now, and when my contract turned off, I was expecting them to talk to me, as the captain of the team and there was no concrete information from them.
“And I think to an extent they paid salary and I was not paid because you know, my contract had turned off. They were telling me to come to sign before they paid me my salary. But then I still was indebted to them, my remaining contract for that season.
“So, I think some issues came around that they couldn’t meet up with the target that was set. I had an opportunity with Rivers United, which they had been inviting me before to come and play for them. Coach [Stanley] Eguma called me to come and play for them. I think this was the right time, I just had to move on, and I took up the opportunity.”
The defender says he leaves Enyimba fulfilled in the knowledge that he “contributed my quota” and always gave his best for the club.
“I can say that my experience in Aba, my stay there for the first few seasons were good memories, a very exciting one, and they also brought me to the top flight of the game,” the centre-back who moved to Enyimba from second-tier Giwa FC said.
“I’ve been at Enyimba since 2014, and it’s a privilege for me to be reckoned as one of the legends in the team. And having contributed my quota so far, and I so much appreciate the team, I love the team, when I’m playing for Enyimba I’m always [passionate], determined, focused, playing as if the team was owned by my father. But then, I know that there is always a room for change.
“When it is time in football for you to move, you have to move, because you don’t know, you can never tell what the situation would be. So, I’ve contributed my quota and I think it’s time for me to move on.”
With his departure still generating debate in fan circles, Anaemena who believes he has moved to a club equal in stature to his former side, called on fans of the Peoples Elephant to come to accept his decision with good cheer.
“It’s true that a lot of fans will be happy for my movement, for my move to Rivers United. Some will feel disappointed that I shouldn’t have left Enyimba, knowing that I’m the captain of the team,” he said.
“A lot of talk has been on the social platform. I just believe that I have to cheer them up that I’ve contributed my quota in Enyimba and it’s time for me to move. Rivers United also are a good team, they have been in the continent, they always contest for the league, so it’s an opportunity for me to just go ahead and accept the new challenge, it’s a new chapter for my career, and move ahead.”