Super Eagles and Wolverhampton Wanderers of England shot –stopper, Carl Ikeme, has been missing in action for club and country for sometime now, and one notable miss for him was the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match between the Super Eagles and the Bafana Bafana of South Africa in Uyo couple of weeks ago, which Nigeria lost 0-2.
In an exclusive chat with the official website of Nigeria Football Federation, thenff.com, Ikeme spoke about his fitness and recovery, Nigeria’s hopes of qualifying for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations and the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the role he has played in trying to convince young players of Nigerian descent to feature for the Super Eagles and of course, his keen desire to return to action again for Nigeria. Excerpts:
Thenff.com: First and foremost, I want to congratulate you for being named the Nigeria Pitch Awards Goalkeeper of the Year 2016. How does that make you feel?
Yes, it’s a nice award. It’s nice to be recognised. Hopefully, I can regain fitness and get more games.
Thenff.com: How has your fitness and recovery gone so far?
It’s been slow and tough. It was something I was carrying for a long time. I couldn’t play or train. It took more than a normal hamstring injury. I have been working hard every day with the physios and hopefully, I’m closer to getting back to training. We start our pre-season on Monday so hopefully, I can start building up in training and hopefully, I can be available for our games and the Nigeria games coming up as well.
Thenff.com: So that means if all goes well, you should be back in training and full fitness in like a week?
Hopefully. Yeah, I think I should be back to full fitness because I have not been able to do too much but I’ve been strong. I have been training hard with the team in the last three weeks. I’m hoping I should be back to normal training in two weeks.
Thenff.com: A lot of your fans and the Super Eagles have been worried; they feel you have not been in goal when we needed you the most because they appreciate your hard work, dedication and the fact that you have been there when the Eagles needed you. I don’t know what your word would be to them?
I’m thankful. It’s just disappointing that the injuries are coming at a time when we have the qualifiers. I’m excited though, that I’m returning to fitness and hopefully, I would have an injury-free season.
Thenff.com: You still have a running contract with Wolverhampton Wanderers. Are there any offers from elsewhere or are you still going to be with them?
I just want to get back into training. We have a new manager coming in and hopefully, we can have a successful season.
Thenff.com: Let’s quickly come back home to the Super Eagles. It was a first competitive loss for the team against South Africa in Uyo. I’m sure you followed the game. How did you feel watching the Eagles lose to South Africa?
Yeah, I was watching the game. Like you said, it’s our first competitive loss against them. There are still plenty of games to play to qualify for the Cup of Nations, so we are still confident that we will qualify. We have a good team and a good coach as well, so I’m sure we will be okay.
Thenff.com: I’m sure you are looking forward very much to participating in the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time…
Of course! It’s a massive competition. We didn’t qualify for the last one, so our focus would be on that. It will require hard work and staying together as a group. We are confident that we will still qualify.
Thenff.com: Cameroon featured at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia and they happen to be our next opponents in the race to 2018 FIFA World Cup. Did you see any of their games? What are your thoughts with regards to the very big World Cup qualifying matches against the Lions in September?
Yes, they are a top side you know. It’s not going to be easy. They have played a lot together recently. They were in the Confederations Cup but we are confident going into the games. Like I said, it’s not going to be easy.
The England U-20 squad won the FIFA U20 World Cup in Korea recently. Lots of people are talking about some of the players who are of Nigerian descent. There are also others like Dominic Iorfa and Chuba Akpom. Have you also been talking to any UK -based players of Nigerian descent who are eligible to play for Nigeria?
Yeah, I speak to them. Dominic Iorfa is still young, he is just 21; I’m sure with time, he would still play for Nigeria. He still has some time to make the decision. It is promising that we have a lot of players of Nigerian descent in England and across Europe and I think it’s something we can tap into and help make our team stronger.
How have you been enjoying your vacation? Your recovery, family time and relaxation?
It’s been quite nice; you have no idea. I have had a week or two off. I’ve been receiving treatment. I have been coming up in a few days and I have enjoyed it and I’m more concentrated on getting fit and being healthy for the season.
What have you missed the most since your absence?
It’s nice to travel. I miss being in Nigeria. I miss the energy that is there, you know and of course, the food. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before I experience that again.