Former Heartland of Owerri and Warri Wolves of Delta State leggy midfielder, Bartholomew Ikechukwu Ibenegbu continues waxing strong in the Nigerian league, where he now lines out for Enyimba International of Aba. Beyond the halfway mark of the 2017 season, the one fondly called ‘Mosquito’ had already made more starting appearances than any other outfield player. In this interview with enyimbafc.net at the start of July, the beach soccer national team, Super Sand Eagles star spoke about what influences him in the round leather game, what is required to perform at the highest level and his hopes for The Peoples’ Elephants…
What is your appraisal of the season so far
Let me start with the club: I think we have not done so bad, but we have also not done so well. I believe before the season comes to an end, we will get to our target. Our target this year is to make sure we win the league to start with and also the FA Cup. With time, we can get to our target. Personally, I believe my best is yet to come. I still have a lot to give to the club.
What motivates you?
In every season, I set targets for myself and the clubs I play for. Last season, I set a target of getting a continental ticket, but unfortunately, I didn’t make it. This season, I set a target that we must win the league trophy, as well as the FA Cup. It has not eluded us yet, we are still on track for both.
Who are your playing and coaching influences
I’m an Arsenal fan, so I like playing like Ozil and Cazorla, because they provide assists a lot. So that’s what I try to do in every match I participate in. As a coach, the late Kelechi Emeteole was the one who gave me all I’ve gotten in football. He was the one who took me to El Kanemi FC in Maiduguri from school – in 2005/2006, after my graduation – for a trial. I scaled through, and from there I won the Nigerian top scorer award, that was when we were playing an abridged league [format]. So, I was the top scorer with 10 goals, and was also named the Most Valuable Player. So, honestly, Emeteole was the one who impacted me a lot.
How did you receive the news of his death?
Honestly, when he was down, I contributed a lot, both financially and spiritually. I was praying too. He was just like a father to me, because in December last year I went to his house with my family: my wife and my kids; we went to visit him. We saw how he was faring. He was really down then, so we prayed together with him.
Even before his wife took him to India, we were communicating. The last time I spoke with Emeteole, we were chatting on the phone, so he told me that he would be discharged in 10 days. So, for his wife to call me again and say we should be praying for him, that she didn’t understand how he was feeling. We continued praying. Soon after, we got the news that he had died. I felt very, very bad to hear that Kelechi had passed on. What can we do? I still give God the glory.
What kind of a man was he?
I was so close to Emeteole. He lived the life of a Christian. He was just such a good man.
What are the specific responsibilities of a playmaker?
First of all, a playmaker needs to assist goals, about 10 to 15 a season. He needs to score goals too, and it is his job to coordinate the team as well.
Which striker you have the best understanding with?
I have a good understanding with most of our strikers, but the people I have the best understanding with are (Stephen) Chukwude and Chinedu (Ohanachom). Chinedu makes a lot of runs, and I like the kind of skills he possesses. He makes the right runs for a playmaker to shine in a match. He has not played much, but he should keep working hard. The choice will be made by the coach; the coach knows the qualities he wants in a striker. I rate him among the best in the team, but we have to leave it up to the coach to make his own choice.
What did think of your present form and the NPFL title race this season?
Talking about the form of the team, we have not done badly at home here. But I think our away form has not been good this season, but the way things are going now, we will make it right. I don’t we have any issues at home, but that doesn’t mean we relax. Any slip at home and our target won’t be achieved this season. No team is too small in this current season. We have to buckle up and stamp our feet to ensure we win. We have set a marker, beating [El Kanemi Warriors] 4-0, so we set our standard high. Anything short of four goals, and we haven’t done our job well. I think we have to push on so that Tornadoes this Sunday will concede up to three or four goals.