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By ukehluga123 • 11 days ago • 9 views • 1 comments

Now enjoying his Indian summer with Gimnàstic de Tarragona in the Spanish La Liga 2, former Nigerian international striker Ikechukwu Uche reflects on his extraordinary career which is just one year away from two decades as a professional footballer, reports MORAKINYO ABODUNRIN.

In this clime, they say count your blessings one-by-one and see what God has done for you.

Apparently, this is what former Super Eagles striker, Ikechukwu Uche, appeared to be doing as he looks back on his long impressive Playing career now closing on the two-decade mark.

Now 35, the fleet-footed forward seems to be playing football perpetually since his humbling beginning with defunct Iwuayanwu Nationale (now Heartland FC, Owerri) in 2000 to Spanish second tier side, Gimnàstic de Tarragona, where he currently plies his trade.

However, the metamorphosis of the mercurial striker with the knack for ripping up defences and scoring goals like runs in cricket is attested to by some of these underlying statistics.

One, he was reportedly  transferred  from Iwuayanwu Nationale as a teenager(17)  to Racing de Ferrol in the Spanish second division and played some impressive 24 matches in his second season with the club before they were relegated.

Secondly, he left Racing de Ferrol to another Spanish second tier side, Recreativo de Huelva, where he scored 12 goals in his first year and  was the club’s top scorer in the following  2005/2006 season with 20 goals, including five braces in just 28 appearances as the Andalusians returned – as champions – to La Liga after a three-year absence.

Thirdly, in his first top flight season with Recreativo de Huelva, Uche scored on eight occasions notably in three consecutive matches in November 2006 and ultimately helped  El Abuelo (The Grandfather ) as Recreativo was so nicknamed to finish eighth on the log .

Fourthly, Uche has played for some eight clubs in Spain and reportedly amassed a total of 194 La Liga matches with 42 goals during nine seasons as he turned out for clubs like Recreativo, Getafe, Zaragoza, Villarreal, Granada and Málaga.

Yet, Uche did not fare badly at the national team level and his durability in the game is equally commendable since he turned out for the national team for seven years between 2007 and 2014 with an impressive 19 goals in 46 appearances.

Apart from the above,  Uche, for instance, is one of only 10 players still very active from the 23-man Super Eagles to the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations held in Ghana while the rest have since called it a day.

“I really have to thank God for keeping my career this long but I don’t think I can attribute anything to it than the grace of God for which I’m very grateful,” the soft-spoken Uche echoed with a  soothing melody in a telephone conversation with our correspondent . “I don’t know and nobody can tell you how long I can still go on playing; it’s only my body that can decide how long I can go.”

Though no longer command attention as what with the case when he was prowling like a gazelle in the La Liga, Uche is still a huge factor for Gimnàstic since he arrived as a free agent from Mexican Tigres UANL side in August 2016.

So far, he has reportedly  played over 60 matches with some 16 goals which is not an insignificant statistics for a player now in his halcyon days after some good old days in the top flight of la Liga.

“Retirement from active career is what awaits everybody but I can’t say this is when I’m going to stop playing; after all, I didn’t tell anybody when I started,” offered Uche who recently celebrated his 35th anniversary on 5th January. “Seriously, I’m happy with how things are going and I know when the time comes I’ll retire from playing actively.”

Incidentally, Uche has virtually enjoyed his career in Spain sans the brief stint with Mexican side Tigres UANL in 2015 but he returned almost immediately a year later to Spain as a loanee to Málaga.

“I don’t know if I would have enjoyed my career in other countries and this is a question everybody asks me,” admitted Uche. “But the truth is that this is the only place (Spain) that I’ve been playing this long and I’m happy about it because everything has been so good.

“I have enjoyed the best of my career; and I am happy about all the places I have been to in my career. I like the way it had been and the way it’s going right now.

“The only thing I can say is that I’m happy and feel good about what I have done in the past and even now, I’m happy about my career.”

Always with a smile, Uche explained that football was his first love and it came as a second nature to him. “I don’t know what else I would have done in life because football is all that appealed to me from the start.

“Of course, there are so many things that appealed to us when we are growing up but at the end of the day, there’s only one thing that you’ll be well known for.

“At the end of the day, you might not remember all that you wanted to be as kid; the most important thing is that you want to be successful in life and that is about it. I’m happy that everything is going well.

“For now, football is what I’m doing and all that I like. I’m enjoying what I’m doing and I can say that it’s only football that makes me happy.”

Uche remains a happy-go-lucky guy despite going through some tempestuous time during his days with the Super Eagles, particularly being overlooked from the 2014 World Cup squad at a period when he was then firing on all cylinders for the Yellow Submarines (Villarreal) in the La Liga.

“Playing for the Super Eagles was my dream and I was so happy for being part of the team that won the African Cup of Nations in 2013,” he explained. “Going as far as winning the AFCON  trophy was a feeling you can’t describe and I would say I enjoyed my time playing for the Super Eagles.

“I had a great time and I’m happy I was able to make my fans and family happy with my performances while playing for the national team.

“Looking back, I would always say I have good memory about my time playing for the Super Eagles and the opportunity to represent my country; it’s a feeling no one can take away from me.

“I can and would always thank the fans who have been supporting me over the years; I can’t thank them enough for their support over the years.”

Aside the football faithful all over the country and beyond, Uche has kind words for his brother Kalu Uche with whom they played for the Super Eagles almost at the same time.

In fact, both Uches are in a motley crowd of brothers who have played in the chequered history of the Super Eagles, including Mathematical Segun and Wole Odegbami;  Blockbuster Aloysius and Andrew Atuegbu;  goalkeepers Emmanuel and Patrick Okala;  Monday and Augustine Eguavoen; Tunde and Tajudeen Disu;  Emmanuel and  Austin Jay jay Okocha; John and Peter Utaka ; Emmanuel and Celestine Babayaro;  Nwankwo and Christopher Kanu; Sunday and Azubuike Oliseh and lately Chidiebere and Kelechi Nwakali.

“As an older brother, Kalu surely had an influence on my career especially when we are doing the same thing; playing football,” the Aba-born Uche offered with breath-taking purr. “He gave me good pieces of advice and even now, he’s still doing that and I listen to him.

“Of course, apart from my brother growing up, I watched football and liked football while growing up; I can say that there are lots of players that influenced me.

“Luckily, we’ve had some great players like Austin Jay Jay Okocha, Kanu Nwankwo and other important players in the world; so I saw a whole lot of them while growing up.  There were a whole lot of these players and I can say I took something out from those who were doing well when I was growing up.

“But I don’t know when we can have another player coming through from our family to play for Nigeria but we pray to God. It is something that I would be happy about but I can’t decide when this would happen.”

Yet Uche remains futuristic in his approach to life and apart from looking forward to settle down to marriage soon, he was upbeat about the prospect of the new players now streaming into the Super Eagles – especially Samuel Chukwueze who, incidentally, is turning out for Villarreal where he also made his mark in a four-season spell between 2011 and 2015.

“I went to see Chukwueze at Villarreal because he’s doing great with the club I once played for,” Uche further told our correspondent.

“He’s a very young guy that needs all the encouragement because he has so many great years ahead of him if he can keep his focus and discipline.

“ There’s nothing I can say about going into comparison with him (Chukwueze) but it’s left to people to compare. We have to continue to encourage him because he has  to continue to work hard despite the fact that everything is working well for him now.”

Uche is equally impressed with the new crop of players being blooded by Super Eagles’ Franco-German coach Gernot Rohr, adding that the younger elements remain the future hope of the national team.

He said: “I think the new young boys coming into the national team is good for competition and I’m happy about this development. It is good to have African players in the important leagues and I’m always happy to see Nigerian  young players playing at the top levels in Europe being drafted into the Super Eagles by the coach.”

Of course, anyone with inquisitive mind must be tempted to ask where Uche usually draws his strength from after hearing his sonorous voice as he spoke with remarkable candour over the telephone.

“Anything good makes me happy (laughter) but seriously, I’m cool with everything that is good,” he explained. “Anything good or bad can make me cry. Sometimes, one can cry for joy and at other times, it could be for something bad.

“But music is good for the soul and all kinds of music from gospel to contemporary music are good for me; I love good music.

“My type of music is basically based on my mood and it could be African music or music from any other parts of the world; I’m okay once I feel good about any kind of music,” noted Uche as if he was singing a lullaby to soothe a frayed soul.

http://thenationonlineng.net/ikechukwu-uche-secrets-of-my-career-longevity/

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