How NFF paid player $100 after life-changing injury

Godfrey George feels the heart beat of a former U-17, Mbetobong Ibanga, striker who now works as a butcher at an abattoir in Calabar, Cross River State, after a tough episode with osteoarthritis 12 years in the past

Mbetobong Ibanga’s dream ended earlier than it even started. One second, he was billed to play for the Below-17 Nationwide Staff within the 2011 African U-17 Championship organised by the Confederation of African Soccer in Rwanda. The following, a health care provider advised him that he had solely 5 years to play soccer due to an odd knee damage.

In 2006, a 12 months after dropping his father, Ibanga left his Calabar residence with excessive hopes of taking part in for prime golf equipment after being invited for screening in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.

He had earlier bought a kind to affix one of many nation’s soccer academies. He was 15 years previous and hungry to make a greater life for himself and his ailing mom.

Handpicked after the Port Harcourt screening and flown to Lagos for a ultimate check, Ibanga noticed the skies speak in confidence to him with countless alternatives.

Little did he know that simply past the blue skies had been gray clouds, ready to swallow up his desires.

In Lagos, as he performed amongst hundred different boys, who had come to make a life for themselves, Ibanga mentioned he remembered his mom’s final phrases earlier than he left residence.

“Don’t carry disgrace to this household. Play like your life relies on it and make us proud,” she had advised him.

“We’ve got been via a lot and I used to be my household’s solely hope to cease the mockery and poverty that we now have come to know as buddies,” Ibanga mentioned with a decent smile that struggled to interrupt out of his pallid pores and skin.

After days of rigorous screening and checks, Ibanga’s abilities singled him out and he was chosen by a Dutch soccer supervisor and former Tremendous Eagles coach, Clemens Westerhof.

Together with different fortunate boys, Ibanga was flown to the Kwara State Soccer Academy, the place he was to review on a scholarship.

“Once I referred to as my mom and advised her the excellent news, she was so glad that she cried. Her response was comprehensible. I might be the primary within the household to be blessed with such an opportunity of getting a nationwide scholarship to play soccer.

“It was just like the world had lastly opened up its arms to provide me all my fortunes. My household had been via quite a bit. We wanted a breath of recent air,” he mentioned, taking in additional breaths than traditional, whereas talking with Saturday PUNCH.

The scholarship by the then Kwara State Authorities underneath former Governor, Bukola Saraki, and prolonged to former Governor, Abdulfatah Ahmed, was to final for six years.

In line with Ibanga, it was to cowl feeding, lodging, medicals and schooling, amongst others.

Ibanga was a part of the pioneer college students of the KFA, which was opened by the then President of the Confederation of African Soccer, Isaa Hayatou, in 2005.

In line with the academy’s web site, it’s open to all kids no matter place of birth.

KFA can be mentioned to supply gifted youths the chance to accumulate formal schooling free of charge whereas coaching as skilled footballers.

The academy provides a full on-campus boarding expertise to make sure pupil focus and full engagement whereas at school.

The curriculum is modelled after the Nigerian academic system and a few facets of the British curriculum, permitting college students to sit down exams such because the West African College Certificates Examinations, Nationwide Examination Certificates, Worldwide Basic Certificates of Secondary Training, Take a look at of English as a International Language and the Worldwide Baccalaureate.

“As a part of the tutorial coaching, college students are uncovered to languages, together with English and different Fashionable European Languages, Basic and Utilized Arithmetic, Humanities and Social Sciences, Artistic, Technical and Vocational research and Pure Sciences as areas of research.

“The scholars are grouped into three classes: the junior cadre, comprising college students between ages 13 and 14; the intermediate cadre, comprising college students between ages 15 and 16; and the elite cadre, comprising college students between ages 17 and 19,” the web useful resource added.

Whereas the junior and intermediate teams mix lecturers with soccer, the elite group combines soccer with administration programs.

Ibanga was within the intermediate cadre.

Going professional

After just a few years within the academy, Ibanga, who additionally performed for the British Council, one of many largest grass root groups in Lagos on the time, was one of many three gamers from KFA invited to play for the nation’s U-17 crew.

He mentioned Westerhof additionally advised him that he had spoken to the English soccer membership, Chelsea, who would let him play for the U-16 trials in 2009.

The stage was set. Ibanga was prepared. He was to go to England for the trials, however the plan modified abruptly.

In line with him, the arrival of a former Inter Milan coach brought on some ‘inside squabbles’ throughout the academy management, which led to the termination of his journey to England.

“I cried like a child that day. It was like somebody lower an artery and I used to be bleeding. I felt my life was gone. I referred to as my mom and she or he couldn’t cease crying, whilst she tried to console me. However, I advised myself that I have to not hand over,” he mentioned.

Corroborating his claims, a publication of the KFA, dated March 10, 2011, obtained by Saturday PUNCH, revealed that two gamers had been invited for trials with Chelsea FC in England and two for trials with Portsmouth FC, additionally in England. Their identities had been nevertheless not revealed.

Nonetheless, a former colleague of Ibanga, who now performs for one of many English golf equipment, advised our correspondent that Ibanga was one of many two younger gamers invited by Chelsea for the trials in 2009.

“I keep in mind vividly that Mbet (Mbetobong) advised me that he was invited for a trial in Chelsea. One in every of our international administrators facilitated it. However, I’m not positive he went for it once more,” the colleague, who spoke on situation of anonymity, mentioned.

Talking additional, the supply described Ibanga as a possible ‘professional striker’.

“It’s simply unlucky that he left the academy and couldn’t graduate and go professional like the remainder of us,” he added.

The start of the top

On one of many days throughout coaching with the U-17 crew, Ibanga heard a popping sound from his proper knee whereas he was jogging.

That was the start of the top of his soccer profession. He fell to the bottom, writhing in ache. This was in 2010.

As he squirmed on the ground, crying for assist, he was attended to by the medical crew, which tried to see what was mistaken however couldn’t.

When the ache was an excessive amount of for him to bear, Ibanga mentioned he took a two-day break to go to a clinic outdoors the camp, the place he was given ache aid medicines and requested to relaxation extra.

Getting again to the Kwara academy, Ibanga mentioned he knowledgeable the then academy technical director, Mr Kumbi Titiloye, who took him alongside one other participant, Barnabas Imenger, the present captain of Lobi Stars, Makurdi, Benue State, who had again ache, to a different hospital in Ilorin for a prognosis.

He claimed he was given some remedy however the ache persevered.

Ibanga’s mom, Hannah, 58, advised our correspondent that that interval was one in all her worst since she misplaced her husband

“I’m poor. Who do I’ve besides God? When he advised me he had a knee damage and it might value him his place on the U-17 crew, I ran to God and prayed. I cried and referred to as on God to intervene. However, as destiny would have it, nothing actually modified. My son’s knee damage degenerated,” she mentioned.

Ibanga mentioned he knew his profession was over however he wouldn’t let it go and not using a battle.

Persevering with his coaching on the U-17 coaching camp and pretending that the whole lot was alright, Ibanga’s efficiency dwindled. His profession advisers on the U-17 nationwide crew started to ask questions.

“I made them imagine I used to be alright. However I had already opened as much as Mr Titiloye, again on the KFA, who promised he would do one thing about it. I used to be suggested to take some relaxation, however I wanted to maintain on taking part in. Perhaps, a miracle would occur and my knee can be again to regular.

“Each time I felt ache, I might take some ache aid medication, which gave me interim respite. At one level, I used to be taking part in with assistance from a knee guard,” he added.

Along with the knee damage, Ibanga claimed that in a match towards the Ondo State Rising Stars, he was pushed by a defender and he fell on his left shoulder, inflicting his scapular to shift place.

The crew, in response to him, solely gave him ache aid medicines and massaged the realm with ice.

Thus far, he claimed to nonetheless have swelling on his proper shoulder.

Billed for surgical procedure

After one 12 months, stuffed with ache and worry, in November 2011, Ibanga was lastly billed to see a surgeon on the College School Hospital, Ibadan.

This, in response to him, was facilitated by Saraki and Titiloye, who footed the payments for the process.

Throughout the preliminary prognosis, Ibanga mentioned a famend professor of orthopaedic and trauma, Temitope Alonge, who was the Chief Medical Director of UCH then, mentioned he had a knee degenerative illness, also referred to as osteoarthritis, and it had already unfold all through the knee, inflicting it to wear down.

Ibanga mentioned Alonge advised him that he had solely 5 extra years to play soccer, advising him to amass as a lot wealth and affluence as he may and ensure he stop soccer on or earlier than the five-year timeline, or threat dropping his total leg.

Sadly, he didn’t disclose this data to Titiloye nor did he reveal it to the U-17 technical advisors.

All they knew, in response to him, was that he had a knee damage which surgical procedure would right.

Despatched residence with $100

In the meantime, on August 29, 2010, a number of months earlier than the corrective surgical procedure, Ibanga mentioned he joined the U-17 crew to play towards the Republic of Congo in Pointe Noire along with his dangerous knee for the CAF qualifiers billed for January 2011.

Nigeria misplaced to DRC 2 – 0 and the gamers needed to return to Nigeria.

On touching down in Abuja, Ibanga mentioned one of many administrators of the U-17 crew advised him that his efficiency was beneath par and that he would not be wanted within the crew.

In line with Ibanga, the director handed him a $100 invoice and he was scheduled to return to the Kwara Soccer Academy, the place they picked him up.

Requested if the director of the U-17 crew knew of his damage, Ibanga mentioned, “I didn’t inform him, however I can inform you that he knew. I performed with a knee guard and my colleagues knew I had visited Kwara for a collection of medical diagnoses.”

Talking additional, Ibanga mentioned, “I perceive my efficiency was dangerous within the sport however it was due to the accidents and worries that I might lose my knee and my future. This damage was one I sustained whereas taking part in for Nigeria’s U-17 crew.

“They simply used and dumped me after we misplaced to DRC. All they gave me was $100. They left me and my profession for lifeless.

“I used to be in extreme ache as I left Abuja. This damage value me my desires and positioned me the place I’m in life right now.”

When he returned to the KFA after the U-17 failure, he mentioned he was already experiencing instability in his knee and he may not stroll with out help.

“I couldn’t even climb the staircase with out holding the rail. Everybody in camp was conscious of this, together with Emmanuel Dennis, who now performs for Nottingham Forest as a striker within the English Premier League and the Nigeria nationwide crew. All of them witnessed this. At one level, I used to be utilizing a pair of crutches. After just a few months, I began utilizing a wheelchair.

“The NFF and the U-17 management by no means referred to as or checked on me to understand how I used to be faring. They had been finished with me they usually had moved on with one other gifted participant to exchange me.

“Whereas I used to be ready for the surgical procedure, I watched my different teammates getting signed to play for Kwara United and Abubakar Bukola Saraki FC within the Nigerian Premier League. A few of them had been getting signed to golf equipment in Europe, however I used to be left for lifeless as my knee degenerated,” he acknowledged, giving deep sobs at intervals.

Throughout the episode, Ibanga mentioned the KFA management took him for a scan in Ilorin, however he nonetheless couldn’t run.

Once they noticed the state of affairs was getting extreme, the then technical advisor, Mr Paul Ashworth, advised Mr Titiloye to take Ibanga for an MRI, the place the sum of N90,000 was paid for the process.

By then, Ibanga mentioned he had stopped soccer for 3 months.

The report from the MRI, Ibanga famous, was that he wouldn’t be capable to play soccer once more except he underwent a knee operation, which, at the moment, would value round N500,000.

Lastly, in November 2011, Titiloye and the Kwara Soccer Academy, along side the Saraki administration, raised cash for the surgical procedure.

Ibanga had the knee surgical procedure on the UCH, Ibadan.

Hope ultimately?

With the data that he had only a few extra years to play soccer haunting him and being out of coaching for greater than a 12 months, Ibanga had a depressing journey forward.

Watching his colleagues get signed to numerous golf equipment in Europe and across the nation as he recuperated after the surgical procedure, Ibanga mentioned he blamed the NFF for doing nothing about his situation for one 12 months till the KFA intervened.

In line with him, if it had intervened earlier, his knee would have been salvaged and he would have continued taking part in soccer and fulfilling his desires.

“They had been those who referred to as me to play for the U-17 crew however deserted me after I wanted them essentially the most as a result of I may not play effectively due to an damage I developed whereas taking part in for them.

“I couldn’t graduate with my set on the Kwara Soccer Academy as a result of the MRI scan already confirmed that I had a lateral tear in my meniscus (contained in the knee).

“I used to be to sit down the 2010 WASSCE. The Kwara State Authorities had already paid for it. However, I deserted it and adopted the U-17 crew, not realizing they might dump me with nothing,” he acknowledged.

After taking part in with the KFA for 2 years after the surgical procedure, in June 2013, Ibanga determined it was time to go away.

He mentioned he skilled sharp knee ache whereas taking part in a match and fell.

Afraid that the physician’s prediction was coming true and scared that he may quickly be pressured out of the KFA like he was despatched out of the U-17 crew, Ibanga mentioned he determined to go away the academy on his personal.

“I used to be afraid. I didn’t know what I used to be doing. I referred to as my mum and advised her I used to be coming again residence to Calabar. I used to be already two years into my five-year ultimatum, and I knew my profession had come to an finish.

“That ache I skilled through the match even after the surgical procedure was the immediate I wanted. Thompson Oliha, the previous Tremendous Eagles midfielder, was my coach then.

“I wrote to the academy director then, Mr Paul Ashworth.

“Ashworth was very mad at me, as a result of he, too, was conscious of all of the academy had finished for me.

“He begged me to inform him the explanation why I used to be leaving however I refused to inform him what the surgeon advised me within the theatre. I knew I had simply three extra years to play soccer and my knee was not in a position to carry me prefer it used to,” he added.

He claimed that earlier than he left the academy, a nationwide director and advisor with the NFF got here to the KFA to ask after him when he didn’t discover him on the coaching floor, and he was advised about Ibanga’s situation.

In line with Ibanga, the director did nothing to assist him.

“He merely went again to Abuja. Thus far, I’ve not received any cellphone name from him or the NFF, asking about my welfare. Allow us to not neglect that I sustained this damage taking part in for them,” he acknowledged.

Residing in squalor

When he landed in Calabar, the place he lived along with his mom and youthful sister, Ibanga mentioned he felt like he had failed his household.

On arrival, he was limping as a result of he had sat for lengthy hours on the bus that took him residence.

Confused about what to do after dropping the whole lot, he mentioned he determined to start out work at a neighborhood restaurant, the place he was paid N5,000 month-to-month.

After just a few months, he began working as a butcher on the Watt Market, Calabar, the place he bought goat bone for as little as N200 to individuals who bred canines or simply needed to eat the bony a part of a goat.

“The damage value me the whole lot. The shoulder damage I sustained continues to be there thus far. I can not raise heavy objects lest I fall. I work within the abattoir from 2am until 3pm. Then, I transfer to the plastic part of the market, the place I carry plastic wares for folks as a market help, and I’m paid N50 per journey. I’ve finished that for greater than 10 years now, struggling to outlive.

“I’ve misplaced the whole lot. Once I stand, I put my weight on my left leg, so I don’t journey and fall. This damage is one I sustained since after I was round 16 or 17. It has been greater than 10 years now. I nonetheless haven’t made any headway in life,” he added.

A fellow butcher colleague of Ibanga, who gave his title as Sunday Akpan, whereas talking in Ibibio, advised our correspondent throughout a go to to the market that the previous footballer was hardworking.

“We get up as early as 2am to return to the abattoir to kill animals. Mbet is all the time there earlier than then. He and his mom are hardworking folks,” he mentioned.

After a few years of struggling, in 2018, Ibanga registered for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination and was provided admission to review Historical past on the College of Calabar, Calabar, Cross River State.

“I’ve sponsored myself since then. I’m in my ultimate 12 months now, however I’ve not been in a position to pay for my 12 months three college charges. Are you able to think about that?

“I mix work as a butcher and market help with education. This can be very troublesome for me. My mom is 58. What can she do? We’ve got no father. We’ve got no one. I can not even do any laborious work due to my knee and shoulder all as a result of I needed to play for my nation and make my household proud,” he famous.

A number of makes an attempt to get Titiloye at first proved abortive as his cellphone traces didn’t join.

After weeks of making an attempt, Titiloye’s line went via on Monday and he corroborated Ibanga’s story.

He mentioned though he left the Academy in 2011, he knew of Ibanga’s case as he personally contributed N350,000 for the younger footballer’s knee surgical procedure.

“I can not inform why he (Ibanga) left as a result of we had fastened his knee for him, paying large sums of cash for the corrective surgical procedure.

“He was not pushed away by the KFA, to the most effective of my data. He left on his personal. I left the academy in 2011.

“We don’t perceive how he was deserted, however it was unlucky that he had that damage although we handled him correctly. I don’t know what he desires the NFF to do for him as a result of it wasn’t the NFF that gave him the damage; he received it within the line of responsibility,” he famous.

Nonetheless, Ibanga mentioned he was talking out after 12 years as a result of he needed the NFF to assist him.

“This knee damage ended my desires of being knowledgeable footballer. It ended my profession. I need assistance. Have a look at the state of affairs of my household. There may be nothing to jot down residence about. For the way lengthy will I proceed to work as a butcher to have the ability to deal with my mom and sister?

“I might have moved on however the knee is again to sq. one. I can not work for lengthy with out sitting. I can not bend for lengthy both. I nonetheless maintain the rails after I climb the steps. This wet season, it’s got worse.

“My life is not only regular once more. As I get older, the ache is rising. My motion is restricted. I need the NFF to proper their wrongs. I’m residing in ache,” he added.

NFF mum

When Saturday PUNCH contacted the Director of Communication for the NFF, Ademola Olajire, on the cellphone, on Monday, he didn’t reply. He additionally didn’t reply to textual content messages despatched to his cellphone line.

On Tuesday, this reporter despatched one other set of textual content messages each through SMS and WhatsApp, in search of solutions from Olajire. Although the messages on WhatsApp had been delivered, our correspondent didn’t obtain any response.

The cellphone line additionally rang out a number of occasions.

Saturday PUNCH additional reached out to Mr Ibitoye Toyin, who’s the Particular Adviser to the Minister of Sports activities, Mr Sunday Dare.

Toyin requested our correspondent to confirm Ibanga’s claims with the NFF first.

“2011 was 12 years in the past and these claims will want some clarifications from the NFF earlier than any feedback will be made,” he wrote, in a WhatsApp message despatched to this reporter.

Instructed that Olajire had but to answer Saturday PUNCH’s inquiry, Toyin mentioned, “Solely the NFF can provide the data you want. If I had it, I might have given it to you.”

This reporter, once more, reached out to Olajire on the cellphone however the line rang out.

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