Former Nigerian footballer-turned-priest Chibuzor Nwakanma, Kolkata Maidan’s favourite in the 1980s, died on Friday. He was 57. Forward Chibuzor, one of the top early foreigners to play for the city’s ‘Big Three’, died after a cardiac arrest at his residence in Aba, Nigeria, according to his former teammate, Emeka Ezeugo.
“He finished his usual morning walk, came into the house, slumped and died,” Emeka wrote in a Facebook post, leaving many of his former colleague shocked. Emeka formed a partnership with Chibuzor during their days at DAV College in Chandigarh before replicating their chemistry at the iconic Maidan.
“In the recipe of my youthful life, I just lost a vital ingredient, a brother, friend and the beautiful game’s bestie,” Emeka wrote in a heartfelt tribute, calling it a loss for Indian football.
“Indian football have lost an icon. I’m still in shock and incapable of discussing this. We were more than a family. He was more than a brother to me. I’m crying without tears. We’ve come a long way. It’s an understatement to say that I’m devastated.”
Chima Okorie may have been the most illustrious Nigerian to play for Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting, but, with his powerful shooting and dribbling skills, Chibuzor had also managed to make his presence felt in the late 80s.
Having come to study in India, Chibuzor was first picked by East Bengal where he played in two phases before moving to Mohun Bagan and then making a name for himself in the black and white jersey in the 1990-91 under the coaching of Shabbir Ali.
“It was the first year of my coaching when he joined Mohammedan Sporting and we became the champion club of India (winning the Sait Nagjee Trophy),” Shabbir Ali told PTI.
“He was a team-man, a jovial character. He mixed up very well with everyone. As for his playing, he was not that extraordinary, but always among the best strikers during that time. He was a perfect blend of good striking, speed and ball control.”
With Chibuzor, Mohammedan Sporting also won the Kalinga Cup, beating Mohun Bagan, the Bordoloi Cup beating East Bengal, and finished runners-up in Sikkim’s Governor’s Gold Cup and Rovers Cup.
Chibuzor also played in an exhibition match against the star-studded Dutch side PSV Eindhoven (1991), which had seven World Cuppers in their ranks. He was deeply religious and chose to become a pastor after hanging his boots at Churchill Brothers in the late 1990s.