Nigeria and Wolverhampton Wanderers number one, Carl Ikeme, has retired after surviving life-threatening cancer. This is due to medical advise following his year-long battle with acute leukemia.
The 32-year-old announced recently that he was in “complete remission” after responding positively to an intensive course of chemotherapy, but he has accepted that his recovery will not extend to the resumption of a football career at elite level.
“I spoke with the doctor and he suggested I should retire because of the toll the treatment has taken on my body,” Ikeme told the club’s official website today. “He thinks it’s what’s best for me and I can’t really risk trying to come back. My health is my priority. I want to be here for my children, family and friends. In the grand scheme of things, with my life in danger, it’s the minimum price I have to pay to spend the rest of my time with my family.
“It hasn’t really set in since speaking to the doctor. In time I can have a good look back. It’s sad when you look back and think of the sacrifices you’ve made to be a footballer, but I’m happy with what I achieved. If you had said I could have had this career at 11, I would have snapped your hands off.”
Ikeme graduated from Wolves’ youth academy and went on to make 207 appearances for the senior team. He established himself as their first-choice goalkeeper during the 2012-13 season after several spells on loan. He was named in the PFA’s League One team of the season in 2013-14 and was due to be Wolves’ first-choice goalkeeper last season until his diagnosis led the club to sign John Ruddy and, more recently, Rui Patricio.
The illness prevented Ikeme from representing Nigeria at the World Cup. He made his international debut in September 2015 through dual-nationality regulations and appeared during Nigeria’s World Cup qualifying campaign. The Nigerian FA named him as their unofficial “24th squad member” for the tournament. Gernot Rohr, the Nigerian head coach, said that Ikeme’s absence was his “biggest regret”.
Ikeme was diagnosed with acute leukaemia in July last year after an abnormality was discovered in his pre-season blood tests. He had chemotherapy soon afterwards and last month said that the latest tests had showed he was in “complete remission”. “I still have hurdles to get over to be cured, but I can hopefully now move forward with some normality,” Ikeme said.
His experience is similar to that of Stiliyan Petrov, the former Bulgaria midfielder, who was diagnosed with acute leukaemia in March 2012 while playing for Aston Villa. Petrov made a strong recovery, but was unable to continue playing competitive football and announced his retirement in May 2013.
Ikeme’s immediate plan is to take a holiday with his family, but he intends to be at Molineux to watch Wolves, who are back in the Premier League after an absence of seven seasons, and to pass on his gratitude to the supporters. “It has been moving because you don’t usually realise that people like you,” he said. “When you’re playing, you’re just in the mode of playing game after game, but when you’re in these circumstances, you realise how people feel about you.
“The support has been incredible. Every day for a year, someone has asked me how I am. It’s incredible to think people actually care so much that they’ll do fundraisers in my name. I’m proud that I can always come back to Wolverhampton and always have friends here and be loved. This is my club and it always will be. Now that I’m not playing, I’m a fan and I’m looking forward to it. I’ll be coming to enjoy the games with the fans who have supported me in my whole career, through the hardest moments.”