There was some mystery about it, losing his playing boots a day before a league game and when he was so close to agreeing a new deal with his club.
Eric Ejiofor didn’t think much about it at the time, but looking back, the former Super Eagles CB believes, that mysterious incident might have actually been the beginning of the end to what was a nearly career.
Ejiofor was 30 at the time and although he was nearer the exit, he believed he had a few more competitive years to go before hanging his boots for good.
He wanted to leave football on his own terms, after all, he had earned himself a pretty good reputation.
Ejiofor was a member of Nigeria’s squad to the 2002 AFCON, the only home based player selected by then Coach, Amodu Shuaibu.
That same year he left Enyimba and moved to Israel with Maccabi Haifa, where he would later win the League title.
In 2002, at the prime of his career, He was named in the Super Eagles squad to the FIFA World Cup in Korea/Japan as a 23 year-old.
He was off to Cyprus after five seasons in Israel and it all looked like the fairytale would end with all of his dreams achieved.
But, after a team training session on a fateful day, the eeriness of any footballer’s nightmare crept in and Ejiofor recalls nothing was the same after that day.
‘It was like any other day, we had just finished training, everybody packed their stuffs and we kept them in the locker room. It was the eve of a league game,’ recalled Ejiofor on Brila FM’s No Holds Barred with Ifeanyi Udeze.
‘At this point, I wasn’t thinking of retirement because I was close to signing a new deal with my club, Enosis Neon Paralimni.
‘I remember we all returned on matchday and my boots were missing. It was strange because everyone else found theirs cleaned and packed where it should be, but mine wasn’t,’ said the former Enyimba man.
Fetish practices and voodoo isn’t uncommon in football, in Africa or most parts of the world. There are documented accounts of African players using juju or making incarnations before games or during games to target opponents or even teammates, a fact Ejiofor admits he was aware of.
In the Paralimni locker room there were a few Africans at the time, but he did not suspect anyone would nurse such diabolical intents towards him.
‘There were West Africans and Southern Africans in the team, but I won’t think for once that any one of them would have such intentions.
‘All I know is, during the game I didn’t suffer any injury, but after the game I started feeling pains in my knees,’ he recalls.
‘I had several appointments with the club doctor. My knees will swell so bad that it required the doctors to drain the liquid from it with injections, and series of MRI tests done found nothing wrong.’
‘This situation worried me a lot and finally, we agreed I’ll have a surgery in my knee for a meniscus repair. Cartilages were removed and that was the end of my career.
‘I would be in extreme pains and couldn’t get even walk properly, it forced me to retire.
‘That remains my biggest regret till date, that I was forced to leave the game and not on my own terms.’
Life after football in those days early days was a torture for Ejiofor, but for his family’s support.
‘I was depressed. It was as though everything was taking from me. My wife didnt want to go back to Nigeria with me, I didn’t know what else to do in Greece, it caught me unawares.
‘But, I’ll consider myself one of the few lucky ones because I had invested back home, so the decision to return was just the right thing to do.
‘When you’re a footballer and have money to give, there’ll be a lot of people hanging around, holding out their hands, calling your phone. The moment I returned and they knew I couldn’t be as generous as I was, everybody disappeared, my phone sometimes I didn’t get a call from anybody for weeks.’
‘This is the life we are thrown into as footballers, but it is important to plan for life after it and be humble and smart. That’s the only way to stay up and out of trouble.’