Sweden-based Super Falcons defender, Faith Ikidi, says she is happy to be back to the team after five years. Ikidi last featured for the Falcons at the 2011 edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany, where Nigeria recorded one victory against Canada in the city of Dresden, their first since USA ’99 World Cup.
Since then, she had not been invited to the squad despite the fact that she is still playing good football for Pitea IF of the Swedish Damallsvenskan.
Ikidi scored Nigeria’s first goal against the Harambee Starlets of Kenya in the 4-0 victory last group match at the hilltop Omisport Stadium, Limbe, on Saturday.
Speaking with The Guardian on the eve of their semifinal match against the Banyana Banyana of South Africa, Ikidi said that though she had been called upon on few occasions to return to the team by former coaches, the manner and process was not smooth.
“I won’t say I had been ignored by former coaches of the Super Falcons since the Germany 2011 FIFA World Cup, but the problem was the way the invitations came. When coach Edwin Okon was handling the Super Falcons, he called me one day that I should come down to Nigeria, and that he wants to see if I was still playing well. But then, our league was on in Sweden, and the period was not a FIFA free day. I expected that a formal letter would be addressed to my club, inviting me to the national team. But that was not the case and I could not come to Nigeria.”
It was a case of once beaten twice shy. In 2006, Ikidi and two other players of the Super Falcons, Maureen Madu and Yinka Kudaisi helped the team to win the fifth African Nations Cup title in Warri, Delta State. They were plying their professional football career then with a Swedish Club, QBIK. While they were still in Nigeria celebrating their victory with the Falcons, the management of QBIK terminated their contract on the ground that the club never granted them permission before they embarked on the trip to Nigeria. The Nigerian media took it as a challenge, while the then Secretary General of the Nigeria Football Association (NFA), Chief Taiwo Ogunjobi wrote several letters asking QBIK to reinstate the players, but it was to no avail. The three players lost the battle.
Since then, Ikidi and some other Nigerian female players have been threading with caution any time they are called to the national team.
The new handler, Coach Florence Omagbemi, a former captain of the Super Falcons for 14 years, knows the approach to take in bringing players from their foreign clubs to the national team. “The coach followed due process by writing to my club and that is why I came for this championship. Many people may say that national duty comes first. Yes, I agree, but I want people to also know that it is the clubs that pay our salaries. If a player does not have a club, she may be out of form. In that case, a coach who wants to succeed might not really look her direction when inviting players to the national teams. That is why clubs do have issues with some football associations sometimes,” She explained.
Born in Port Harcourt and raised in Abuja, Ikidi featured for some Nigerian clubs, including Bayelsa Queens before taking her trade to Sweden. Her first call to the national team was in 2004.
Last year, Ikidi was voted Defender of the Year in the Swedish Damallsvenskan. Before joining Pitea IF in 2011, she had featured for various clubs abroad including Klepp IL, QBIK, Eskilstuna DFF and Linkopings FC.
Looking at the on-going 10th African Women’s Nations Cup in Cameroun, Ikidi said: “It is really good to be back in the Super Falcons squad, and playing in the midst of young and talented players gives me joy. Also, it is a thing of joy for me to be playing under the supervision of some former players of the team. These are people I so much respected in their playing days. I played alongside one of the Assistant coaches (Perpetua Nkwocha), and she was a good inspiration to us on the field. I thank the NFF for bringing these three ex-players to coach the team.
“I won’t play football forever, but I see my invitation to the team as a way of building confidence in the upcoming players. Experience matters so much in life, especially in sports. As I said, I am happy to be in the midst of younger players who are eager to make a good name for themselves in the national team.”