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Ifeanyi Ifeanyi: A profile of and chat with the Nigeria and FK Mash’al Mubarek midfielder

     Nigeria national team player Ifeanyi Ifeanyi kindly spoke with Pan-Africa Football about his rise through Nigerian football to the national team and playing abroad. A 25-year-old central midfielder who developed through the Nigerian football system, Ifeanyi is currently playing in the Uzbekistan Super League with FK Mash’al Mubarek. Here is a story of his career, the traits he brings to the field, and how his journey brought him to Uzbekistan.

     Ifeanyi is a player who immediately stands out for his active nature and work rate. His reputation rose swiftly as a youth player due to his exploits while representing Lagos state government teams. Ifeanyi described how his upbringing as a youth player in Nigerian football prepared him for his later opportunities:

Being chosen for select teams led to opportunities for Ifeanyi to participate in matches that took place in countries such as Germany, Belgium, and Spain. Soon after, in 2015 Ifeanyi saw regular action with the Nigeria under-20 national team, known as the Flying Eagles. The team won the African Youth Championship, qualifying to the FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand. Ifeanyi took on the responsibilities of using his speed and toughness to extinguish opposing attacks. Thriving when the match opens up, Ifeanyi is capable of quickly transitioning his team from defense to attack with his ball-winning abilities.

     Ifeanyi was 20 when he graduated to professional football in 2016 by joining Mountain of Fire and Miracles Football Club, a club that is owned by one of Nigeria’s largest Pentecostal denominations and had just earned promotion to Nigeria’s top division, the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL). Ifeanyi accelerated his rise by featuring regularly as MFM FC retained their spot in the NPFL. He made special mention of his appreciation for the NPFL, stating that the competition level and coaches helped make him the player he is today.

    Earning regular time at a young age for MFM FC led to a transfer the next season to a more prominent NPFL side, Akwa United. The club from the southern state of Akwa Ibom was enjoying its best period of success, regularly competing for qualification to CAF club competitions. 2018 was the year when Ifeanyi’s professional career started to really take off. He took part in Akwa’s run to the play-off round of that year’s CAF Confederation Cup, but most significantly, earned the opportunity to represent his country at the African Nations Championship. Being a regular starter in Nigeria’s run to the final, Ifeanyi described the experience: 

“It is every player’s dream to represent your fatherland and the senior national team. So it was an honor for me, my family and I give God the glory because it is God who made it possible. So the experience that I got was wonderful and this has helped my career a lot. This has boosted my profile. This has made a lot of people happy.” 

Nigeria Super Eagles manager Gernot Rohr rewarded Ifeanyi’s accomplishments in Nigerian domestic football with call-ups to the senior national team.
Ifeanyi with longtime Super Eagles captain John Obi Mikel.

     Ifeanyi’s performances earned the attention of clubs abroad, but his first move out of Nigeria did not go as planned. A transfer to ES Setif in Algeria brought him to a club with a higher profile, but the president of the club was jailed soon after, leading the club to bankruptcy. To keep his career from stagnating, Ifeanyi returned to Akwa United to maintain regular playing time and re-examine his options. The manager of Nigeria’s national team, Gernot Rohr, encouraged Ifeanyi to continue his efforts to play abroad to earn more national team call-ups. With his time at Akwa coming to an end, the midfielder prepared to find the next step in his career.

“While I was playing in Uyo (at Akwa), I knew a coach in Lagos from my youth days and from when I go to Lagos to train. He was talking with Ope and they spoke about me. That is how I got to meet Ope.”  

Ifeanyi Ifeanyi with his agent, Opeyemi Badmus

     A youth coach that Ifeanyi kept in touch with introduced him to Opeyemi Badmus. Ope was a player as well before injury caused him to seek other ways to be involved in football. Continuing his studies alongside playing came in handy as Ope started his post-playing career at an agency in Ghana. Things progressed quickly as the young agent turned his attention to Asia with time spent in Dubai and work in several countries all through the continent. Following his time in Dubai, Ope is now the founder and owner of Success Soccer Agency, as well as the head of the international department at Uzbek club FK Mash’al Mubarek. Based in Mubarek, an important location in the Uzbek oil industry, Mash’al earned promotion to the Uzbekistan Super League for this year’s campaign. Ope stressed that the facilities in the football-loving nation of Uzbekistan are a substantial upgrade to African football, specifying Uzbek football’s commitment to favoring grass pitches rather than synthetic fields.

     Ifeanyi highlighted that Ope provided a calm outlook on Ifeanyi’s situation that was different from other agents he had encountered. Turning down an offer from Poland that was a bit more lucrative, Ifeanyi was convinced and decided to make Mash’al his next stop. Coming into a recently promoted team with his pedigree and ability in the middle of the pitch, Ifeanyi was brought in to be the team’s most important player. A pandemic-delayed season has seen Mash’al experience highs and lows in their first season back in the Uzbek Super League, but Ifeanyi has stood out as the main reason why they are in good shape to retain their top division status.

The next priorities for Ifeanyi at this stage in his career are to build on his appearances for Nigeria and to stay in the spotlight for a move to the big stage. Playing at Mash’al is an experience that has given Ifeanyi regular playing time and a level of play where he can excel and standout. Until that next move to a higher stage arrives, Uzbekistan is providing a stable situation for Ifeanyi to thrive in and challenge himself.

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