Today the remains of our former Enyimba captain, Chinedu Udoji will be laid to rest. It was and still is a piece of news that shook the Nigerian football community and threw Enyimba football faithful into deep mourning.
Udoji’s affectionate place in Enyimba folklore as one of us- An Elephant, was tested with his move to a rival club but remained largely intact because of his full commitment and dedication to the Enyimba cause during his long and successful spell with the Aba Giants.Hence the need to place his career journey with the Peoples Elephants on record for posterity.
Udoji joined Enyimba in 2009, and did meet on ground the solid Central defence partnership of Captain Okey Odita and Emmanuel Anyanwu. A pair that combined admirably as the club won the Federation Cup in the preceding season.In adhering to the timeless cliché in sports circles- “Don’t change a winning team”, Synonym of “if it ain’t broke,don’t fix it.” Coach Okey Emordi kept faith with the Odita/Anyanwu combo for the most part of the season as Enyimba won the league title and reached the Federation Cup final in 2010.
Udoji’s bit part role in his first season served as proper education and invaluable lessons on the demands of hardwork to earn and retain a starting place in a star-studded team.An experience which formed part of the famed motivational pieces shared with new centre backs who found it difficult to break up his 6-year central defence partnership with Anyanwu.
The departure of Okey Odita opened the door for Udoji to cement his place alongside Anyanwu,to form the most formidable and enduring Centre-back partnership in the club’s history and a notable pair in NPFL recent annals. His Lion-hearted reputation was evident to all. Though he lacked the finesse and designer silk, but he brought Steel and uncompromising presence to the backline. Many strikers felt his strongman tactics, full dose of brutal kicks, agricultural tackles, and body-on-the-line blocks.
Chinedu was appointed club captain at the start of the 2013 season, and he immediately immersed himself in leading by example.He was the team spokesman,preaching responsibility, devotion and a bloody-minded will to win.He became more than Enyimba skipper and defensive stalwart. He was a TOTEM, club symbol in his time at the club. Even when he left for Kano Pillars at the end of the 2016 season, it was difficult for the fans to detach emotional links with him.
Little wonder his mooted return at the start of this season was well received amongst the fan base. Udoji laid down the leadership marker in his first season as captain by leading a stingy backline to a record home cleansheet in the league all season,culminating in 19 shutouts in Aba. A feat achieved with his sidekick – Emma Anyanwu,Fullbacks Markson Ojobo and Ugwu Uwadiegwu, with Bright Esieme often filling in at either of the full back positions to provide adequate cover for goalkeeper Femi Thomas.
The team’s spirited effort to overhaul the league leaders proved futile on the last matchday but the resolve of the team to crown a good season with a trophy paid dividends in the Federation Cup, beating Warri Wolves in the final in Lagos. A fitting ambience for Udoji to hold the trophy proudly aloft- the first of many as Club Captain.A feat he repeated the next season after an exciting final victory over Dolphins in the final.
The back-to-back Cup final victories did little to placate Udoji,who felt unsatisfied with finishing in runner-up position in the last two league seasons.He made it clear that 2015 would be the year to break Kano Pillars stranglehold on the league title for three successive seasons. He issued the battle cry and rolled his sleeves to inspire the team to hunt for points at home and away.
The highlight of his commitment to winning the league diadem came at the season’s home stretch,when injuries hit the club’s notable defensive midfielders- Razak Aliyu and Kamal Sikiru. Coach Kadiri Ikhana moved his captain to the deep midfield role with a clear brief to win back the ball and pass to the more creative sparks- Bobby Sokari and Nzube Anaezemba.But Udoji, who was famed for wearing his heart on his sleeves often took matters into his hands when things were going south on the field of play. His timed forays upfield yielded fruits in successive home matches -a brace in a 2-0 win against Wikki Tourists on matchday 31, and a late bullet-headed winner against Shooting Stars on Matchday 33. A match that had all the trappings of a title damaging stalemate. He never held back until the club’s 7th league crown was won with a game to spare in 2015.
In his seven seasons with the Aba giants,the former Enyimba skipper ticked all the boxes and epitomised what fans of the Peoples Elephants want from a defender; Courage,Determination, Aerial prowess and Strength in the tackle. These qualities undoubtedly made him a cult hero and a place in the pantheon of Enyimba Greats, having for good company illustrious defence bulwarks – Eric Ejiofor, Obinna Nwaneri etc. The aforementioned Club Greats earned international recognition and represented Nigeria at major tournaments including the glamorous FIFA WORLD CUP.
But the absence of an international cap is just about the only blight in Udoji accomplished career. The closest he came to flying the National flag was as part of the NPFL select side to Spain to play friendly games against top La Liga clubs. He started the first game against Valencia, but had to cut short his involvement in subsequent games alongside some of his Enyimba teammates due to club commitments, as they were flown to Egypt to honour a CAF Champions league quarter final fixture against Zamalek. Udoji’s best showing in the CAF Champions league was in the 2011 season when he was a key cog in the team that gallantly came short of reaching the final.
Chinedu Udoji ran his race and left us with remarkable memories. Like his professional role model John Terry, Udoji will forever be remembered at Enyimba as Captain, Leader,and Legend.
Fare thee well our iconic no26.
Adieu Man of Steel.
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