IKENWA NNABUOGOR reckons that Uche brothers – Kalu and Ikechukwu – could well be the most productive brothers’ pair to wear the Super Eagles shirt…
The history of Nigerian football will never be complete without a worthy mention of pair of brothers who donned the national team colours at the same point in time, as well as at different times.
This phenomenon dates back to the Atuegbu brothers when Andrew and Aloysius wore the then Green Eagles colours to the delight of fans. Both were midfielders with class and the fans thronged to the stadiums to watch them.
Though the younger Aloysius, nicknamed “Blockbuster” for his hard ferocious shots, was more prominent than his brother, the Jos-born brothers made their name representing their country.
While Aloysius went on to represent Green Eagles at three African Cup of Nations finals, Andrew was less illustrious with the Eagles, making no appearance at AFCON level.
However, they played a few games together in the national team colours, but their impact as a pair was nowhere near the Uche brothers, the pair which is still considered as the best so far in the country.
Odegbami brothers played their roles, but at different times but the Odegbami senior, “Mathematical” Segun overshadowed his younger brother Wole completely in terms of record, trophies and general performance.
Save for the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Wole’s Eagles’ contributions were arguably nominal. He, however, played 18 times as a winger just like his older brother, scoring just two goals.
Notable names like Nwankwo Kanu, ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha and John Utaka had their brothers playing just a bit part roles, but must be counted as national team players.
While Nwankwo, ‘Jay Jay’ and John went on to become household names in Nigeria football, Ogbonna, Emma and Peter belted a handful of games.
The Uche brothers could be regarded as the greatest pair of all time owing to their contributions to the Super Eagles.
They also lasted longer and played more games together.
Nurtured in Aba where they began playing football at Presbyterian Church where their father was a renowned elder, the Uches were a pair to watch in Super Eagles colours.
Though Kalu, nicknamed “Senegal” was the first to wear his country’s colours, the arrival of “IK” in the heat of the 2008 Nations Cup qualifiers was welcomed by the appreciative fans who were waiting patiently for “IK” to bring on his scoring boots along from Spain, where his goals powered Recreativo Huelva to the Spanish top flight from the Spanish Segunda (second division).
Kalu was missing in the AFCON proper in Ghana after his younger brother’s goals propelled Eagles in the qualifiers to land in the neighbouring country.
Fast forward to 2009 when the Eagles battled their way through the qualifiers to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and the AFCON staged in Angola same year.
Uche brothers thrilled the fans to no end as they continued to ask for more from the exciting brothers in the marathon qualifiers to South Africa and Angola.
Both conspired to tear apart their opponents with “IK” and Osaze Odemwingie firing in the goals in regular fashion with Kalu as the cannon fodder in the middle of Eagles’ park as the country’s national team coasted home to South Africa and Angola.
One of such conspiracy was the delicious through pass “IK” received from his older brother after just two minutes as the former Gatefe striker fired from the edge of the Kenya’s vital area in the 3-1 win in Abuja. Sheer class!
Sadly, the ugly catalogue of injuries reared its head denying “IK” the chance of enjoying his sumptuous telepathic relationship with his brother that had come to stay.
The fans were the most hit as they anxiously looked forward to it, but it was not to be.
Funny enough, his goals in the qualifiers were the largest chunk of his Eagles’ goal record which stands him as the fourth best in the Eagles’ top scorer’s chart with 19 goals behind the legendary Rashidi Yekini, Segun Odegbami and Aiyegbeni Yakubu.
Kalu went on to stamp his authority in South Africa and Angola, scoring two goals as Eagles failed to advance to the second round when the World Cup was hosted for the first time on African soil.
Injuries were not fair to the exciting brothers as it denied them chances of playing together in a major tournament, the dreams both nurtured when they played street football in Aba.
By the time the Eagles won their third Nations Cup in South Africa in 2013 under late Stephen Keshi, Kalu had fallen out of favour with the “Big Boss” and missed the tournament.
With Kalu missing in the middle at 2013 AFCON, “IK” appeared to have also lost his shirt to emerging new striker Emmanuel Emenike as he struggled to get on the score sheet.
Post-2013 AFCON dimmed the lights for the exciting brothers culminating in their calling time in the Super Eagles.
They will be remembered for the great moments the fans savoured especially during the 2010 World Cup and AFCON qualifiers, making them the undisputable best brother’s act of the Eagles.
“IK” played 46 times during his injury-troubled stint in the national team, while Kalu appeared 37 times, scoring five goals.
At club level, both spent the most part of their careers in Spain and have squared up against each other a number times in the Spanish La Liga and the domestic cup ties.
Take a bow the Uche brothers for that sweet combination between the midfield and the attack that produced some interesting goals and great moments for the fans.