Former Nigeria international Ndubisi Chukunyere says he went into depression after he was forced to quit football due to persistent injury worries.
The retired striker suffered a knock on his knee during his time at Nigeria Professional Football League side Kano Pillars in 1993.
Despite playing with the injury when it was not yet completely healed, the Nigerian kept putting up impressive performances – which earned him a move to Malta top-flight side, Hibernians in 1997.
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However, his knee problems resurfaced and that cost him a bumper deal to Boavista Zenith and St. Petersburg. As if that was not enough, he decided to hang up his boots aged 27.
In a no-holds-barred chat with Goal, he reveals he battled through a number of difficult moments knowing his football dreams had come to an end.
“Whenever I talk about how injury put an end to my career, I am always in tears. My professional career ended at 27 and this is a fact no one except you knows,” a sobbing Chukunyere narrated to Goal.
“Until now, I kept it to myself because I was depressed. I started nursing a knee injury in 1993 but because of the weather conditions in Nigeria, I was not feeling it.
“While I was at Stationery Stores, I would take painkillers before every game. This continued too at Kano Pillars as several injections would go into my knees before every league game.”
Following his arrival in Malta having left Nigeria Professional League side, Kano Pillars in 1997, Chukunyere – father of Malta’s music celebrity Destiny – thought that his injury nightmare was over.
Nonetheless, he was yet to experience the worst as that cost him bigger opportunities.
“When I got to Malta, it got worse after three seasons. In 2003, I went for a scan and the professor told me that the injury was a chronic one, but I argued with him saying he was wrong,” he continued.
“Deep down in my heart, I knew where the problem was coming from. Three surgeries were performed on my knees, yet it was still the same old story.
“The most painful thing was that after I earned my first cap, coach Christian Chukwu called me for the World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations qualifications, but I was unable to honour them because of injury.
“Had it not been for my injury setback, I should have garnered about 50 caps for the Super Eagles. It was then the reality was dawned on me that I can’t play football any longer and I had to quit.
“Even at that, I managed to play up until 2007 but I wasn’t the same player I used to be. Before then, Boavista signed me from Hibernians but I failed my medicals.
“Well, I knew that I would fail but I just wanted to take a risk. The same thing happened when Zenith St. Petersburg wanted my services.”
Now 41-years-old, he discloses how he tried his luck playing tennis and handball, before settling to become a successful businessman in the Southern European country.
Yet, he whimpers about what his early exit from the beautiful game caused him.
“Every Nigerian’s dream is to play for the Super Eagles. I don’t know what is obtainable now, then, it was a thing of pride wearing the green and white jersey,” he added.
“Making my senior national team debut made me a proud son of Ajegunle – where I am from and my family.
“If I knew that my knee injury would cost me bigger and greater opportunities, I would have taken care of my injury a long time ago.
“To date, I regret not having at least 15 caps for the Super Eagles.”