Kolkata: Chibuzor Nwakanma — the first foreigner to play for Kolkata’s big three clubs, who had a unique nose for goals and often set the field afire with his special somersault celebration — is no more.
According to information received here, the 55-year-old died in his hometown in Nigeria on Friday.
Chibuzor came to India as a student and formed a formidable partnership with fellow Nigerians Emeka Ezeugo and Christopher Kem to help the Punjab University team win the All-India Inter-Varsity Football Championship in 1985 before landing in Kolkata, then regarded as the hub of Indian football.
He joined East Bengal in 1986 and then moved to Mohammedan Sporting the following season where he went on to play until 1991 and where the repertoire of his skills as a player was in full bloom.
He was part of Mohun Bagan’s CFL, Durand and Federation Cup-winning squad in 1994 before hanging up his boots as a Churchill Brothers player in 1998. He also played for Tollygunge Agragami besides having had a short stint in Bangladesh football.
At a time when brawny Chima Okorie was ruling the Maidan with his brutal speed and power and a towering Emeka went on to earn more international fame by representing Nigeria in the Seoul Olympics in 1988 and Fifa World Cup in 1994, the short-statured Chibu — as Chibuzor was fondly called during his playing days — carved a niche for himself with his unique goal-poaching instincts in India’s domestic football.
From former India internationals Atanu Bhattacharya to Sisir Ghosh, his contemporaries remembered him as “a great teamman” who used to play fun with the teammates.
Post retirement, he briefly tried his luck as a commentator and a coach but eventually settled on pursuing his religious interests and became a priest on returning to Nigeria. A few years ago, he also set up an academy to nurture junior footballers in his home country.