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Kolkata club football icon Chibuzor of Nigeria dies of a heart attack

Published : Apr 08, 2022 21:45 IST T+T-
East Bengal's Chibuzor battles a Tollygunge Agragami player for possession, circa 1986.

East Bengal's Chibuzor battles a Tollygunge Agragami player for possession, circa 1986.

The dimunitive Chibuzor was one of the deadliest forces inside the penalty box. Gifted with tremendous speed and a predatory instinct for goals, he was a match-winner for whichever team he played.

Chibuzor Nwakanma, or simply Chibuzor to his millions of fans in Kolkata, was one of the icons of Indian club football. The Nigerian striker, who had played for all the three big clubs of Kolkata – East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting – was among the greatest forwards of his era, and one of the most popular and enduring stars of the Maidan (Kolkata football scene). His sudden death on April 8 from a heart attack at his residence in Aba, Nigeria, cast a pall of sorrow among football fans of the city, who continued to remember Chibuzor as one of their own even though he had retired and left the country nearly 25 years ago. He was 57 at the time of his death.

In the second half of the 1980s and the early 1990s, the Kolkata football scene was dominated by the skills, speed and sheer strength of three Nigerians – Chima Okorie, Emeka Ezeugo, and Chibuzor. The dimunitive Chibuzor may have been eclipsed by the towering presence of Chima and the panther-like grace of Emeka, but he was one of the deadliest forces inside the penalty box. Gifted with tremendous speed and a predatory instinct for goals, he was a match-winner for whichever team he played.

Chibuzor had come to India to pursue his studies, when he was spotted by East Bengal club and was immediately catapulted to stardom in 1986. Subsequently, he went on to play for Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting. It was during his stint with Mohammedan Sporting that Chibuzor’s star shone the brightest. He and midfielder Emeka made a devastating combination that in 1991 saw Mohammedan Sporting win the Bordoloi Cup (beating East Bengal) and the Kalinga Cup (beating Mohun Bagan) and reach the final of the Rovers Cup and the Sikkim Gold Cup. A heartbroken Emeka posted on social media, "Indian football has lost an icon. I'm still in shock and incapable of discussing this. We were more than family. He was more than a brother to me. I'm crying without tears. We've come a long way. It's an understatement to say that I'm devastated. Rest Peacefully, Chibuuuu."

Chibuzor retired in 1998 after a brief stint with Churchill Brothers. He was as popular off the field as he was on it, and would often be seen driving around Kolkata on his bike, chatting and joking with fans. After retiring, he returned to Nigeria and became a priest.