Rotherham United’s injured Michael Ihiekwe taking advantage of lockdown

MICHAEL IHIEKWE probably never envisaged being mentioned in the same breath as Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford and Eden Hazard.

Rotherham's Michael Ihiekwe. Picture: Dean Atkins

Just as the suspension of Europe’s major leagues has provided an opportunity for some of the game’s leading stars to complete their recovery and rehabilitation without missing the rest of the 2019-20 season, so there is a positive spin-off for the influential Rotherham United centre-half.

For England strikers Kane and Rashford – sidelined in the winter by hamstring and back injuries respectively – the hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic will mean that the domestic campaign is not over for the pair as both had previously thought.

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The decision to switch the European Championships to next summer will also mean they will not miss out internationally.

Light at the end of the tunnel has also been afforded Ihiekwe, who was contemplating missing the rest of the season with a knee injury before the EFL season was put on hold.

Given his importance to the cause of the promotion-chasing Millers, it also provides one blessing in difficult times, with the news that fellow defender Clark Robertson may now also feature when the season resumes likely to be additionally well received.

Ihiekwe, who has been backed to clean up at the club’s end-of-season awards night by manager Paul Warne, told The Yorkshire Post: “It is weird. Obviously to have the bad news that I had this injury was terrible.

“But you can take the good out of a bad situation, I guess. Fingers crossed, I won’t miss any games. If I did miss one or two (before the delay), my season would have been over before. So it is definitely a positive to take out of it.

“I have never really had a significant injury, so it was a bit of a dark time. But there is a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel.

“Just to hear that I did not need surgery meant I was over the moon. It is coming along well and progressing.”

While hundreds of footballers follow fitness programmes at home, Ihiekwe has been heading into the club’s virtually deserted training ground to continue his rehabilitation work – with a club physio monitoring his progress.

It has provided a touch of reality to the Liverpudlian, who suffered his injury at the end of February, in the process.

“My life has not changed too much,” he added.

“It is not too bad. I am just kicking on each day and doing my rehab. It is just me and one physio and there’s no distractions and I am just getting on with my work.

“I live just outside Chesterfield and I have got a little one-year-old and he keeps me occupied every day. It has not been the worst, to be fair.

“Obviously, I am missing the football and even watching it as I am sure everyone else is. That comes first and everyone needs to get healthy and then hopefully, we can resume the season.

“Definitely, on a personal note, this season is the most consistent I have been – playing at a good level, week in and week out which was my aim at the start of the season. It has definitely been a successful season.”

The willingness and intent of the EFL to finish the season come what may – with a return date of early June having been strongly mooted – is something that is likely to be particularly well received by clubs such as Rotherham, with so much riding on their finale.

As it stands, EFL chairman Rick Parry is working on a plan for clubs to return to competitive action in June, with games behind closed doors – if they get the go-ahead from the government.

It remains to be seen if that transpires, but should that scenario arise, then everyone connected with the club are likely to heave a sigh of relief.

Ihiekwe said: “It would be a massive blow to all of us if the season got scrapped with the position we have got ourselves in. It is a good one with nine games to go.

“It would be a massive shame with the amount of hard work we have put into it. I don’t think anyone wants to see the season scrapped – fans included.

“We do need to finish at whatever point we can and then go from there.”

The dressing-room craic may be absent at the moment for Ihiekwe, but banter has been flying around during a number of quiz nights involving first-team staff and players, which has done its bit to lift spirits.

Millers chief Warne has also hosted a quiz for supporters on Saturday nights to maintain a match-day link with fans during these unprecedented times.

Ihiekwe continued: “The group chat has been quite lively, just to keep the lads occupied. The quiz nights are a good way for the lads to get together.

“We see each other every day normally, so you do miss that bit of banter. This is the closest thing to it. Everyone is making the best out of a bad situation.

“Tree (Matt Crooks) is the quizmaster and we can’t call him by his name anymore and we have to call him quizmaster. All the family have also been involved and it has kept everyone occupied and it has been good fun.”