Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold wants on-loan striker Bernie Ibini to stay at the Sky Blues rather than return to Belgium at the end of the season.
Nigeria-born Ibini is under contract with Belgian outfit Club Brugge and is on a one-year loan deal with Sydney FC to regain his fitness following a horrific injury.
The striker suffered a broken leg and torn ligaments during his first session of a pre-season camp with the Belgian outfit last year. It began a horrific year for the player.
Now that he’s fit again - thanks in large part to Sydney FC’s excellent medical staff - the 24-year-old is back to his electric best, underlining his growing importance to the Sky Blues’ run for the Premiership and Championship.
Ibini put in an eye-catching cameo off the bench in the 2-0 win over Newcastle on Sunday and as he gains more match fitness, should continue to wow fans.
Sunday’s display included a fabulous goal and Ibini looked every inch the pacey, power striker who burst on the scene five years ago with the Mariners.
But the Caltex Socceroo (capped twice in 2014) should be back in Belgium for the beginning of their pre-season in July next year.
Arnold, however, believes his future is here in Australia. And he made a passionate case for the player to remain in the Hyundai A-League.
“Normally he has to go back [to Club Brugge],” said Arnold at Sydney FC's beach recovery session on Monday.
“If Brugge were honest with themselves, they know they couldn’t fix it [his injury] and the medical side over there wasn’t working.
“We’ve rehabilitated him and he’s getting back to his best.
“If the kid wants to go back, good. But if not, they should let him go because they were getting nothing out of him anyway.”
When asked if he’d like to keep Ibini, Arnie was adamant.
“Of course. He’s fantastic. You saw that cameo yesterday [Sunday] that the A-League needs him. He excites. That’s the type of player he is.
“I can tell you, he couldn’t walk down a set of steps when he came to us. He couldn’t walk up a grass hill at training. And he couldn’t run. At all.
“And mentally the pressure that puts on you, you can’t do your trade of being a footballer. And when you’re overseas, on your own. With no family, you feel worthless.
“So mentally he was really down, as well.
"But Elias [Boukarim, Head Physiotherapist] and our medical staff and Clarkey [Andrew Clarke, Head of Strength and Conditioning] have done an incredible job to get him back to where he is today.
“He seems much stronger and quicker than when he left [for overseas],” said Arnold.
“And he’s nowhere near fit. I’m sure in the next three weeks he’s going to get better and better and by January, he’ll be flying.”
Arnold added the Hyundai A-League leads the world in sports medical science.
And with a cheeky smile, said Ibini may even start on Friday night in the blockbuster against Melbourne City when the unbeaten league leaders host second placed City and their star-studded cast, including Tim Cahill.
“He has to be in contention after that [Sunday’s game]," said Arnold.
“I’ll decide on Thursday. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, what he did yesterday is going to put fear in every defender – especially if he comes on in the last half hour.”