Nigeria has produced some great goalkeepers and most of them were so good that it was almost impossible to come up with the best among them. From Sam Ibiam, Carl O’Dwyer , Eyo Essien, Emmanuel Ominunu , Olu Onagoruwa, Joe Erico, Amusa Adisa, Alloy Agu, Willy Okpara, David Ngodigha, to Wilfred Agbonavbare Nigeria’s history is replete with great shot stoppers. Following are arguably the best the country has ever produced.
He’s regarded as the longest serving goalkeeper in the history of Nigeria as he played across three decades from the 1960s up till the 1980s. Fregene broke into the national consciousness in the 60’s with stellar showing for ECN FC and got rewarded with a slot in the team to 1968 Olympics; he was best remembered for his heroics in Nigeria’s 2-2 draw with Brazil at the Games. He was the first choice until 1971 when he lost his place in the then Green Eagles. His international career was in hiatus for more than a decade until he resurfaced to the lead the line for the then defending champions in the 1982 African Cup of Nations in Libya, although it was a calamitous campaign for Nigeria in Libya as the team that had won the AFCON trophy two years earlier badly capitulated.
He was larger than life during his time; a goalkeeper with a frightening height, whether he featured for Enugu Rangers, his club side, or the national team, the Green Eagles, he was the most feared last man standing. He had a long reach that complemented his reflexes; his goal kicks were as vicious as a rocket; Okala was the master, a dinosaur between the sticks. The former Onitsha Red Devils goalie spent less than a decade in the national team but made a lasting impression with his remarkable achievement which included victory at the African Cup of Nations in 1980. His exploit with Rangers was more pronounced; he was the most outstanding player as the Flying Antelopes won the 1977 African Cup Winners tournament. He was even named the African Player of the Year in 1978 by African Sports Journalists Union. Sadly, Okala left the national team in an acrimonious circumstance after he was overlooked in Nigeria’s triumph at AFCON in 1980 but he had done enough to etch his name in history.
Segun Odegbami was arguably the most popular figure as Nigeria won her maiden AFCON title in 1980 on home soil, but Ogedegbe was one of the top performers held in high esteem by jubilant fans. He had helped his club side IICC of Ibadan to the African Cup Winners title in 1976, the first by a Nigerian outfit, but was constantly behind Enugu Rangers’ Okala in pecking order in the national team. Surprisingly, Coach Otto Gloria dropped the more illustrious Okala for Best who kept the goal throughout the tournament. He was arguably the most skillful goalkeeper the country has ever had; as a goalie he scored many penalties for his club IICC and frightened many opponents into losing theirs with his usual psychological tricks. He would go into a game boasting no one would get a ball past him and most times it turned out that way, he was a master trickster between poles, no one matched him.
Inua Lawal Rigogo
So much folklore about the former ECN shot stopper; he reigned in the 60’s and many old generation of football fans who are still alive today regard him as the most flamboyant goalie; he was a showman, his usual acrobatic display made many people believed he was not ordinary. He was so good at the tricks that even revered Ghana President Kwame Nkurmah got enamored and nicknamed the Nigerian as ‘the Flying Cat’ when the Eagles played against the Black Stars. He possesses the record as the goalkeeper that conceded the least number of goals for the national team having allowed just four despite playing for more than eight years for the country.
He might not have the flamboyance of Ogedegbe, Rigogo or frightening reputation of Okala, to much new generation of Nigerian football fans, Rufai is the best the country has ever produced. He was the first man to be in goal for the country at the FIFA World Cup in 1994 and one of the longest serving shot stoppers in the country. He became so popular through his efforts at Stationery Stores in the late 80s and even took his career to Europe where he featured for Lokeren, Beveren, GoAhead Eagles and Deportivo la Coruna. There were good goalkeepers during his time with the national team but anytime he was around he would still be picked ahead of the likes of Agu, Ngodigha, Okpara and even Agbonvbare. Anytime Nigeria ran into trouble, he was always the man the country turned to just like in the 1994 and 1998 World Cup.
A great goalkeeper in all ramifications; although he doesn’t cut the myth of Inua Lawal Rigogo or the colossus reputation of Emmanuel Okala, yet Enyeama still pass as Nigeria’s greatest goalkeeper of all times, in terms of his achievements. There was no doubting his talent as he bursts into national limelight when the then Super Eagles coach Adegboyega Onigbinde thrust him into the deep in Nigeria’s last group game against England at the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea. As a teenager, the precocious talent kept his cool in goal as he stopped the David Beckhamcaptained Three Lions. His stellar career hits an upward trajectory after that heroics in Korea and the retired goalie can be described as the best ever given the success he achieved before hanging his gloves in 2016 Enyeama won two CAF Champions League titles with his then club Enyimba in 2003 and 2004. He also won the Nigeria Premier League twice and the FA Cup before claiming the Israeli double with Hapoel Tel Aviv. He also won African Cup of Nations in 2013 and attended three editions of FIFA World Cup and a Confederations Cup.
Alloy Agu could have achieved much more with the Nigerian national team but he appeared at a time Rufai was regarded as the best. However, despite struggling for a space with his more illustrious rival, Agu was a first choice to two editions of the African Nations Cup. In all, he attended three editions of the tournament but he was the first choice to Algiers 1990 and Senegal 1992. Nigeria won silver and bronze respectively in those tournaments. The rivalry with Rufai was fierce but very healthy and coach Clemence Westerhof of the Nigerian Golden Generation seemed to prefer Agu and he put him in charge in two of the three editions of AFCON that he superintended over with the Super Eagles.