Nigerians love football. Many followers of the game crave for results, no matter how it comes. The patience for development is not there, rather many prefer a quick fix and that is why the administrators of the game adopt a ‘fire brigade’ approach to achieving results.
The senior national team, the Super Eagles, remains the biggest brand in Nigerian sport and that is why it is not a surprise that the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) has been enjoying the support of Corporate Nigeria in recent time. We acknowledged that the good work of the NFF and the Eagles’ Manager, Gernot Rohr, earned the country the Russia 2018 World Cup ticket and the team’s qualification has helped the federation in its sponsorship drive. Going forward, we believe a good performance in Russia is very important for the Super Eagles and that can only be guaranteed with adequate preparation with all departments of the team in good shape.
The NFF deserves commendation with the number of friendly games arranged for the team and this will start with the March 23rd game against Poland. However, one key area of the team that deserves attention is the goalkeeping department. Former Skipper, Vincent Enyeama, fell out with the former national coach, Sunday Oliseh, and in anger, he quit international football.
Enyeama did that in 2016 and, till date, he is battling with injury and form. Though some people are clamouring for his return, but since there is no template to currently evaluate his fitness, he cannot be considered as an option for Russia. Wolves’ Goalkeeper Carl Ikeme who stood in well after Enyeama’s exit was diagnosed of leukemia on July 6, 2017 and he is currently undergoing treatment. Ikeme’s absence has thrown the number one shirt open to other keepers.
Ikechukwu Ezenwa has been on the forefront of the quest for the shirt. Daniel Akpeyi was given an opportunity against Argentina in a friendly, but he made a couple of schoolboy errors. Ezenwa has done very well, but also has shown weaknesses with crosses and set pieces. In the friendly encounter against Argentina which Nigeria won 4-2, Deportivo La Corona goalie, Francis Nzoho, made brilliant saves and kept a clean sheet for 45 minutes.
He was, indeed, promising but he must be tested again to prepare him for the mundial. During the semifinal of the just-concluded Africa Nations Championship, Ezenwa was injured and taken out during the 1-0 win against Sudan. This incident has brought to the fore the goalkeeping ‘crisis’ in the team.
Ezenwa’s assistant at the CHAN tournament, Dele Ajiboye, was fantastic in that encounter. He exhibited a man-of-the-match performance. Eagles’ keepers’ trainer, Alloy Agu, believes there is no cause for alarm over the goalkeeping situation in the team. Manager Gernot Rohr also reaffirmed that the goalkeeping department of the team would not be an issue in Russia. The Eagles boss took a step further by engaging another foreign keepers’ trainer for the team.
Ajiboye’s exploits in Morocco was a good manifestation of the quality of goalkeepers the country has in the domestic league. Theophilus Afelokhai of Enyimba, Suraj Ayeleso of Nasarawa United and Ojo Olorunleke of Akwa United are other very good goalkeepers in the Nigeria Football Professional League. Ayeleso was particularly enterprising in the last football season with 15 clean sheets, but he was not in the team to CHAN We, however, charge Rohr and his technical crew to put faith in one of the keepers on the cards in the national team. There should be a deliberate keepers’ session for some weeks to determine the best.
During the session, former goalies like Peter Rufai, Ike Shorunmu and Joe Erico could be invited as observers to make input while the national trainers drill about six keepers on the cards.
The five international friendly matches are good to test the goalies further, but we advise strongly that Rohr should name Eagles’ number one goalkeeper early enough so that the person will be getting ready psychologically for the World Cup. So far, Spain-based Nzoho who gave a good account on his debut have an edge because of his European exposure even though he is in a lower division team.
The weather and modern facilities he has been exposed to are very huge advantage, while his calmness and agility in goal could be developed. Ezenwa and Ajiboye are also very good, but the other ones who are currently doing well should be given a chance.
The injury of Ezenwa is a lesson for the handlers to be sure that the country has four solid goalkeepers warming up for the mundial. We recall that in the past, the keepers in the Super Eagles were almost of equal quality, but for experience.
The keen competition is good, but there is a need to name a number one who will grow to become great afterwards. For example, Enyeama was a young goalkeeper in the domestic scene when he became number one. He made his mistakes and gradually became very solid in goal. The time to put trust in o