Nigeria was the first African Nation to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia and achieved the proud feat with the youngest team in the world during the qualification process according to FIFA.com.
The three-time African Champions under the tutelage of Gernot Rohr are playing with a renewed vigor, confidence and swagger good enough to raise the hopes of their teaming supporters who now expect the team to become the first African side to reach the semifinal of the Mundial.
The friendly wins over two-time World Cup champions Argentina and Poland who had the presence of one of the best forwards in the world Robert Lewandowski, has further heightened expectations despite defeat against Serbia.
However, the biggest worry for some section of the fans in Nigeria is the lack of a top notch goalkeeper for the national team as the likes of Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Daniel Akpeyi and Francis Uzoho have failed to cease the opportunity created with the absence of Carl Ikeme who is still in recovery following his battle with leukaemia.
The Super Eagles 35-man provisional list for the Mundial will be announced on May 14 and the name of veteran Lille goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama is almost certain not to be included judging by the words of the national team gaffer.
‘He (Enyeama) is not playing anywhere, so we cannot take players who are not playing,’ Rohr told reporters at the Aiteo/Nigeria Football Federation Awards in February.
‘We are working hard to have the best of our legs taken to Russia and we don’t have the luxury of naming a player that has not been playing in recent time.
‘Each time we have a problem, there is always a good answer and I hope it will be the same for the World Cup. We currently have so many players in camp and we want to continue monitoring them. The most important thing is for them to be in best shape for the Mundial.’
The 35-year-old is arguably Nigeria’s finest goalkeeper in history following successful careers for both club and country but despite calls from some quarters that he be re-invited into the Super Eagles squad, the former Enyimba goalie is yet to officially come out of retirement since 2015.
Enyeama’s situation is not an easy one as he suffered a knee injury while playing for Lille on April 15, 2017 and only just came back to action for the B side following some intense rehabilitation.
The Nigerian hasn’t been a part of Lille’s first squad since his return and may not until his contract runs out at the end of this season as the club’s current manager, Christophe Galtier recently revealed to France Football.
“It’s a problem between Enyeama and the club, that’s the bottom line,” Galtier said. “It’s a problem between the club management and Enyeama.”
Although the manager wasn’t explicit on what exactly transpired between Enyeama and the Lille management, it is very evident that he is out of the side not for pure football reasons and without him the former French champions have the fourth worst defensive record in Ligue1, having conceded 59 in 35 matches.
Lille are currently languishing second from bottom with a very slim chance of surviving relegation. But why the cruelty on the highest capped goalkeeper in Nigeria’s history with 101 caps?
‘The real reason Enyeama is being banished from the first team is because the club is embarking on a new project which will see them groom and sell players,’ a source close to the player revealed to The Nation sport/SportingLife.
‘Let’s face it, Vinny doesn’t have a resale value because he is 35 now. The club wants a younger squad and players over 30 are mostly affected by this new project.
‘Enyeama is just waiting for the end of the season to find a new club but I can reliably inform you that he doesn’t want to leave France. It was a pity he suffered a longtime injury, he could’ve moved before now.’
Looking through the Lille squad, Mike Maignan 31, originally of Guyana before adopting France has been the club’s number one this season and kept for 31matches in Ligue 1.
Kouakou Herve Koffi 21, from Burkina Faso, has made four appearances for Lille this season while 21-year-old Slovakian Adam Jakubech has been on the bench four times this season and all look like lost ships without the Nigerian to guide their progress at the club.
When Enyeama signed for Hapoel Tel Aviv in 2007/08. They endured a poor season but he helped the team avoid relegation and reach the state cup final.
During the 2008/09 season, Enyeama became Hapoel’s penalty kicker, won the “Player of The Year” award, and just missed leading Hapoel to the league title.
On 8 December 2013, Enyeama conceded a goal for the first time after playing 1,062 minutes of Ligue 1 football in an away match against Bordeaux, during which he was beaten by Landry N’Guémo’s deflected strike in the 27th minute. He thus came within 114 minutes of equalling Gaëtan Huard’s Ligue 1 goalkeeping record, set in 1993, of playing 1,176 minutes without conceding a goal.
On that form, he powered the Super Eagles to African Nations Cup glory in 2013 for the first time in 19years, playing a leading role with a lot of unforgettable moments created for fans.
He was named among the top 10 goalkeepers in Europe for the 2015/16 season by the Swiss-based CIES Football Observatory and in the following season the Professional Union of French Players (UNFP) nominated him for the best goalkeeper award in the French Ligue 1 after brilliantly keeping 14 clean sheets in 21 matches.
Interesting how Lille will risk relegation just to freeze experienced campaigners like Enyeama out of the club when 40-year-old Gianluigi “Gigi” Buffon is actively playing for Juventus and still nursing the ambition of winning the UEFA Champions League after recent elimination in the hands of Real Madrid in the quarter-final of this season’s competition.
Enyeama may well play into his 40’s because of the longevity of goalkeepers as long as he watches after himself, takes the right diet and engage in the right training programs.
At 35, Enyeama is still Nigeria’s best and it will make sense if Super Eagles manager Gernot Rohr tests him in the remaining friendlies before announcing his final squad for the World Cup. Some are against him returning to the team and argued that he will disrupt the harmony of the younger generation of players in camp.
Some pundits even suggested that he may want the captaincy of the team but the player himself may not be bothered with that like a lot of people think.
‘Captaincy is not a problem for me because it’s not my birth right,’ Enyeama told Channels Television Sports Tonight program after he was stripped of the band under former Eagles Coach Sunday Oliseh.
Enyeama gave the Super Eagles 13 quality years of service but the episode that led to his exit wasn’t the smoothest and he could be a very good mentor for the new goalkeepers in the current squad.
Mikel Obi went to the African Nations Cup in 2006 despite not playing much football due to the Chelsea and Manchester United transfer saga at the time but showed why he is highly rated with a goal in Nigeria’s second game against Zimbabwe after creating the first goal for Christian Obodo. All that the former Chelsea star needed was a chance and must be grateful to Coach Augustine Eguavoen for not dropping him for the more active players.
Age is just a number especially for a WORLD CLASS goalkeeper like Enyeama. Egyptian Essam El-Hadary at 45 could’ve been the oldest goalkeeper at the Mundial ever if injury had not ruled him out.
But in football, there’s always a place for loyalty just like German national team boss Joachim Löw has shown towards Manuel Neuer who he has repeatedly named as his first choice for the 2018 World Cup despite the Bayern Munich star not playing a single minute this season so far due to injury.
But just like Enyeama, 32-year-old Neuer returned to training in April but with the assurance that he will be between the sticks in Russia when hostilities resume for the biggest soccer fiesta.
‘When Manuel came to us on Tuesday, together with Andy Kopke [coach] and Dr [Hans-Wilhelm] Muller-Wohlfahrt [we] had a long conversation with him. Manuel is absolutely on schedule. It is planned that he will still play at Bayern this season,’ he said on March 22, 2018.
‘The doctor has assured me that the condition of his scar and the growing together of the bones are absolutely fine and look very good.
‘However, at the current stage he is not allowed to [train] at maximum, he is currently training at 90 per cent and wants to increase to 100 per cent this week so that he is fully resilient.
‘Then he can still get the necessary security in the training sessions. I assume and am very optimistic that Manuel will be present at the World Cup.’
Goalkeepers get better with age just like fine wine. At the FIFA World Cup in 2014, Faryd Mondragón became the oldest player to appear at the Mundial when he helped Colombia to a 4-1 win over Japan. He was aged 43 years and 3 days old.
Joseph-Antoine Bell was 40, when he represented Cameroon at the USA 94’ World Cup and Thomas N’Kono was 38-year-old and Jacques Songo’o was the youngest at 30.
Enyeama still remains a fantastic choice for the Super Eagles and will be a quality addition to the team if Genort Rohr needs him because the current goalkeepers available to him are not in peak form if we are to be very sincere.
The German tactician has done well since he took charge of the three-time African Champions and if he doesn’t feel the need for Enyeama’s experience and presence – that must be respected but as a fan that wants the best for his country. I see the Lille shot stopper as a very good addition for the senior national team.
Enyimba International F.C.
Nigerian Premier League
2001, 2002, 2003
CAF Champions League: 2003, 2004
Israeli Premier League
Israel State Cup: 2010, 2011
Israeli Premier League
Africa Cup of Nations
Africa Cup of Nations: Third Place (3):2004, 2006, 2010
CAF Champions League Player of the Year 2004
Footballer of the Year in Israel: 2009
UNFP Player of the Month: October 2013
UNFP Player of the Month: November 2013
Marc Vivien Foe Award winner: 2014
Goal Keeper of the year Nigeria Pitch Awards: 2013,2014
King of the pitch Nigeria Pitch Awards:2014
Goal Nigeria Player of the Year: 2014