Super Eagles’ keeper Vincent Enyeama
By Tunde Sulaiman
Some 10 odd years ago, Chief Adegboye Onigbinde took what appeared to be a huge gamble when he decided to head to the World Cup in Korea and Japan with only ‘one recognised’ goalkeeper in the person of Ike Shorunmu and two ‘novice’ safe hands (at least with the national team) in Vincent Enyeama and Austin Ejide as his backup keepers.
I remember speaking with the Modakeke-born tactician at the Federal Palace Hotel, Lagos just after the Super Eagles had beaten Kenya in their final warm up match before departing the shores of the land for their final preparations for the trip to the Far East, on his decision to blood a number of new relatively inexperienced players for such a Herculean task.
But the former NFF Technical Committee member confidently replied that he knew what he was getting into when he took over in the wake of the Eagles not too impressive outing at Mali 2002.
“I was told in clear terms to build a new Eagles team for the World Cup because the nation was tired of being held to ransom by the established players. I believe I can do this which is why you are seeing some of the faces you are seeing now,” Onigbinde said in justifying his selection of some players like Femi Opabunmi, Bartholomew Ogbeche and Emeka Ugali (who eventually did not make the trip to Japan) amongst others.
And in the final group game of the Super Eagles’ short stay in Korea/Japan 2002 Onigbinde shocked all by deciding to use Vincent Enyeama instead of Shorunmu against England.
The former 3SC handler was vindicated when Enyeama pulled off one of the saves of the tournament to keep out a stunning pile driver by Paul Scholes to ensure the Eagles held the Three Lions to a scoreless draw in the impressive 42,000-seater Wing Stadium in Kobe. Since then, Enyeama and Ejide have virtually ‘monopolised’ the position in the national team, with Enyeama being the more dominant of the two.
In fact the only time the former Enyimba safe hands had played second fiddle for an extended period was during the time of German handler, Berti Vogts, who while not doubting Enyeama’s abilities, preferred his ex-Gabros rival on account of his bulkier size.
The 1974 World Cup winner felt that Ejide was able to dominate his goal better than Enyeama because of his size.
At 1.89 m (6 ft 2 1⁄2 in), Ejide was 3 1⁄2 inches taller than the two-time CAF Champions League winner.
After making over a 100 appearances for Enyimba, the 30-year-old Enyeama moved briefly to Iwuanyanwu Nationale (now Heartland) before fulfilling every footballer’s dream of playing abroad by heading to Israel to join Bnei Yehuda. Two years later he moved to a bigger club in Hapoel Tel Aviv with whom he won domestic honours and regularly qualified for the UEFA Champions League.
However, after making 113 appearances and scoring eight goals for the Tel Aviv-based side, Enyeama headed to France where he joined Lille. But rather than being a dream move it turned out to be a nightmare with Nigeria’s number one failing to make a single appearance for the club the whole of last season.
Seeing the prospects of another season warming the bench in France, Africa’s former number one rated safe hands decided to swallow his pride and return to Israel where he joined Maccabi Tel Aviv on loan.
Unfortunately his situation has only improved marginally as he has only made two appearances for his new team – a far cry when he was the undisputed numero uno for Hapoel Tel Aviv.
So why have I gone into such lengthens to detail his background – because in recent time Enyeama has been in the news for all the wrong reasons.
Following his latest high profile part in last weekend’s 2-2 draw with the Lone Star of Liberia questions on his position as Eagles first choice keeper has come to the fore again.
Weighing in Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) General Secretary, Musa Amadu was quoted to have said after the match played at the Samuel Doe Stadium: “Enyeama has cost us four goals, two here and two in two other matches including the one against Malawi. What does he want us to do for him that we haven’t done for this team? What have we not done for these boys? What do they want? Do they want us to play? No. Nigerians don’t deserve this!”
Initially the most important man in determining Enyeama’s fate, Stephen Keshi had also been reported to have condemned the goalkeeper for his antics, before publically denying holding him responsible.
However, while Keshi’s position is commendable, the truth is that the former national team skipper has come to the point where he has to make a big choice – stick with Enyeama or jettison him!
Yes, while Keshi was right in saying that rather than blame an individual the poor performance was a collective team problem, we all know that a good team is made up of a collection of good individuals. And where one player is a weak link it could spoil the good work of all the others.
Luckily even if Keshi does not want to take a cue from the past as per what he should do (Onigbinde), he still has a very good recent example to use in helping him make up his mind – Sir Alex Ferguson.
The Manchester United supremo began the season with his favoured keeper David De Gea in goal. He stuck with the Spanish international even when the Red Devils suffered a shock 1-0 opening day defeat to Everton.
However, after the youngster was adjudged to have been wayward in the next game against Fulham, which United won 3-2; he was dropped to the bench in the third game against Southampton for Anders Lindegaard.
That was Ferguson telling De Gea in clear terms that although he was his favourite that did not mean his position in the team was ironclad, especially if he turns out to be the weak link on the day!
Keshi’s position is not helped by the fact that Enyeama is not seeing regular club football action but the point is a decision has to be made and the sooner he makes it the better for everyone.
After all we all know where the buck stops as regards the Super Eagles – Keshi’s table!