Clement Nwankpa Jr
The fight for first team goalkeeper in the camp of former champions, Enyimba International promises to be a matter of interest at the 2017/18 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) Pre-season Invitational which kicks off at the Sani Abacha Stadium in Kano from Monday, December 11.
In his return to the club, coach Paul Aigbogun is faced with a headache many coaches would pray for. For the season, the club has listed three keepers with potentials to lay claim to the number one spot.
It is no longer news that the club has recruited national team keeper, Ikechukwu Ezenwa. The question on many lips has been; will Ezenwa be the undisputed first choice at the Confederation Cup campaigners?
This question becomes pertinent taking into cognizance the presence of Theophilus Afelokhai and Ghanaian, Fatau Dauda. It will be recalled that there was no clear-cut first choice among the duo last season with former coach, Gbenga Ogunbote doing more of rotation.
There was little or nothing to pick between the two and with each passing training session, Ogubbote’s task got more difficult. The club then instituted a type of incentive which saw whoever had more clean sheets between the two get some reward. Any keeper who had three consecutive clean sheets home and away got what was called the chairman’s bonus.
This even made the competition fiercer. Not conceding goals meant more to the keepers. This writer got wind of the bonus after seeing Dauda’s reaction to Stephen Odey’s goal when Enyimba engaged MFM in Calabar. That goal in his first home game, jolted his quest for the chairman’s bonus. Afelokhai went ahead to pocket the bonus once last season but never got a breathing space from Dauda.
After stints at Chippa United, Orlando Pirates and Ashanti Gold, Dauda came highly rated. Currently Ghana’s third choice keeper, he commands a pedigree that could easily install him as a first choice in any NPFL club. The desire to keep his national team place has heightened his quest to be Enyimba’s first choice.
But he has to contend with Afelokhai, a colossal figure between the sticks. Afelokhai moved to Enyimba after a 10 year stint at Kano Pillars which heralded the golden era of Sai Masu Gida. He was in charge as Pillars won the title three consecutive times. This was the intimidating reputation he brought to Enyimba, Nigeria’s most successful team.
So whatever high ratings Dauda brought from Ghana was dwarfed by the serial winner, Afelokhai. Just as Afelokhai cannot dismiss Dauda’s credentials with a wave of the hand. It is therefore understandable if a coach has difficulties picking one ahead of the other.
If Ogunbote had this headache last season, Aigbogun will even be faced with a tougher task next term with Ezenwa’s addition. With Vincent Enyeama stalling on returning to the national team, Ezenwa is primed to be Nigeria’s first choice at the World Cup thus the need to get more playing time.
Not a few attributed his poor showing against Algeria in Constantine to inactivity due to the NPFL season being on break. For him to excel at football’s showpiece event, he must get regular competitive action. To do so, he must upstage Afelokhai and Dauda at Enyimba.
Was Enyimba the right choice for Ezenwa? Shouldn’t he have opted for a club where he will be a clear-cut first choice?
Enyimba Sporting Director, Jude Anyadufu was at the center of the Ezenwa’s deal and thinks it was the best for the player and the nation.
His words; “Ezenwa needs a big club like Enyimba that is also on the continent. He is going to the World Cup and could be Nigeria’s first choice so he needs to play actively both in the league and on the continent. He needs to face quality oppositions that should give some idea about what he will see at the World Cup”.
But would the presence of Afelokhai and Dauda guarantee the regular football Ezenwa would crave for?
Anyadufu replied; “He does not need any guarantee. He has to fight for his place. These two keepers will make him work hard both in training and in the matches. He doesn’t need to be sure that he must start. That will make him feel relaxed. If Ezenwa must play for a club in the NPFL, it should be Enyimba. We will do our best in the club to ensure he is ready for the World Cup”.
“We still have the chairman’s bonus in place for this season. He has to battle it out with the other keepers. Before he gets the opportunity to keep clean sheets, he must play. And he has to prove to the coaches in training that he is better than Dauda and Afelokhai. We are happy to have three quality keepers in the team. You will also know that we are playing in three competitions. There will be enough matches for all of them to show what they can do. What it means is that whatever happens, we must have somebody solid in goal in every match”
The audition for Enyimba’s number one spot this season starts with the NPFL Pre-season Invitational. While Dauda and Afelokhai will be on parade for Enyimba, Ezenwa will file out for CHAN Eagles. Interestingly, Enyimba and CHAN Eagles are in the same group. A scenario having Ezenwa on one end and the duo on the other is in the offing.