Nigeria’s Dele Aiyenugba, who won two African Champions League titles with Enyimba, said yesterday that European clubs do not trust black goalkeepers previously but admits things are gradually changing.
The 37-year-old believes there is a misconception that black keepers lack technique, which has made it difficult for Africans to get signed by clubs in Europe.
Like Vincent Enyeama, Nigeria’s most-capped and successful goalkeeper, Aiyenugba established himself in Israel during a 13-year stint but was not able to follow his compatriot with a move to Western Europe.
“It’s not as easy as people think, because I tried leaving Israel but faced the usual problem about lack of trust,” Aiyenugba, who is now back in Nigeria with Kwara United, told BBC Sport Africa.
“The big challenge is that European clubs don’t believe in African goalkeepers.
“We are blessed with great positioning and reflexes, but they often say we don’t have great technique. Back then things were difficult because you pack power in your legs but lack the required technique to excel.
“You also had to be playing in the national team to earn some attention or respect but now it’s much better.
“You can play a youth tournament and catch the eye but the lack of trust was obviously a big challenge.
“You often have to work extra hard to make it to European football then you find out on getting there that it’s not so easy to convince top European clubs.”
Aiyenugba is now back in the Nigerian Premier League with Kwara United, where he began his career before enjoying success at Enyimba during a six year stint.
He was in the Enyimba squad which won the African Champions League in 2003 and 2004.
The hero of the continental success in 2004 when Enyimba defeated Etoile du Sahel of Tunisia in a penalty shoot-out – to equal the 36-year-old record of Tout-Puissant Englebert as the only side to successfully retain the Champions League title.
He moved to Bnei Yehuda in 2007 as a replacement for Enyeama and played for Hapoel Ashkelon, Hapoel Iksal and Hapoel Afula before his departure in January.
Aiyenugba believes things are gradually changing thanks to the black African goalkeepers now playing in top leagues in Europe.
“I think now things are changing. You can see African goalkeepers making waves in other top European league unlike in the past,” he added.
“Chelsea’s first choice (Edouard Mendy) is a Senegalese. Ajax have had a Cameroonian (Andre Onana) in goal for a while now.
“It’s a positive sign that things are beginning to look up for African goalkeepers. Now a lot of academies are springing up in Africa and emulating Cameroon who have always produced top goalkeepers.
“You just need to keep pushing yourself and show what you’re capable of doing to earn trust and confidence.”