ENYEAMA'S BLUNDERS SPARK GOALKEEPING INQUEST:
Posted: Sep 15, 2012
WHERE ARE THE GOALKEEPERS?
Goalkeeping blunders have been fingered as the major setback for the Super Eagles in recent times. In this piece, Complete Sports Saturday’s SULAIMAN ALAO gets the senior national team’s goalkeepers' trainer, Ike Shorunmu, to react on goalkeeping challenges in Nigeria as well as an exposee on what has become a small goalkeepers’ pool where national team selectors pick keepers from...
ONCE UPON A TIME - TIME, TIME! This folklore opening chants can aptly be used if one is to focus the searchlight on the exploits of Nigerian goalkeepers past and present. And while most fairytales usually end with joyful notes of ‘and they lived happily ever after’, such conclusion seems far off as regards current Super Eagles goalkeepers - at least for now.
With the outcry that greeted the shoddy performance of Eagles number one goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama, in the wake of Nigeria’s 2-2 draw away to Liberia in an African Cup of Nations qualifier last weekend, there have been renewed calls from several quarters for national team selectors to broaden their search for capable glovehands to man the Eagles goalpost.
And while the national team’s technical crew led by coach Stephen Keshi has come out in defence of Enyeama who also doubles as the Eagles assistant skipper, what has not constituted debate is the need to re-evaluate the goalkeeping department and re-assess the men that stand as the last line of the team’s defence.
In a chat with Eagles assistant coach, Ike Shorunmu, who is the senior national team’s goalkeepers’ trainer, the former international said laying all the blame on Enyeama for the team’s failure to pick the three points in Liberia is not fair.
''It is not fair if we continue to say Enyeama was the cause of the goal. It was a team game so everybody will take part of the blame.
''Any player can have good days and bad days, it was Enyeama’s bad day but that doesn’t make him a bad goalkeeper. His quality is not in doubt.''
And when reminded that such similar error cost Nigeria the ticket to the last African Cup of Nations in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea when Dele Aiyenugba let in two cheeky goals against Guinea in Abuja, Shorunmu maintained that the collective strength of the team should be of paramount focus rather than dwelling on the past and singling out certain players for blame.
“We can only learn from the past issues. Football is a team game, and every player is expected to play his part well. There are times when the whole team might have a bad day and you see that happening if the team creates many scoring chances but fail to convert them. In such situations, you’re most likely to concede goal(s) at your end.
“We are rebuilding a new team and it is a process that takes time. Our focus remains to qualify for the Nations Cup and I believe we are very much on track. We’ll of course continue to work to correct all noticeable lapses for us to build a solid team.”
Just two decades ago, Nigerian goalkeepers were amongst the best in the trade in world football. The names of former internationals like Peter Rufai, Wilfred Agbonibavre, Aloy Agu, Ike Shorunmu and Abiodun Baruwa ring bells for their exploits both at clubs and national levels. Those were the days when Nigerian goalkeepers having conquered the home front, went on to feature for top clubsides in Europe.
Shorunmu would however not be drawn into making any categorical statement as regards the fate of Enyeama’s future in the Eagles.
“Enyeama remains very much part of the team especially as the team’s assistant captain. Of course, we’ll be looking to fortify the team in every department for the upcoming second leg game against Liberia.
“Our target and focus remains to qualify for the Nations Cup rather than dwelling solely on errors by individual players. We must forge ahead as a team and we’ll come good against Liberia to pick the qualification ticket..”
But in recent times, Nigerian goalkeepers have struggled to make the desired impacts in Europe. In fact, Complete Sports Saturday findings reveal that only FOUR notable Nigerian goalkeepers are currently plying their football trades abroad. It has indeed become a small goalkeeping pool for national team selectors to pick from.
Of course, there could be a relatively unknown quantity playing in an obscure league somewhere else, who is yet to be discovered. But judging by the trend that Nigerian goalkeepers usually make their names playing in the local league before seeking greener pastures abroad, such unknown goalkeeper might be difficult to come by. A certain British-born Nigerian keeper, Carl Onora Ikeme, fits into this category. The 26-year old keeper has played most of his football in the lower rungs of English football and has recently been recalled from loan back to Championship side, Wolves, following injury to first choice keeeper, Wayne Hennessey. Ikeme is believed to be available for Nigeria but it is doubtful if he can get a look-in with the Eagles at this stage.
The quartet of Vincent Enyeama, Austin Ejide, Dele Aiyenugba and Greg Etafia are presently the established Nigerian goalkeepers plying their trades overseas. And aside Etafia who plays for Moroka Swallows in South Africa, the trio of Enyeama, Ejide and Aiyenugba currently ply their trades in Israel for Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Be’er Sheva and Bnei Yehuda respectively.
Asked if he thinks Nigeria now have goalkeeping problems and to comment on the seeming dearth of Nigerian goalkeepers abroad in recent times, Shorunmu explained the reasons why it is now very difficult for Nigerian goalkeepers to secure good clubs abroad.
“I wouldn’t say we have goalkeeping problems per se, because we keep producing them at the local level. What has been difficult is for the keepers to get quality contracts abroad. “Most European clubs now look inward towards developing their indigenous keepers and football agents have to pay more to bring goalkeepers from non-European countries.
“Unlike during my playing days when things were not too strict as it is now, the thinking of European clubsides in today’s football seem to be focusing more on solidifying the defence and midfield to shield the goalkeepers. So unless you’re extremely talented, it is not easy for our goalkeepers to break into top European clubsides. And for such to happen, such a keeper must have proven himself on the big stages with his national team if he must get noticed in the first place.
“That is why we are also looking inwards to give the home lads chances to expose them. That’s how we started out too in our playing days and we need to encourage our present crop of goalkeepers.”
On the home front, Warri Wolves safe hands, Chigozie Agbim, Heartland’s Daniel Akpeyi, Sharks’ Okemute Odah and Sunshine’s Moses Ocheje have been on the fringes but so far, the Eagles technical crew have mostly preferred to stick to the more experienced foreign based keepers when the chips are down. Even former U-23 goalkeeper, Ambrose Vanzekin who won silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics has since failed to rise to the next level.
With Nigeria again faced with a make or mar tie against Liberia in the return and final leg for the ticket to next year’s African Cup of Nations. One thing will be uppermost in Shorunmu and other technical crew members’ minds: how to pick the right goalkeeper for the Eagles who would be able to keep a clean slate against the visiting Lone Stars in Calabar next month. That’s all it would take to be in South Africa next year, even if the Eagles fail to score.
But I dare say it is so simple a task!
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