The senior male national football team of Nigeria, the Super Eagles has had goalkeeping issues for close to ten years. The team has struggled to find a replacement for Vincent Enyeama, the second most-capped Nigerian player and former Super Eagles captain since he retired in 2015. Vincent Enyeama was an absolute wall between the sticks for Nigeria and is arguably the best goalkeeper to ever put on Nigeria’s jersey, keeping 50 clean sheets in 101 appearances. The Kaduna-born shot-stopper made his first competitive debut for Nigeria against England in the third group match of the 2002 World Cup and kept a clean sheet. He became the first-choice goalkeeper after the retirement of Ike Shorunmu and helped Nigeria to 3rd place finishes in the 2004, 2006 and  2010 tournaments, before winning the competition in 2013. This also earned him a spot in the team of the tournament. He also made appearances in the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, winning the Man of the Match award twice in 2010. He was also recently named the best African Goalkeeper of All Time.  

Since he retired, Nigeria has sought Enyeama’s replacement in Carl Ikeme, Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Daniel Akpeyi, Francis Uzoho, Maduka Okoye, and most recently, Olorunleke Ojo. Carl Ikeme would have been the perfect replacement but leukemia forced him to retire early. Ikechukwu Ezenwa was the next in line and was critical to Nigeria’s qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, but he lost the favour of the manager at the time, Gernot Rohr. During the competition, Francis Uzoho was the first-choice goalkeeper and kept only one clean sheet while conceding 4 goals in the group stage. This was not good enough as Nigeria failed to qualify for the competition’s knockout stages.

At the 2019 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament in Egypt, Daniel Akpeyi alternated with Francis Uzoho throughout the competition as Nigeria finished 3rd. Gernot Rohr invited Maduka Okoye to the national team and after Rohr was sacked, Okoye became the favourite of the new coach (Austin Eguavoen). At the 2021 AFCON, Nigeria started well, winning all three of their group games, but fell to Tunisia in the round of 16. A new coach, Jose Peseiro, was employed and Okoye fell out of favour. Uzoho was reinstated back to the starting lineup, but a horrible mistake from him resulted in Nigeria failing to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Olorunleke Ojo was called up to the team and has made one appearance, but Francis Uzoho remains the favoured goalkeeper. However, none of the current goalkeepers plays for a big team and their performances are not good enough.

There are many reasons for this predicament. The first one is the lack of support for local talents. Many Nigerian footballers have to play in other countries before they are recognized. There are also many allegations of corruption at every age level in Nigerian football. The professional football league’s standard has also dropped. A league that produced winners of the CAF Champions League is not in the top 3 anymore. All these contribute to Nigeria’s dilemma. If talent had been nurtured, it would not be so difficult to find an equivalent or better replacement for a person who retired many years ago.

Also, the frequent change of coaches does not help the players. Since Stephen Keshi left the post in 2014, the Super Eagles have had 5 different coaches (Samson Siasia, Sunday Oliseh, Austin Eguavoen, Gernot Rohr and Jose Peseiro). Each manager comes with his ideas resulting in instability. There’s little chance for the coaches to complete their projects. This leads to different choices for goalkeepers and since goalkeeping is not an outfield role, there is little rotation.

Complaining about the situation will do no good. It is high time the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) started paying more attention to the local league and the quality of coaches they employ. Nigeria hasn’t won a competition since 2013. The Eagles have not been soaring. The onus is on all stakeholders to produce conscious efforts to rectify the situation. The Super Eagles must soar again!

Emmanuel Ibitunde

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