With Adebayo Olodan
With the all-important 2018 World Cup qualifier between Nigeria and the Indomitable Lions of Cameroun barely five weeks away, Coach Gernot Rohr must address the goalkeeping crisis that has been plaguing his team for some time now.
The initial search for first choice goalkeeper for the Eagles did not took too long following the premature retirement of Vincent Enyeama as Wolverhampton Wanderers net-minder, Carl Ikeme turned out to be a capable replacement.
The lanky keeper put up inspiring displays between the sticks with his sharp reflexes and acrobatic saves. While Ikeme remained fit, Nigerians forgot easily there had been a certain Enyeama, who served the team in a career spanning 13 years. It was not until the imposing Ikeme sustained myriad of injuries that football aficionados in the country realised the danger ahead of the team.
While we are still grappling with the recurring injuries to the Eagles first choice keeper, news filtered in that Ikeme had been diagnosed of leukaemia after his resumption for pre-season training with the England Championship club.
While we continue to pray for Ikeme to recover, it is unlikely he will be around soon and it is imperative coach Rohr gets a capable replacement to ensure Nigeria makes it to Russia and the next African Nations Cup especially after missing the last two editions.
Both Ikechukwu Ezenwa and South Africa-based Daniel Akpeyi have been tried between the sticks but none of the two have inspired confidence. Akpeyi particularly has been the more disappointing judging by his shaky performance in the surprise 2-0 defeat at home to South Africa. With such insipid display, Akpeyi has once again proven he is not worthy to be trusted with the gloves.
Ordinarily, another area Rohr could have extend his search to is the domestic league where Femi Thomas, Dele Ajiboye, Okiemute Odah and Sunday Rotimi are the leading lights.
For me, none of the aforementioned has attained the standard or blessed with the reflexes of minding the net for the senior national team in major competitions.
For Ezenwa, he seems to be contended being the first choice home-base keeper of the Super Eagles than replacing Ikeme, with no formidable challenge coming from the domestic league.
To make matters worse, pressures mounted on Enyeama to rescind his decision of retiring and return to the team have not yielded results including the reported call put to him by the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki and officials of the Sports Ministry.
As it stands, the other alternatives available to coach Rohr is the duo of Austin Ejide and Dele Aiyenugba. For many years, the two goalkeepers who caught their teeth in Europe at Israeli clubs like Enyeama, have lived under the shadows of the latter for too long. Even when Enyeama suffered a blip in form, they barely made the first name on the team’s sheet in major but friendly matches.
Aside the fact that Aiyenugba and Ejide have better reflexes than Ezenwa and Akpeyi, the former boast of wealth of experience which is highly needed in the team at this stage given the dominance of youths in Rohr’s team.
I have read many comments online with some claiming Aiyenugba and Ejide are not good for the Eagles again but we need to ask ourselves, if the duo are not good goalkeepers, how come their Israeli clubs have continued to extend their contracts?
There should be no harm in extending invitation to the veteran keepers and trying them out in Grade ‘A’ friendly matches instead of condemning them. I fervently believe that Aiyenugba and Ejide cannot be as bad as Akpeyi, in goal.
A lesson for officials of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and our coaches is that we need to start planning for the future otherwise; we will continue to find ourselves in this sort of embarrassing situation.
Talking about planning for the future, there are a number of young goalkeepers of Nigerian descent scattered all over Europe that we need to start introducing to our national teams.
One of such keeper is Francis Odinika Uzoho, a former member of the 2013, U-17 team, who is making progress at Spanish club, Deportivo La Coruna. From the junior team, the former schoolboy international has taken the bold step up to the senior team of Deportivo and it will not be a surprise if he makes appearances for the team in the league or the Spanish Cup in the season ahead.
Dele Alampasu is another goalkeeper that the coaches of the national team must show faith in and it will be interesting to see him turn out for the Super Eagles soon. He may turn out to have a larger heart than the fearful Akpeyi.
It will be a huge disaster for our national team to qualify for the World Cup only to have a certain Akpeyi mind the net for us in Russia.