It’s almost six years since Dele Aiyenugba featured for the Super Eagles following the shocking 2-2 draw against Guinea in Abuja in November 2011, a result which confirmed Super Eagles’ failure to qualify for the 2012 edition of the Africa Cup of Nations.
Eagles’ failure to qualify for the tourney stalled the 33-year-old goalkeeper’s continuous call-up to the national team.
In this interview with ADEBAYO OLODAN from his base in Israel, the Hapoel Ashkelon shot-stopper revealed he would jump at any opportunity to redeem his pride as the Eagles is presently confronted with goalkeeping crisis after the retirement of Vincent Enyeama and the ill health of Carl Ikeme. Excerpts;
Not much has been heard of you since you last kept goal for the Super Eagles over five years ago?
Yes, you are right but I am still much around, working hard and doing my thing in Israel.
Why have you remained in a less fancied league like Israel for so long?
It is my dream to move out of Israel but God’s time is the best I will keep working hard and never give up.
What could be responsible for your exclusion from the Eagles in recent years?
That is not for me to say because I am not the coach and I can’t invite myself to the team. However, I am always available and ready to play for my country.
Given the fact that Nigerians were unhappy with your performance the last time you kept goal for the Eagles, how ready are you to atone for your mistakes to ensure Nigeria qualifies for both the World Cup and the Nations Cup?
You know that year was a crazy year in my career but that is in the past and I want to use this medium to apologise to Nigerians again for the disappointment and to tell them that I am very ready by His grace to play for my country if invited.
What do you make of the current goalkeeping crisis the Eagles is faced with?
I don’t think we have any crisis because the nation is blessed with a number of good goalkeepers. We only need to encourage our foreign-based and domestic league keepers.
Can you name those good goalkeepers?
I can’t start to name anyone but we have a lot of good goalkeepers playing abroad and in the domestic league.
What can you bring to the team if invited especially as Daniel Akpeyi, Ikechuwku Ezenwa and others have failed to convinced?
I don’t think they have failed to convince the coach. You can’t judge a goalkeeper with one game and you know football is not a one man game. The coaches just need to keep pushing the keepers and to encourage competition.
Many believed you have lived in the shadows of Vincent Enyeama for too long, right from your time at Enyimba …
I don’t believe in the word shadow, you know everybody has his own time and it is not that we don’t challenge one another in camp for positions. I respect Vincent Enyeama a lot and I learned from him but like I said, the most important thing in life is to keep working hard and to always be ready for opportunity.
Which has been your best season in Israel so far?
I don’t think about my past season and I don’t like talking about it because it’s in the past. I just want to keep improving and pray for God’s favour and grace every season.
What is the longest number of matches you have kept a clean sheet as a goalkeeper in Israel and which season?
Nine matches in the 2009/2010 season.
Which striker had been your greatest nightmare in Israel?
Right now, it is Anthony Nwaekeme. All the defenders and goalkeepers here fear him a lot, so I prepare well each time I am to face his club, Hapoel Beer Sheeva.
How will you rate the Eagles under Gernot Rohr?
Great! He is doing great job and he has been able to integrate a lot of young players into the Eagles.
One of your children has taken after you in goal and another is a striker, what do you make of their involvement in the game?
About my boys, the one that is a goalkeeper, Daniel, I never wanted any of my kids to become a goalkeeper because it is a hard job. You need to have strong mentality but he started keeping goal about five months ago. He was formerly a striker like his brother Joshua, who is a left-footed forward. I am however happy that they are both doing well but I keep telling them that it is more important for them to face their studies.
Who are your best friends in Israel?
Right now, I hang out with John Ogu and Anthony Nwaekeme even though we don’t play for the same team.
Do you now understand and speak their language in Israel?
Yes, I now fluently speak Hebrew.
Your message to fans back home?
To my fans, I want to thank them for their support and to those who criticise me, I still say thank you for the push. Your criticisms keep pushing me to work hard and improve my goalkeeping skills.