BY ADEBAYO OLODAN
If there is one player that has benefitted the most since the coming of Coach Gernot Rohr to Nigeria, it has to be a certain 19-year-old goalkeeper, Francis Uzoho.
The Elche goalkeeper has kept goal in practically 90 per cent of matches under the watch of the German tactician leaving Enyimba keeper, Ikechuwku Ezenwa and Daniel Akpeyi keeping goal for the Super Eagles sparingly.
Even at the biggest stage of football – World Cup – when Nigerians expect the coach to try out more experienced goaltender, Rohr stuck to his youngster.
However, one debate that has continued to hug the media is why Uzoho is yet to step up his game despite playing consistently in goal for the senior national team in recent years.
Until last weekend when he made his debut for his Spanish second division team, it was apparent the suffered a blip in form over the double header African Nations Cup qualifier against Libya.
Though Uzoho is still quite young at a reported age of 19, it must however be said that some of the best goalkeepers in the world today were already turning out for top teams in Europe at his age.
Real Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois was signed from Belgium by Chelsea at 18 and eventhough he did not get the chance to play in the Premiership, he was loaned out to Atletico Madid the following season where he excelled in three seasons.
Similarly, David De Gea started keeping goal as a teenager for Atletico Madid before he made the switch to Manchester United aged 21. It was the same situation with Iker Casillas who kept goal for Real Madrid and the Spanish national team, winning several titles for club and country since he took over the No 1 spot as a teenager.
Other goalkeepers who performed bravely as teenagers are; AC Milan youngster, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Kevin Trapp of Paris Saint Germain (PSG), Fabrizio Alastra (Palermo), Bingourou Kamara (Tours), Bartlomiej Dragowski (Fiorentina) and Alex Meret (Udinese).
With Uzoho, who won medals at handball tournaments while at Boys Model Secondary School in Owerri, failing to make the No 1 shirt his own, it may never be too late for Rohr to show his faith in other goalkeepers to ensure stiff competition in the team. Though Akpeyi appeared to have dented his reputation with that insipid performance in last year’s international friendly against Argentina, Ezenwa however deserves to be given opportunity rather than being condemned to the substitutes’ bench.
Also, the coach must extend invitation to Nigerian-born Switzerland based goalkeeper, Sebastian Okigwe, who appeared to have the physique and skills of becoming a top goalkeeper for the Super Eagles if given the chance.
Based on his current form, Uzoho cannot be trusted with the gloves especially in highly competitive matches like the trip to South Africa in November for AFCON 2019 qualifier.
With stiffer competition in the team, Uzoho is expected to step up his performance otherwise he risks being relegated to the background in subsequent matches.
A country of 180million people deserves better goalkeeper than the quality we currently have in the senior national team set-up