Since the commencement of organized football in Nigeria in 1945, the country has never lacked good goalkeepers until recent time where the Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr, is struggling to raise a replacement for Carl Ikeme who is down with leukeamia.
Ikeme’s English club Wolverhampton Wanderers, confirmed that the towering shot-stopper has leukaemia and will begin an immediate course of chemotherapy.
As a kicker, a peep in the past reveals an array of great goalkeepers who has made Nigeria proud with their scintillating displays.
In the late 1940s, goalkeeper Sam Ibiam according to reports cut an incredible reputation as the goalkeeper players can’t beat with the ball. He began his career with Calabar XI in 1946, Port Harcourt XI in 1949, and won the Governor’s Cup with Railway FC, where he starred with Teslim ‘Thunder’ Balogun in 1953.
Ibiam became Nigeria’s first international goalkeeper on the trip with UK tourists in 1949 and conceded only 9 goals in six years of his career in Nigeria.
Ibiam also became the first player to venture outside Nigeria when he signed for Accra Great Olympics of Ghana in 1956.
His international career ended in 1958 and by then, the table had suddenly changed for Ibiam following the arrival of another magnificent goalkeeper, Inuwa Rigogo.
Rigogo’s rise remains a myth and perhaps the greatest goalkeeper Nigeria ever had! Though, many believed that he employed charms with the way he flies from pole to pole and made some incredible somersaults – that can’t be ordinary. Ghana’s President Kwame Nkurmah, once described him as a ‘Flying Cat.’
As a national team goalkeeper, he conceded the least goals – 4 goals over his 8 years career between 1960– 1969.
After the retirement of Rigogo, Peter Fregene took over and remains one of Nigeria’s safest hands in goal.
According to reports, his career was like the life of a phoneix that keep rejuvenating and resurfacing to life again. He remains as Nigeria’s longest serving goalkeeper, whose career spanned through the 60s’, 70s’ and 80s.’ He became the national team goalkeeper from 1966 – 71 and resurfaced again after 12 years to become the first choice goalkeeper for Green Eagles in 1982.
Fregene was in goal for Nigeria in the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico and he won FA cup 2 times with ECN and Stationery Stores in the 60s’ and 70s.’
Shortly after Fregene quit the stage, a ‘gentle giant’ Emmanuel Okala came on board. The frightening moustache and intimidating goalkeeper of Enugu Rangers made an indelible mark as perhaps Nigeria’s greatest goalkeeper of all times.
With his height and intimidating size, attackers were afraid to approach Okala and often don’t find space to shoot or place the ball to the far end.
Okala was in goal for Nigeria and won All African games gold medal in 1973. He was also in the team that won Nigeria’s first Africa Cup of Nations in 1980.
With the reputation of Emmanuel Okala still intact in the 1980s, Best Ogedengbe sprang up and took Nigerian soccer fans by surprise with his scintillating saves in goal.
No wonder Otto Gloria chose Ogedengbe ahead of Okala as his first choice goalkeeper during the 1980 Nation’s Cup, which Nigeria won.
Ogedengbe was known for taking penalty kicks and he saved a lot for his IICC club side.
Shortly after Ogedengbe’s reign Peter Rufai took up the gauntlet. He was a great goalkeeper, great team leader and had a very illustrious football career that started from Stationery Stores to Dragon of Benin. Then, he traveled to Europe to be the goalkeeper of Lokeren, Beveren, GoAhead Eagles, Deportivo La Coruna etc.
Rufai was always the first choice goalkeeper anytime he was invited to the national team, despite the presence of other equally great goalkeepers like Aloy Agu, David Ngodigha and Wilfred Agbonvbare. He always became captain in any team he played for and grew to become the captain of Super Eagles.
Rufai won the Africa Cup of Nations in1994 and became the first Nigeria goalkeeper to play in FIFA World Cup in the same year.
After Rufai’s retirement, Enyeama became Nigeria’s top goaltender of all time and has remained relevant till date.
He may not cut the myth of Inuwa Rigogo or the colossus reputation of Emmanuel Okala, yet Enyeama still passes as Nigeria’s greatest goalkeeper of all times, in terms of his achievements.
Enyeama won CAF Champions league back to back in 2003 and 2004 with Enyimba FC. He won Nigeria premier league twice and the FA Cup. He also won Africa Cup of Nations in 2013 and has been the first choice goalkeeper to two FIFA world cups and the confederations Cup.
With the recent problem which Ikeme’s absence could pose to the Super Eagles handlers, it is the opinion of Hard Tackle that Enyeama should be recalled to Eagles since Rohr seems not to have confidence on his assistants, Ikechukwu Ezenwa and Daniel Akpeyi.
Though a recent media report revealed that America-based goal-tender, Joel Isyaq, has promised to make Super Eagles’ number one position more competitive if invited to be part of Nigeria’s team in the remaining matches of the FIFA 2018 World Cup qualifiers and the Nations Cup qualifiers, but that will be a costly experiment ahead of the country’s quest.
Composure, positioning, reflexes, agility, techniques, anticipation, ball handling, couple with great saves are just some of the attributes American-based Nigerian goalkeeper possesses according to the report, but there is no time for such experiment at the peak of the World and Nations Cup qualifiers.
Therefore, as a clarion call, stakeholders of Nigerian football should come together and urge NFF to recall Enyeama to fill the gap Ikeme’s absence is posing at this critical time of the World and Nations Cup qualifiers.
NFF spokesman Ademola Olajire, recently revealed that the federation had no problems with Enyeama and welcomed Rohr’s idea of considering the goalkeeper for Nigeria’s 2019 AFCON and 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
However, we look forward to the actualization of Enyeama recall to Eagles as a stitch in time saves nine!