The ongoing media controversy on whether goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama should return to the Nigerian squad for the World Cup is certainly one of the emerging key issues as Nigeria prepares for Russia. Enyeama has been left off the squad since he quit the team under former Manager Sunday Oliseh.
However, the new Manager, Gernot Rohr, has made it clear that he wants Enyeama back but with some conditions. Since then, the media have been rife in support for and against an Enyeama return. But who is afraid of Enyeama’s return?
A few days ago, a Nigerian news medium reported that Nigeria’s goalkeeper coach, Aloy Agu, was not in support of Enyeama’s return fearing the likelihood that it may disrupt relative peace in the current squad. To be clear, Agu’s position is not solely his. Similar opinions have been raised from other quarters and who knows how the current goalkeepers feel? After all, Enyeama’s return might mean that at least one of them may not make it to the World Cup.
It was a shock that Agu would publicly share his opinion in the media considering the position that his boss, Gernot Rohr, had already expressed. Perhaps, the conflict of opinion between the two has been brewing underground and is now seeping gradually to the surface. After all, Rohr basically stripped Agu of his sole position as goalkeeper coach by appointing Enrico Pionetti as a second goalkeeper coach and then suddenly Ikechukwu Ezenwa (who seems to be the preferred choice of Pionetti) has leapfrogged Daniel Akpeyi, Agu’s erstwhile choice, as Nigeria’s number 1 following the absence of Ikeme.
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The fact that Ezenwa was hoisted to the position during Akpeyi’s injury does not deny the fact that Akpeyi was not exactly inspiring when he was fit nor does it deny the reality that Ezenwa remained top choice after Akpeyi’s return to fitness. Could Agu’s position on Enyeama be impacted by the fact that Akpeyi will be pushed further down the ladder upon Enyeama’s recall? As speculative as this position might be, it cannot be discounted easily.
This is the time all kinds of players – the retired, the old, the forgotten, the fringe, the newbies, among others – are hustling and lobbying to be in Nigeria’s squad for the World Cup. Perhaps, the Enyeama case is the first salvo in this seasonal occurrence.
Enyeama himself has waited until the World Cup is around the corner before he began to give signs that he would be amenable to a Nigerian return. Would that have been the case without a World Cup around the corner? Clearly, Enyeama at his heights was indisputably Nigeria’s best but it is debatable that he is still at that height. He currently has not played at the top level since he was injured and since he became out of favor at Lille in France. Thus, it may well be that what Nigeria thinks it is getting may not be what it will get. That is left to be seen. It will only be a matter of time.
If Enyeama gets in, regardless of his form, it is likely that he will take up one of three goalkeeping positions going to the World Cup except if his form is so wretched that even the blind can see it. In essence, his return leaves only two slots available to other goalkeepers including the four who have trained under Rohr – Ezenwa, Akpeyi, Ajiboye, and Alampasu.
You can bet that not only will some in Rohr’s technical squad back one or two of those players but there will be others outside pushing for one of those or the call up of additional players including those who rarely see action in Europe. Those are certainly the one’s afraid of Enyeama’s return. Make no mistake about that.
There are those already arguing that one of the spots should be reserved for a young lad to groom for the future. That clearly reads as advocates for Alampasu who fell rapidly after being unable to hold on to the third spot that he occupied when Ikeme was fit and starting. He has now fallen not only behind Ezenwa but also behind Akpeyi and Ajiboye.
Agu’s argument of disrupting peace is camp is neither here nor there as long as Enyeama accepts the conditions that he will start off behind the starting goalkeeper in camp (i.e. Ezenwa) and that he will no longer be captain. Those should be easy to accept. After all, if Enyeama shows that he can play at his previous high form then it will be a matter of time for him to recapture the starting spot.
As for disrupting the peace? The fact is that several new players will be invited to camp, goalkeepers included, for the coaches to determine who makes the World Cup squad. There is nothing extraordinary about that and all footballers are aware that positions in the team are always open to competition. In 1994, Efan Ekoku, Mike Emenalo, Sunday Oliseh, and Chidi Nwanu did not play a minute in the World Cup qualifiers but made the squad.
In 2002, Vincent Enyeama, Bartholomew Ogbeche and Femi Opabunmi did not play a minute in the qualifiers. In 2014, Kunle Odunlami, Michael Uchebo and Ramon Azeez made the squad without playing in the qualifiers. There are others but the point is that it isn’t unusual for new players to make the World Cup qualifiers without playing a minute in the qualifiers.