Who The Cap Fits … Vincent Enyeama!

I grew up hero-worshiping former glovesman of the Super Eagles, Peter Rufai, a.k.a. Dodo Manyana. The finesse he adds to his craft is something that is difficult to come by these days. Rufai was instrumental to the success of the Super Eagles in the glory days that had great players like Rasheed Yekini, Uche Okechukwu, George Finidi, Stephen Keshi, Jay-Jay Okocha and a host of others. I could remember watching Nigeria conquer Africa in the Tunisia ‘94 nations cup and Peter Rufai was superb in the semi-final clash against Cote d’ Ivoire which ended in a penalty shootout. Rufai also had a great time  in the first appearance of the Super Eagles at the world cup in USA ‘94 where he was voted as the fourth best goal keeper of the tournament.

Four years later, Rufai’s stock had fallen terribly and he didn’t play many games for his club. But no one else proved capable of filling the big shoes he had left and the world cup in France was looming. The only option was to call back the hero who returned  to the relief of Nigerians in a friendly match against the Netherlands. But there was something wrong about Dodo Manyana; he’s not the man we used to know! In the first half of his comeback, he conceded two goals before being substituted but Nigerians (including me!) made excuses for him and he was included into the world cup squad.

Rufai’s heroics for the Super Eagles were almost undone in the four matches he played at the world cup. He caught a forlorn figure, was short of confidence, and shipped in ten goals in four games. That was the end of his impressive international career that had him bag 65 caps.


 Peter Rufai at the World Cup in France

Fast forward to another four years when former number 2, Ike Shorunmu, was now the Number 1. Nigeria had lost her first two games to Argentina and Sweden and had crashed out of the Korea/Japan 2002 world cup. The final game was a formality game against England. Stopgap coach, Adegboyega Onigbinde, felt that he should give a nod to the cover goal keeper who had only earned one cap before then— Vincent Enyeama, who grabbed the opportunity and made saves after saves, including a goal bound strike from Paul Scholes. That was the best game Nigeria had at the tournament after it finished a goalless draw. Welcome Vincent—the man who still lives happily ever after!

Why am I writing about Enyeama today? Hmm. Here is a man whose  career is laden with trophies and landmarks but  doesn’t get much credit for it. His nomination for the  BBC African Footballer of the year 2014  opened my eyes and made me do some research. I recall that Vincent manned the goal post for Enyimba International FC and won two CAF Champions League in quick succession. After spending three successful seasons with Enyimba, and one with Iwuanyanwu National, now Heartland FC, Enyeama moved to Israel where he is a legend till this day. He first joined a small club, Bnei Yehuda Tel Aviv and later joined a bigger Israeli side, Hapoel Tel Aviv in 2007, helping them avoid relegation in the 2007/2008 season. The next year, Enyeama’s Hapoel almost won the league, having barely survived relegation a year before and he won the “Player of the year” award, even as a goal keeper. In the 2009 season, Hapoel won the double and things moved up for the better. In 2010, Hapoel played in the European Champions League and won the Israeli cup again.

Action enyeama

         Vincent Enyeama in action for Hapoel Tel Aviv

Following these successes in Israel, Enyeama joined French side, LOSC Lille, in June 2011. Things didn’t go as smooth as he anticipated in the first year and he had to agree on a one-year loan back to Israel in 2012. However, there was a problem—he was joining Maccabi Tel Aviv. This of course didn’t go well with the fans of his former club, Hapoel, but as soon as he was able to brush that aside, Enyeama helped his club win the Israeli Premiership title. Enyeama consolidated his place as a world class goal keeper when he returned back as the first choice keeper for LOSC Lille in 2013-2014 Ligue 1 season and kept eleven consecutive clean sheets before conceding a goal after playing for 1,062 minutes of football!

At the international level, Enyeama has been a regular face and has surpassed the record of any goal keeper Nigeria has ever had in terms of longevity of service—95 international caps(Rufai would still have my respect though!). He has been at three world cups now and was in goal when Nigeria won third place in AFCON 2004, 2006, and 2010. He eventually became a winner in 2013. Only last week, The LOSC Lille keeper saved a crucial spot kick from Congo’s Thievy Bifouma that ensured Nigeria is now in a better position to get a place at the African Cup Of Nations to be held next year after enduring a wobble start. He has rightly been nominated for the BBC African Footballer of the year 2014 and he will be the first keeper to win it if he is crowned!

Enyeama is also a devoted man of faith and Nigerians are used to seeing him lead the lads in prayer sessions before games (even though we still get whooped at times!). He truly deserves whatever he gets and has proven that if you keep at what you do and continue to improve, you will eventually become one of the best, if not the best!

You can also vote for Vincent Enyeama for the BBC African Footballer of the Year 2014 Here

O.P. Philips is a freelance writer/entrepreneur. He is the author of The “OBAMA” in You! His new book, “What Football Teaches About Life” will be released soon.

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