On a particularly day almost two weeks ago, Nigerians, including myself woke up to the painful and shocking news that our first-choice goalkeeper Carl Ikeme was diagnosed and discovered – by medics at his English club Wolverhampton Wanderers, during a routine check-up – to be suffering from ‘Acute Leukaemia’ i.e blood cancer which is ultimately a terminal illness.
Since then, there have been a deluge of lamentations, sympathy, good and sincere wishes, prayers, etc from Nigerians and even his fellow international soccer stars which include FC Porto and Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas, Barcelona and Germany goalkeeper Andre Ter Stegen, Man United and Spain goalkeeper David de Gea among a host of others.
Already, Ikeme, with the full support of his employers, has since commenced chemotherapy and other forms of treatment. One thing is certain, he will most likely never play football again if he survives this unfortunate and ill-timed ailment.
On the other hand, side by side the attention it has gathered, there is the increased clamour for the return of retired/exiled Super Eagles goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, a legend who exited the national team unceremoniously and abruptly as well. Hitherto, this call was in the background due to impressive and convincing performances churned out by Ikeme whenever he dorned the national colours. Currently, we as a nation are stuck, stranded, in ‘tight corner’ as we often say in local parlance, lol!
We are facing an imminent goalkeeper crisis as the do-or-die two-legged cracker against African champions Cameroon in Uyo and Yaounde fast approaches.
South African-based Daniel Akpeyi, Ikeme’s deputy, on the strength of his performance in the disgraceful 2-0 home loss to our perennial preys, South Africa, does not inspire enough confidence among citizens even though he has always shown great potentials right from his time in the local league.
Ifeanyi Ubah FC’s Ikechukwu Ezenwa as well as Portugal-based Dele Alampasu don’t seem to be so different even though, in fairness to them both, they have not been given adequate opportunity to show what they can indeed do.
That leaves us with the option of ‘begging’ and bringing Enyeama back to the national team, because, truth be said, he is about the only and most reliable option we have got at this critical time. But again, there are possible, ‘negative’ implications of doing that.
Firstly, Enyeama is known to be contentious, confrontational, arrogant, vocal, stubborn and hot-temepered. He does have th tendency to clash with his superiors including administrators.
Secondly, having been demoted – during coach Sunday Oliseh’s reign – from the captaincy role he played in the years leading up to his retirement, will he be willing to be submissive to the likes of Captain John Mikel Obi, Assistant Captain Ogienyi Onazi, etc, knowing that he is senior to these guys age-wise, in terms of experience and then longevity in the national team? He would most likely see them as ‘small boys’ and feel he is stooping so low.
Thirdly, as the Cameroon crackers beckon, Enyeama has not played football since the tail end of last season when he was injured and having been told he can leave Lille by new coach Marcelo Bielsa despite years of quality service to the team, his fitness is surely in doubt and that could be an immense gamble to take if he agrees to return and is fielded in those matches.
I would rather we utilize any of the other goalies who have been active in their clubs week in, week out than an unfit, match-rusty Enyeama. Yes!
Though I think, this period presents him a huge opportunity to put himself back in the shopping window for European clubsides. Should Enyeama be fit and features in the double header against Cameroon as well as the last two matches versus Zambia and Algeria and then goes to the World Cup and shines, he will have sold himself to an European club once again.
If I were him, I will think twice about this. After all, his country desperately needs him and heroes are not known to turn their back on their countries when called upon in times of crisis.
In conclusion, if we Nigerians can tolerate his excesses, then why not? He can definitely make that coveted return so long as he is fit and ready. But if not, we move on; that is to say, the search for a capable and worthy replacement for the ailing Ikeme should continue. After all, goalkeeping talents abound in Nigeria and Beyond. It’s a question of hardwork.