By Oyediji Oluwaseun Babatunde
Sports Writer, kick442.com Nigeria
We continue our countdown of Soccernittygritty’s Green/Super Eagles Greatest of all Time (GOAT) with Number 11 and 13 on the list.
Before that, a quick recap of Number 20-13
20. THOMPSON USIYAN
19. CELESTINE BABAYARO
18. PETER RUFAI
17. TARIBO WEST
16. EMMANUEL OKALA
15. CHRISTIAN CHUKWU
14. UCHE OKECHUKWU
13. JOSEPH YOBO
13. YAKUBU AIYEGBENI
12. VINCENT ENYEAMA
“The goalkeeper was phenomenal. He takes all the credit. We played a great game today and created a lot of chances. We just couldn’t get the second goal!” – Lionel Messi on Enyeama after a 2010 FIFA World Cup game.
“He was exceptional. He was the one who made us suffer, because in football, if you create chances and fail to convert, then you can be punished.”-Diego Maradona after same game.
Undoubtedly the greatest goalkeeper in Nigeria’s history. Enyeama of course, wasn’t a one-game wonder, he replicated same level of performance evidenced by perhaps, two of the greatest of all time above in several other games throughout his 16-year professional career. Like most great athletes with the most humble of beginnings, Enyeama started out playing for local side, Ibom Stars, however, it took a couple of years before he earned the attention of soccer buffs when he joined Nigeria’s elite side, Enyimba of Aba . He couldn’t have joined at a better time as he was very instrumental to his side’s double triumph on the continent, winning the hitherto elusive CAF Champions League twice in three seasons.
Finally, a genuine talent was unearthed from a home soil that had long remained infertile since the 1980s and 1990s. It wasn’t long before “Vince” forced his way into the consciousness of National team handlers who were desperate to fill a goalkeeping backup vacuum with the likes of Ndubuisi Egbo, Murphy Akanji and Sunday Rotimi not pushing no.1 choice, Ike Shorunmu hard enough. On the back of another superlative performance on the continent, Enyeama finally earned a call-up to the Super Eagles and handed his debut against Kenya in May enroute Korea Japan 2002.
He made the cut to the mundial and had the privilege of 90 minutes in the finals, a career-defining game though garnished by a top drawer save which turned what would have been a contention for goal of the tournament to one of the biggest saves when he dived full-length to his top-left to prevent a fierce Paul Scholes effort from long-range from hitting the back of the net. It was an inconsequential group game following the exit of the Super Eagles from the mundial.
Like most goalkeepers of color, an European break remained elusive, but Enyeama remained patient and focused after his World Cup heroics. He stayed relevant locally, dominating headlines regularly, his consistency enhanced his installation as Super Eagles no.1. After Ike Shorunmu’s retirement, the Enyeama man held on to the position like a hungry lion would hold on to a prey. He manned the goal at the 2004 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) while with Iwuanyanwu Nationale (now Heartland FC) of Owerri , thus, effectively announcing himself to the rest of the continent which greatly triggered a much anticipated professional career overseas.
His overseas sojourn saw him make great impact in Isreal, first with Bnei Yehuda, later, Hapoel Tel Aviv. He was the best goalkeeper that ever graced the Israeli league and won several team and individual titles/laurels including Isreali Player of the season in 2009. Beyond stopping the ball from hitting the net, he carved a goal-scoring niche for himself having netted 10 times for Enyimba, he replicated this feat in Isreal with nine league goals. By 2011, he had attained such intimidating reputation beyond the average Isreali league and had to embrace a bigger challenge befitting of his International stature.
In the summer of 2011, Enyeama joined Lille Metropole where he initially struggled because manager, Rudi Garcia favoured Steeve Elana after the retirement of veteran goalie, Mickael Landreau, hence, was quickly loaned back to Maccabi Tel Aviv for a season. He returned to Lille in 2013 following the sack of Garcia and the arrival of Rene Girard. The latter demanded a lot of the Nigerian goalie and installed him as club’s no.1. Enyeama repaid Girard’s Faith in him and had an incredible season which saw him register an astonishing 21 clean sheets including 11 consecutive shutouts which such potent attacks as those of Lyon, Monaco and Montpellier found impregnable. It was the best record in Europe’s top five leagues. Ironically, he was shockingly voted second best in Ligue 1.
Nonetheless, the strikingly confident Nigerian goalie clocked such outstanding milestones which emboldened his invincibility. He ensured a shutout which lasted 1,062 minutes up until he finally conceded off a deflected effort by Landry N’Guemo – it was a painful one. Enyeama was only 114 mins away from equaling Gaetan Huard’s 20-year record of 1,176 minutes. Nonetheless, this feat was good enough to earn him the Marc Vivien Foe award for African player of the season- the first by any goalie in the league.
Enyeama’s defiance at the back sealed
champions League football for Lille with a third place finish despite their misfiring forwards showing poor scoring form upfront with 46 goals the entire season- barely just over a goal per game, worst return in top half of the table. However, with Enyeama conceding a meagre 26, it compensated for their blunt attack. He remained consistent in the French top flight and was befittingly named 6th best goalie in the world in the 2015/2016 season ahead of such great goalies as Hugo Lloris , Navas and Petr Cech.
By 2017, following a knee injury which sidelined him for almost an entire season coupled with the eccentricity of new manager, Marcelo Bielsa, the end of his reign was inevitable. Enyeama finally took a glorious bow in 2018 after 164 games, conceded 156 goals and amazingly kept 65 clean sheets.
The legendary goalie appeared at five AFCON including one title win and three World Cup tournaments. He would be fondly remembered for making 6 point-blank saves he had no business stopping vs Argentina , including four from Lionel Messi alone in South Africa 2010. He shares record number of appearances (101) with Joseph Yobo. His signature smile and calmness in goal has proven to be a rarity lately.
11. SEGUN ODEGBAMI
“I had at least four chances to play abroad, but then, it was not fashionable to do so.”
– Chief Segun Odegbami stating the reasons behind not exporting his unique talents abroad, Europe especially.
He added more elaborately that lack of self-belief was also a major factor that dowsed the lure of professional football abroad: “Probably, I didn’t have as much confidence because we didn’t have people who were playing and doing well from here, I thought they were gods there. I was reading Shoot magazine and all those other tabloids and we didn’t think those people (European players) were human beings. So, for me to have had the opportunity, I didn’t grab it.” He submitted.
A graduate of Engineering from The Polytechnic, Ibadan , Odegbami remains arguably Nigeria’s most skillful player in history if emphasis is paid to individual ability. He embodies the lightning pace and goal-scoring instinct of Yekini, the flair of Jay Jay and the ball-delivery precision of Finidi George. For a winger, he was obviously overdosed ability-wise, such that his vast talent required a bigger stage, lack of it greatly diminished his true worth on the global scale, otherwise, he would have easily earned a mention in the top five of the #NAIJAGOAT20.
Odegbami’s educational background laced with his repertoire of vast skills earned him the nickname “Mathematical”, his ability was way ahead of his time and never failed to attract suitors overseas. However, strangely but understandably, given the circumstances at the time, he never maximized the opportunities that came his way: “Mr Kojo Alakija, the team manager of the national team arranged for me to go to Tottenham and I actually left, he gave me a ticket, I also had other tickets in my bag. I was very comfortable in Nigeria. I had five cars in my house at the time. I was building my first house in Ibadan. I was a distributor of cement and Coca-Cola and I was setting up my restaurant and so on in Ibadan. So, I was doing very well and the pound was equivalent to the Naira, the currencies were equal. At that time even if you travel, you’ll come back with change and put in your pocket.
Odegbami went further to highlight the stark contrasts between what was obtainable back in the day and the reality of the present day: “The World was different at that time. Matches were not shown every week, you’ll watch one premiership match a week and it was on delay transmission- the match of the week. So, I actually went to London for trials with Tottenham with Tunde Fagbenle, a journalist, and went to his house to stay there so that I could wake up to go for my trials in Tottenham.” Odegbami began a story which turned out both hilarious and career-defining.
“That night, he took us out, we went to the Empire board room with a late friend- Rufus Orisayomi, and we went drinking and dancing. By the time we came back the next day, this ‘Tottenham-thing’ did not come to my head anymore. It was not as if I was too keen because in Nigeria, I was like a mini-god. Also, the football was fantastic, anywhere you played, you were a hyper star. So, for me to go to Europe and be an ‘unknown star’ at the time wasn’t appealing. That was how I wasted the opportunity. I didn’t bother to go there anymore, from there I spent my time, enjoyed myself, spent a few weeks before I came back to Nigeria. They were waiting for me, they had arranged everything for me to come for trials, they gave me a ticket, I arrived London and I went dancing.” He concluded regrettably while reiterating he would do otherwise if he could turn back the hands of time.
That wasn’t Odegbami’s first opportunity to take his career abroad. In the buildup to 1980 AFCON at their Brazil camp, veteran journalist, John Mastoroudes, arranged a trial with Panathinaikos of Greece. Days later, the Green Eagles played against Fluminense of Brazil, Odegbami shone like a million stars, the performance earned the attention of Club President all to no avail. The least of the opportunities was averted when Chief Lekan Salami deliberately hid an offer letter from Jamaica until its expiration before informing Odegbami.
Odegbami was a one-club legend with IICC, known as Shooting Stars of Ibadan , one of Nigeria’s most successful clubs in history.
Odegbami was a mythical hero with both IICC and the Green Eagles. Watching him on the ball was sheer magical. He joined IICC fresh from High School in 1970, aged 18. He won several titles including the prestigious African Cup Winners’ Cup in 1976- a historical feat, first by any Nigerian side. His performances automatically shot him into the National team managed by Otto Gloria. The Brazilian handed him a deserved debut against Sierra Leone, 16th October, 1976, aged 24. He attained such iconic status which positively influenced a very conservative Nigeria where parents kicked against having a career in football, every random kid kicking any round object on the streets took so much pride being referred to as ’Odegbami’.. He was a living legend even before retirement.
Years passed and Odegbami’s profile grew not only in Nigeria, also on the continent. He was named third on the list of African Footballer of the Year in 1977 and second in 1980 on the back of his superlative showings at the AFCON hosted on home-soil where he emerged joint top scorer (3) with Moroccan legend, Khalid Labied. An all-important brace in the final game against Algeria won Nigeria her first title. Months later, Odegbami captained the Nigerian team to the summer Olympics in Moscow . He retired from the National team the following year aged 29 but continued club football until 1984 after IICC’s painful loss to Zamalek of Egypt in the final of African Champions’ Cup.
In the end, Odegbami remains Nigeria’s second highest goal scorer of all time, an astonishing 22 in 47 games, a milestone clocked from the wings, only behind Rasheed Yekini. He would have deserved an esteemed mention as high as the top three on the #NAIJAGOAT20 ranking had he the required International exposure and an intimidating European resume garnished with titles OR individual laurels. Nonetheless, his jaw-dropping mastery of the game and relative success locally has earned him a spot higher than a few other legends with European success on the countdown. All hail the legendary Mathematical.
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