Why Nigerian goalkeeper should be African Footballer of the Year

By Oluwashina Okeleji*

imagesFrom being regarded as one of the best goalkeepers on the African continent, Vincent Enyeama is now also considered one of European football’s finest.

He cemented his reputation with a string of fine performances for French side Lille last season and set some impressive records.

The 32-year-old Nigerian kept 11 consecutive clean sheets in Ligue 1 matches during the first half of the 2013-14 season.

In total, he achieved 21 shut-outs last term – more than any other goalkeeper in the top five European leagues.

Deserved recognition followed when in May he became the first goalkeeper to be named French Ligue 1 African Player of the Season.

He carried his superb form into this year’s World Cup in Brazil,making a number of key saves in four matches – and he was named the fourth best goalkeeper at the tournament.

The charismatic number one is revelling in his new-found spotlight and has started the new season in superb form, both in Ligue 1 and the Europa League.

Yet it was not that long ago that Enyeama’s qualities were curiously underrated – despite him boasting a well-stuffed trophy cabinet.

He won back-to-back African Champions League titles in 2003 and 2004 with Nigerian side Enyimba and then claimed the Israeli league and two cups with Hapoel Tel Aviv.

Perhaps even harder to ignore is the remarkable statistic that Enyeama scored 23 goals during his time at the Israeli giants, dispatching penalties and free-kicks.

His feats with Hapoel ultimately attracted interest from clubs in Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Russia and Ukraine in the summer of 2011, but he opted for French side Lille instead.

However, the move was initially unsuccessful and he soon made a career-saving return to Israel in August 2012, but this time in a loan move to Hapoel’s arch-rivals Maccabi Tel Aviv.

His arrival was marred by a hate campaign directed at his family by Hapoel fans furious at a club legend joining their biggest rivals.

Once the ill-feeling subsided, the ebullient Enyeama flourished in the colours of Maccabi.

Enyeama went 1,062 minutes without conceding last season, keeping 11 consecutive clean sheets
Enyeama went 1,062 minutes without conceding last season, keeping 11 consecutive clean sheets

He also proved a stalwart for his country as they won the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa and he emerged as the tournament’s best goalkeeper.

More success followed as he helped Maccabi to the 2013 Israeli double.

Stunning saves and reflexes were on show again at the 2013 Fifa Confederations Cup in Brazil and it led to Enyeama being recalled by Lille.

It has proven a triumphant return for the experienced glovesman, who has hit the richest vein of form in his career.

Having become the first Nigerian to win the Marc-Vivien Foe prize in France, Enyeama would also be the first goalkeeper to claim the BBC African Football of the Year award.

*Source BBC

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