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Can Maduka Okoye rise to the superstar status of Vincent Enyeama?

Super Eagles temporary first choice goalkeeper Maduka Okoye conceded his 27th goal of the season out of 17 league matches in Rotterdam’s 2:0 loss to Williem 11 fc which firmly fanned the flame of doubts that many Nigeria fans hold against his (current) goalkeeping capabilities. Okoye made his Super Eagles entrance on September 13 2019 against Brazil following a nasty knee injury to Francis Uzoho. With 27 minutes to go, Okoye looked jittery and slightly overcome by the occasion with his demeanour. But that is understandable. Here was a 19 year old division 4 goalkeeper making his debut for 3 time African champions against 5 time world champions (and the most flamboyant team in world football). But he overcame his initial trepidations and held his own admirably to help Nigeria maintain a respectable 1:1 draw. He has gone on to make 5 appearances for Nigeria, having to pick the ball out of Super Eagles’ net 6 times in the process. Maduka Okoye has come a long way from making his Nigeria debut: he now plays elite division football and is currently the Super Eagles temporary number one goalkeeper. But doubts exist and persist about his current goalkeeping capabilities and the question is, why? From the way I see it, I think it is a matter of ‘precociousness’. Not necessarily how he is performing at the moment but the signs one can reasonably deduce from that performance.

One thing I like about Okoye is his dedication. The young man comes across as a footballer who takes his career very seriously. He is skillful no doubt and will learn from his mistakes (like most goalkeepers do). He is also the quintessential passionate dual nationality Nigeria international: one who chose Nigeria in the days of his youth without waiting ‘to first of all focus on his club career’. However, when you see Okoye dispense his duties, the question that springs to mind is: will he develop into a top quality goalkeeper? Okoye looks very promising but is he precocious? You always get the sense that there is another young goalkeeper just round the corner waiting to wrestle the number one shirt from Okoye. It is not the mistakes he is making, it is not the number of goals he is conceding but about aspects of goalkeeping skills that do not seem to come more naturally to him. Once he fully develops these aspects (which he will), it stands to reason that Okoye’s development might be different from goalkeepers who seem to possess these attributes more innately (those who only have to build on what is already a supreme inner gift/talent). With an attacker bearing down at Okoye, he does not seem to approach that scenario with a ‘natural conviction’. His punches, deflections, reactions, staring positions and dives are good and will get better with age.

Yet, even at this early stage, one has to wonder whether he will sharpen these skills enough to get him to the elite spectrum that someone like Enyeama eventually occupied. Some people will say yes, some will say no but for me, only time will tell. At the very least, his talent, skills and application coupled with improvements that will come with age and experience should make Okoye continue to claim one of the 3 Super Eagles goalkeeper slots for seasons to come. But, there is just the sense that Nigeria can put forward another young sharper shot-stopper which is why Okoye’s hold on the Super Eagles number one shirt is weak. And perhaps why a body of Super Eagles fans have their doubts. Without a shadow of a doubt, Okoye will improve. He will get better and has it in him to remain relevant to the Super Eagles for many years to come. But, I suspect that a sharper, more precocious goalkeeper with better reflexes and superior skills might yet emerge to claim the Super Eagles number one slot. And, if Francis Uzoho can build his fitness level up to the point it was when he got injured against Brazil in 2019, he appears to have more instruments in his goalkeeping toolkit to claim back the Super Eagles number one slot.

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