Nigeria’s goalkeeping department is truly in dire straits. It is understandable why the national team handlers will want to stick with Okoye. In fact, I very much respect what Coach Amuneke said in a recent interview. “Regardless, Maduka Okoye is a good goalkeeper and human being, so we can’t because of one mistake dump (him).” Said the Atlanta ’96 Olympian. Which is so true. Maduka Okoye is a consummate professional who handles himself with dignity and respect in Nigeria colours. What is most salient about Amuneke’s statement was what he said next. “He’s playing for his team (Sparta), and that’s the most important thing.” Amuneke emphasised. Therein lies the problem. It is virtually inconceivable for the only Nigerian goalkeeper playing week in week out in a mainstream European league to be dropped for bench warmers of backwater leagues. Okay, calling Cyprus, Croatian, Israel and South African leagues backwater is a tad disrespectful on my part but none of them is on the same league with the Dutch Eredivisie. As if that is not bad enough, Nigerian goalkeepers registered in these leagues are rooted to their clubs’ benches. Maduka Okoye has a long way to go. At this moment, he really should not be the first choice goalkeeper of Nigeria but we have little to no opinion elsewhere. Any video analysts studying Nigeria’s games will easily identify the Super Eagles goalkeeping department as one of its achilles heels. Okoye’s proclivity to indecision, underdeveloped low diving technique, fidgeting demeanour, response time and questionable starting position make him a potential ticking time bomb. But, if truth be told, the Düsseldorf born Ibo net minder has shown signs of steady improvements of late. Whilst playing in a relegation threatened club in not sexy, the demands playing for Sparta Rotterdam is placing on Okoye is helping him strengthen his resilience and in building his confidence.
His defensive redoubt in Rotterdam is not the most strongest, hence he is exposed to a barrage of shots flying from every corner all the time he takes to the pitch for league matches. This augurs well for his goalkeeping development and should help whet his skills whilst also putting him in the right competitive frame of mind for the Ghana clash later this month. But the jury is still out though. I understand why it would be ill-advised to consider any other goalkeepers for the Super Eagles number one slot for the Ghana derby. But immediately afterwards, the hunt must begin for a glut of options in Nigeria’s goalkeeping department. I feel no compunction in saying that we are witnessing a full blown goalkeeping crisis in the Super Eagles. For us to be pinning all our hopes on an evolving, metamorphosing goalkeeper, who is still in process of transforming from a tadpole to a full grown frog, is deeply troubling. Akpeyi was never a fan favourite, Uzoho is now neither here nor there, Adeleye is buckling under the weight of top tier football while Yakubu cannot keep himself out of a paper bag in Croatia. The whole thing is just perplexing. I did write in favour of looking at the direction of homebased goalkeepers recently but this will be a risky move. The NPFL is not the most professionally run league. Moreover, you get the sense that the Super Eagles goalkeeper should ideally be foreign based. But in foreign lands, our goalkeepers are currently not finding any joy, and the question is: why?
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