Maduka Okoye: Are His Super Eagles Days Numbered?
Speculations are rife that the Nigeria Football Federation might consider pulling the plug on future Super Eagles invitations to former number one goalkeeper Maduka Okoye.
The Watford gloves-man was in-between the sticks when Nigeria's 2022 Afcon hopes were flushed down the drains in the 1:0 second round shock loss to covid ravaged Tunisia.
His head was brutally impaled through a skewer sharp criticisms on social media by Nigeria fans for not refracting the feeble and perfectly saveable long range shot that gifted the Tunisians their unlikely victory.
Since that match in January, Okoye has turned his back on national team invitations by giving one reason or the other .
For the doomed back to back world cup qualifiers against Ghana, the Dusseldorf born goalkeeper cited a positive covid test. For the double friendlies against Mexico and Ecuador, he cited shoulder injury. For the double Afcon qualifiers, he cited attending to administrative matters relating to linking up with his new club in England.
So, Okoye has been missing in action for 6 Super Eagles engagements in 5 months since his Afcon howler with a different excuse on each set.
What is funny is that his deputy Francis Uzoho also dropped a similar and arguably more painful clanger against Ghana in March's crucial world cup qualifiers. He also made a pig's ear of an innocuous long range effort which all but served as a lethal stab to Nigeria's world cup ambitions.
Unlike Okoye though, Uzoho showed his character and mental fortitude by picking himself up and honouring subsequent Super Eagles invitations.
He posted stellar performances in those games that are helping to redeem his image (despite the opprobrium he received after the Abuja debacle).
It is also being speculated that Maduka Okoye might have fallen out with some of his Super Eagles colleagues.
Unconfirmed reports suggest he was 'rude' to some of his team mates after the game against Tunisia. Also, in a club that has fellow Super Eagles colleagues like Troost Ekong and Emmanuel Dennis, Okoye was pictured smiling this week in Vicarage Road without any of his national team colleagues in sight; fueling speculations of a rift.
In Okoye's self-imposed national team exile, Uzoho has established himself as the team's undoubted number one goalkeeper. The new national team management team are very pleased with his application in the 6 games Okoye pulled out of.
However, Maduka Okoye remains Nigeria's highest profile goalkeeper in Europe. Uzoho struggled for game time in lowly Cyprus league last season and nothing as yet suggests that situation will improve.
With scuttlebutt swirling that English Championship side Watford are set to coronate Okoye as their youngest goalkeeper in recent history, it will definitely be a conundrum for the Super Eagles coaches to choose between England based Okoye and Cyprus based Uzoho, particular if the latter continues to see piecemeal game time in a subpar league.
September, when the Super Eagles resume Afcon qualifiers, might seem a long time away but it is just over 2 months. What will happen if Okoye pulls out again from those assignments? Will Peseiro persist with Uzoho even if he struggles with pitch-time? What happens if Adeleye gets a rare chance and grabs it with both gloves by delivering deft defying saves?
These and many more questions will undoubtedly be addressed in weeks to come.
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