I remember when I said I was unmoved by Okoye’s transfer to the English Premier League for Watford, I drew criticisms from some quarters. Prior to the 2021 Afcon, I said that any country with genuine ambitions of lifting the trophy in a major tournament would not make this ‘version’ of Maduka Okoye their number one.
The magic word there is ‘version’.
You see, I have always tried to place goalkeepers in a position based on what I term ‘the hierarchy of goalkeeping competency’.
This my hierarchy has 5 levels which are:
1. Basic 2. Decent 3. Quality 4. High Quality 5. World Class
When I first saw Vincent Enyeama in action for Nigeria against England in the 2002 world cup, I thought he was decent. Neat catches, decent positioning and acceptable all round technique. I thought then the best he would develop into will be a quality goalkeeper with exceptional skills that will NOT be produced very frequently.
How wrong was I?
Enyeama would go on to become a world class goalkeeper with exceptional skills that were produced “CONSISTENTLY” with ruthless and spellbinding efficiency.
As per Okoye. When I saw his earlier games for Nigeria, I concluded then that he is a ‘basic’ goalkeeper who will go on to become a decent goalkeeper in the fullness of time.
At the moment, Okoye suffers from indecision. His technique is questionable and needs to be honed. He doesn’t generate enough force to his punches making him an inadequate shot stopper. There is no poise or elegance to his dives, parries and overall presentation. But most poignant of all is that his reflexes aren’t very sharp. His response to stimulus lags.
To be honest, all of these are aspects that Okoye can (and will) improve on but to what extent will he improve? Can he go on to become a quality, top quality or world class goalkeeper? Based on what I have seen, I have to say no.
I think he will become a decent goalkeeper for many years to come. His decision making will become better. His catching, punching, parrying, diving and kicking skills will definitely improve. Okoye’s distribution is already decent and in that aspect, he will improve massively.
But because his reflexes aren’t pristine, I don’t think Okoye will develop exponentially enough to be among the echelons of great world class African goalkeepers.
However, I was (very) wrong in the case of Enyeama and in the same token I pray I will turn out to be wrong with Okoye.
He has a good attitude and the right work ethics. It is always delightful to see a dual nationality player elect to represent their ancestral home, hence Okoye will hold a pride of place in my heart.
Additionally Okoye is resilient. He seems (at least on the outside) to handle criticisms positively. But we talk about pure goalkeeper skills, he doesn’t come across to me as precocious.
I remember watching a young Kasper Schmeichel of Denmark play. Even at the age of Okoye, he was already decent with reflexes that suggested that he would go on to be a quality/top quality goalkeeper. He was nimble, agile, expressive with compelling technique that wowed and excited.
Okoye’s attitude will take him far and bring him success. But, in the short term the Super Eagles deserves better. In the long term, Okoye must do more to go farther…..
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