By Ed Dove
While some of the nation’s pre-eminent footballing sons didn’t enjoy sterling seasons, the Goal Nigeria Player of the Season Europe poll was a celebration of five players who, to varying degrees, have had strong campaigns.
As readers began voting, however, Ike Uche, Peter Odemwingie, Efe Ambrose and Emmanuel Emenike became lost in the shadows. A celebration of Nigeria’s finest five became a procession for its seasonal star, Vincent Enyeama.
The Super Eagles Number One took 59.4% of the votes, blowing his rivals for the prize out of the water. While Ike Uche (23.1%) can be proud of his share of the votes—an interesting second favourite considering his exclusion from Stephen Keshi’s World Cup 30—Emenike (9.9%), Odemwingie (6.2%) and Ambrose (1.4%) were all thoroughly eclipsed by Enyeama.
In truth, the result comes as little surprise.
While all five men have, at least in patches, delivered commanding and match-winning performances, Enyeama has consistently produced world class, gold standard showings.
Enyeama | The Gold Standard
Remarkably, this, possibly the finest season of his career, was marked by a failure. But nonetheless, it is a failure that indicates both the consistency and the quality that undermined his performances.
It was back in 1993 that Gaetan Huard, then of Olympique de Marseille, set a Ligue 1 record for going over 13 games without conceding a goal. The run—which stood at 1,176 minutes without penetration—hasn’t been broken for over 20 years.
Ultimately, as the 2013-14 season comes to a close, the record still hasn’t been broken, but Enyeama came mighty close.
The West African ‘keeper went 1,062 minutes without conceding, keeping a magnificent 11 clean sheets in the process, before Les Dogues went down 1-0 away to Bordeaux. While Landry N’Guemo’s deflected 27th minute strike may have ended Enyeama’s bid to claim Huard’s long-standing record, but it didn’t detract from the practical consequences of the Nigerian’s superb form.
In the 11 games preceding the Bordeaux defeat, Enyeama’s 11-game-clean-sheet run, Lille picked up 29 points from a possible 33. There were two draws and five games which were won 1-0. These were not dominant, barn-storming performances by the Northern club, they were delicately-balanced contests decided as much by attacking threat as by defensive resiliency.
On two occasions during this 11-game run, Enyeama was awarded the Man of the Match Award, in one match, a 1-0 victory away at Montpellier, he saved a penalty.
Enyeama | Record in View
After the defeat to Bordeaux, as to be expected after the termination of a siege, LOSC lost their way a little. In Enyeama’s next six games he conceded nine goals, with the team winning only one and drawing two.
It is to his enormous credit that once that sticky run came to an end (with victory over Sochaux on February 8th) Enyeama returned to something close to his unbeatable early season form. Including the draw with Mexico, he didn’t taste defeat again until a 3-1 defeat to champions Paris Saint-Germain on May 10th.
In the next 16 games the ‘keeper won eight, drew seven and lost only once. He kept a further eight clean sheets.
While Enyeama missed out on the Ligue 1 award for Goalkeeper of the Season (the prize being given, somewhat strangely, to PSG Number 1 Salvatore Sirigu) he did win the Marc-Vivien Foe prize for the Ligue 1 African Player of the Season. In doing so, he became both the first goalkeeper and the first Nigerian to take home the award.
There are two important factors which make the pure numbers of Enyeama’s season all the more impressive.
First of all, a year ago, Enyeama wasn’t playing for Lille. Despite signing for the club back in June 2011, previous boss Rudi Garcia preferred Martiniquais stopper Steeve Elana. The Nigerian was cast out on loan to Israeli side Maccabi Tel Aviv, where he became a champion. Such a turnaround, a player who was once disregarded by the club to one who came within minutes of breaking a long-standing record, deserves recognition.
Just how important will Enyeama be for Nigeria this summer?
Secondly, Enyeama’s form and stats brought a tangible result. In the short term, it was clean sheets and therefore points, in the longer term, the ‘keeper helped Lille return to the Champions League after a year away from the continental high table. Last season, the club conceded 40 goals and accrued 62 points, this season they conceded only 26 (the second-best in the league) and managed 71 points.
Looking forward, Enyeama now has the chance to demonstrate his class among the world’s finest in both the Champions League and, a little more immediately, the World Cup. Maybe at this tournament he will become the Super Eagles’ record appearance holder, overtaking Joseph Yobo.
At 31, he still has a few years left in the tank to grace the top end of the sport and to cement his name as one of the world’s greatest stoppers…I’m sure many of the 60% of you that voted him to Number 1 would say he is there already.