By Shina Oludare
Call him the John Terry of African football and you are definitely not out of place as nothing less best describes Godfrey Oboabona who started his career as a striker and undeniably one of the key success stories of Stephen Keshi’s ground-breaking overhaul of the Super Eagles.
Until the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations staged in Nelson Mandela’s country, not many could lay claim to knowing this quintessential footballer who was discovered in pastoral Ondo Kingdom by the Rising Stars Academy while at secondary school - St. James Catholic Secondary School to be precise.
His biggest highlight of the tournament was not his trophy winning feat but his command performance against the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire where he expertly kept Didier Drogba and his lethal strike-partners in his pocket for the entire duration of the quarter-final clash – a rare feat by a green horn playing in the Nigeria domestic league.
Itama, as he is fondly called by parents, also provided some moments of individual brilliance in the championship against Zambia, Ethiopia, Mali and Burkina Faso in the final.
Even at 22, he has risen from being a gamble to being a stronghold making significant input in the star-studded Eagles backline which boasts of the most capped player in Nigeria football history.
Rarely has any player in the world flourished in seven completely different positions but Godfrey did it stress free. As a starter, he did exploits as a striker, before his conversion to midfield and later to the defense following his extraordinary displays at the rear when asked to stand-in for a teammate at the rear.
Even then Sunshine manager, Gbenga Ogunbote confessed: “Any creative manager will like Oboabona for his versatility. The only position he didn’t play was in goal. I’ve used him in the midfield, both sides of the defence and even as an attacker.”
Though not blessed with the build of a giant, he combines well the fierceness of a rhinoceros and the agility of a lion to scare away opposing players as strikers would scamper for safety at the sight of his foot which packs a missile.
Aside his awe-inspiring performances, he has been the Super Eagles’ most regular starter this year. Apart from the recent friendly against Burkina Faso, he is the only player to have started and completed every one of Nigeria’s games, an achievement that shows how indispensable he is to the national team. Little wonder the likes of Joseph Yobo, Danny Shittu and Dele Adeleye are still far away from getting an invite to the Super Eagles.
Godfrey is the key reason why Nigeria will be making their fifth appearance at the Fifa World Cup. I need not remind you how his 83rd minute eye-catching free-kick handed Keshi’s men a lifeline against Namibia in Windhoek after Deon Kavendji’s had put his team ahead 11 minutes earlier.
In Addis Ababa, his timely clearance off the line ensured that the Super Eagles stayed in contention after an opening salvo from the Walia Antelopes almost disrupted their game plan.
In the qualifying series of the African Nations Championship, he played a big role in the country’s qualification - holding sway in defence and also made some attacking moves which resulted to goals for the home-based Super Eagles.
At club level, Godfrey has been in fine form by bringing stability to Caykur Rizespor’s backline and only few days back got his debut goal for the Rize-based outfit proving that he is not only good at thwarting opposing strikers’ moves but can also chip in goals every now and then.
Though, he may not be playing in the best league in the world, he is certainly a key figure for the best team in Africa and who knows if one day he will be rated among the best defenders in the world.
Will Godfrey Oboabona’s consistency fetch him the Goal Nigeria Player of the Year award? It is the fans' decision to make.