After Vincent Enyeama’s acrimonious departure from the Super Eagles fold in 2015 during the turbulent reign of Sunday Oliseh, many felt he was harshly treated. Perhaps they were right too, it’s not every time a captain is stripped of his leadership status in his side…let alone in these circumstances.
The most capped Super Eagle called time on his international career as a consequence of his position being made untenable in the national side, and many could see why.
Less than two years on, however, new man Gernot Rohr retains a desire to see the shot-stopper return to the side, as acknowledged in a recent interview.
While it will not be the worst thing in the world to see the LOSC Lille man come back – heck, his recall will be cheered across the nation – the potential return proves his absence has been felt in a side that’s endured a seemingly unending malaise at the back since his departure.
The apparent lack of a leader in the defensive setup has threatened to undermine the steady progress that’s been made under the German tactician in the last eight odd months.
While the giant strides taken under Rohr’s leadership have been well documented – emphasis on building for the future, an organized, yet attacking brand of football, renewed desire and motivation amongst players – the problems in the defensive third sometimes give off a whiff of incompetence, with players unaware of their roles defensively.
The miscommunication in the defensive ranks was evident in both World Cup qualifiers against Zambia and Algeria – especially against the former, and it makes one wonder whether the Lille stopper’s organizational skills have been underrated over the years by the Eagles. His ability to coordinate those in front of him has been a hallmark of his goalkeeping and that strength could have translated into better defensive performances in those games.
Also, for all the rave reviews directed at Carl Ikeme, Enyeama is surely a better fit for the Super Eagles, as has been the case for over a decade. The Akwa Ibom-born stopper is a superior player to the Wolverhampton Wanderers goalie, and that assessment isn’t in any way a snide remark at the towering keeper who’s produced impressive performances for the Eagles – with the game against Zambia a noteworthy showing – in the first few months under Rohr.
Ikeme’s proneness to injury, coupled with the dearth of quality backup options in the side, would leave the three-time African champions in a precarious position for the remainder of the qualifiers if he suffers an injury.
Current stand-in Daniel Akpeyi doesn’t inspire much confidence – as witnessed against the Algerians – while other viable replacements like Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Danladi Isah, and Femi Thomas ply their trade in The Nigerian Professional Football League, where doubts remain about their capabilities in adapting to the tactical demands of the coaching staff, the training regime and not to mention the uncertainty in producing top class performances against quality opposition.
Enyeama ticks all those boxes, make no mistake, and his potential reintroduction to the fold can also bring back a bit of direction and leadership that’s been lacking somewhat in the goalkeeping department of the Nigeria side.
The importance of defensive solidity cannot be overstated; it’s an art that great title-winning sides over the years have possessed, but this cornerstone seems to be absent from the current Super Eagles. In the attacking third, Rohr’s setup are a joy to watch, but their fragility at the back makes the current ‘score more than the opposition’ mantra unsustainable if they’re to make progress going forward.
Indeed, could this failing be what holds this talented collective back from being one of Africa’s truly great sides?
A good attack wins games, but a good defence wins titles. It’s a repeated cliche, though not far from the truth.
A return for Enyeama won’t suddenly solve the defensive issues plaguing the side, that’ll be too simplistic to say, but having him in the setup makes the Super Eagles stronger and better equipped if they’re to make it to the extravaganza in Russia, and subsequently ready to take on the world.
Without him, they will be sitting ducks.