COMMENT By Solace Chukwu Follow on Twitter
Seven is often viewed as a lucky number. Perhaps that has to do with its theological associations; it is supposed to connote completeness.
And so it is that, after seven years, Vincent Enyeama's time at LOSC Lille has come to an end. Now 36, it is a parting that gives closure to every party, certainly in light of the latter circumstances. The arc of the hero is finally complete.
In 2011, he first put pen to paper for the French side, arriving on a free from Israeli side Hapoel Tel Aviv. He was loaned back to Israel the following summer, after having only made one appearance for his new club; it is easy to forget in the light of what came after, but Enyeama initially struggled to convince with Les Dogues.
Following the retirement of Mickael Landreau, erstwhile manager Rudi Garcia favoured Steeve Elana, forcing the Nigeria international to return whence he had arrived.
Garcia moving on to bigger things signaled the proper beginning of Enyeama's Lille career. Under new boss Rene Girard, he asserted his superior goalkeeping ability, and was entrusted with keeping the back door shut.
For a goalkeeper who had already been named the best player overall in Israel, 2013/14 proved to be his finest season yet. The highlight was, of course, a sequence of 11 straight clean sheets, including shout-outs against Lyon, Monaco and Montpellier - some of the league's stronger sides.
That run took him within 114 minutes of Gaetan Huard's record for consecutive minutes without conceding in the French top flight.
In all, he kept 21 clean sheets - the most in Europe's top five leagues that season - helping Lille to third in the league in spite of the side's poor record in front of goal (Girard's side scored 46 league goals, barely over a goal a game, the second-worst return in the top half of the table).
His exploits earned him recognition, as he became the first goalkeeper to win the Marc Vivien Foe Award for the best African footballer in Ligue 1. He also, somewhat controversially, only finished second in the vote of the league's top goalkeeper.
Much is made now of the evolution of the goalkeeping position, and while Enyeama was no Manuel Neuer or Ederson with the ball at his feet, he certainly was capable of moments of nonchalant brilliance. He may have been unable to display his proficiency from the penalty spot in France, he certainly did not stick to only shot-stopping, as Zlatan Inrahimovic, who he sent off to the races with a Cruyff turn, could attest.
It spoke to his supreme confidence, as did the speed with which he dominated his penalty area that season. Never the tallest goalkeeper in the world, Enyeama made up for it with reflexes and explosiveness, and one of the defining sights of the season was a striker taking a touch, only to look up and find the Lille stopper already on top of him.
Without @vinpee Enyeama, @losclive have the fourth worst defensive record in @Ligue1_ENG, conceding 58 in 34 matches (Dijon worst with 66).— Ed Dove (@EddyDove) April 24, 2018
As recently as 2015-16, they had the second best defensive record in the division - conceding 27 in 38 (second behind PSG). pic.twitter.com/UQuuHYbbCM
It was never quite as good again, which is not to say that it was bad.
While his standard remained quite high, Lille struggled even more for goals, and were unable to muster the same solidity at the back. There is a sense that he might have left back then, but at 32, there was likely little motivation to uproot his life in France for the lure of the unknown.
In any case, he would eventually be forced out of his comfort zone by the arrival of the eccentric Marcelo Bielsa in 2017. With Lille's new owner Gerard Lopez eager to make a splash, the appointment of the Argentine manager was supposed to signal the start of a special period for the club.
However, Bielsa's peculiar move to jettison many of the squad's experienced players, ostensibly to forestall indiscipline, saw Enyeama cast adrift while he was battling to return from a knee injury sustained the season before.
El Loco's reign was a short one, lasting only 13 games, but things were never the same: he was unable to reclaim his place under Christophe Galtier, and never featured for LOSC again after an appearance in April 2017.
In the end, it is a sad, undistinguished conclusion to a glittering time in France for Enyeama.
In reality, happy endings are quite rare, but it is hard not to feel that, for a man who for a time (not so long ago) was in the discussion of Europe's finest goalkeepers, it could all have been more dignified.