Clement Nwankpa Jnr writes that one thing that threatens to undo Nigeria’s efforts and prospects at the World Cup is goalkeeping, but experienced campaigner Austin Ejide could well be the answer to this problem.
Let’s face it, goalkeeping errors are punished more at that level. Less rated teams like ours will always fall back on the heroics of a standout ‘keeper.
It won’t be unusual to find ourselves on the back foot more often. So the keeper must be up to the task. Nervousness on his part will be ‘criminal’ and could elicit ‘capital punishment’.
Now, it’s obvious Vincent Enyeama won’t be available. Daniel Akpeyi has not lived up to expectations just as Ikechukwu Ezenwa hasn’t particularly banished our worries.
Can we actually rely on rookie Frncis Uzoho? If Dele Ajiboye could cave in at Morocco’s superior firepower, how would he fare against the likes of Argentina?
What do we really need in a World Cup ‘keeper? Are we really overrating this tournament? Shouldn’t Ezenwa’s performance at CHAN, for instance, inspire confidence? Is Uzoho’s exploits in the Segunda Liga for Deportivo B not solid enough?
Can’t Ajiboye’s saves against Sudan when he stepped in for injured Ezenwa suffice? Didn’t we give up so soon on Akpeyi? Can the Almighty wield His healing hands and make CARL IKEME miraculously available?
So many questions begging for answers. Amidst this quagmire, can I throw up a possible solution? AUSTIN EJIDE! Incidentally, nobody is talking about him. But can’t we check him out? I am not advocating for an automatic shirt for him, but doesn’t he deserve a look-in?
Why should we bother about Ejide?
He is experienced
Ejide has been a squad member in Nigeria’s last three World Cup appearances in 2002, 2010 and 2014. He was second choice to Enyeama in the last two. He has also been Enyeama’s biggest rival all these years.
At some point, under Berti Vogts at AFCON 2006, he was even the preferred first-choice of the German, who likes physically imposing keepers.
So, if Enyeama isn’t available and we crave for big tournament experience, Ejide ticks the boxes. If there is a need to shoot up the team’s experience quotient at the Mundial, his presence could count.
He is big
I learnt Gernot Rohr has sent his ‘keepers trainer to work with Uzoho at Deportivo. Like Vogts, Rohr is a German and given this inclination towards Uzoho, he seems to be better disposed to big keepers.
At 6 ft. 2 inches, Ejide fits the bill. Now, who wouldn’t want a guy with a huge frame between the sticks even if as a façade? Most of our best keepers had been 6 ft and above for instance, Emmanuel Okala, Peter Rufai and Ike Shorunmu.
He is hungry
Ejide has lived in Enyeama’s shadows for the larger part of his international career. Despite being a squad member in the last three World Cup finals, he is yet to taste World Cup action.
The hunger could be likened to what drove Shorunmu prior to 2002 World Cup having played backup roles to Peter Rufai, Alloy Agu and Wilfred Agbonavbare over the years. Even when he was primed to be first choice at France 98, injury struck.
So, he was always desirous of being in goal at the World Cup and got his wish in 2002.
This quest to be in action at the World Cup could be the fillip behind Ejide still playing active football. Perhaps, just waiting for Rohr’s call.
Austin Ejide is playing regularly for his Israeli club
He is active
This is most important. If you are experienced, hungry and physically endowed without being in action every week, you won’t be useful here.
Since joining sixth-placed Hapoel Hadera in the Israeli second division last summer, Ejide has kept in 15 of the club’s 24 matches this season with seven clean sheets. He was in goal last Sunday in the 1-1 draw with Rishon Lezion. He is the club’s first- choice and barring injuries should be on duty again this weekend.
Did I hear somebody echo Rufai and 1998?
No ..No…No…It doesn’t apply here. This is an entirely different scenario. We wouldn’t be hijacking Ejide from his summer vacation as we did Peter Rufai on the eve of France 98, even as we couldn’t vouch for his (Rufai’s) fitness.
We have in our hands a ‘keeper who is in action week in, week out. His form is verifiable and there is ample time and test matches to be convinced he is fit enough for the task.
Prior to France 98, first-choice Shorunmu got injured weeks before the World Cup. It was an emergency hence the Rufai gamble.
We have been aware of this goalkeeping crisis long before now. There is enough time to make the right choice.
Let’s try him in a test game
Before we get it twisted, I am not advocating for an automatic place for Ejide. Having monitored his progress at Hadera, I have a feeling he could do the job in Russia. But he has to prove it.
We can invite him for one of the pre-World Cup matches. Let him convince the coaches that he has the requisite fitness to back up his much vaunted experience. Who knows? He could just be the SOLUTION.