By Cosmas Odoemena
After several warnings from some quarters against the use of Francis Uzoho as the first-choice goalkeeper of the Super Eagles, the Franco-German manager, Gernot Rohr, seems hell-bent on using him. To Rohr perhaps, it is Uzoho at all cost. Our World Cup friendly game against England at Wembley last week could have easily been a draw if not for the young lad who made a schoolboy error which can happen at his age but which is unforgivable for a goalkeeper going to the World Cup. A ball that should have been punched out for a throw-in, Uzoho’s first instinct was to punch out for a corner. And that resultant corner kick was capitalised on to give England the lead. The second goal too was cheap.
After the first-choice goalkeeper, Carl Ikeme was diagnosed with leukaemia, Ikechukwu Ezenwa took Ikeme’s place and Nigeria qualified for the World Cup. But instead of keeping faith with Ezenwa, or looking for a more mature goalkeeper, he went for a young lad who is third-choice goalkeeper at the Spanish La Liga club, Deportivo La Coruña, a club that has now been relegated.
I like Uzoho, but he still has time to grow. He can’t be given a responsibility his young shoulders or rather hands can’t carry. Making him first-choice at the World Cup is just a crazy gamble. Up till now, he can’t command his defence. How can he do that when his defenders are well older than him? It’s only natural for him to respect the older players to the team’s detriment. He should still be playing for the U-21.
The senior World Cup is for men, not for boys. Experience usually trumps youth. Even being the youngest team there is a disadvantage.
Well, I don’t know the magic Uzoho performs during training but it has yet to reflect during matches. As we say it here, “na who pass na him know book.” Besides, we need a goalkeeper who keeps regularly for his club and not a bench warmer.
Uzoho has not shown us why he should be ahead of Ezenwa. So much for Uzoho’s height advantage over Ezenwa. Of what good is height when it can’t be used to your advantage? What some goalkeepers lack in height, they make up for in good instinct, good vision and good reaction time, positioning and good leadership to help organise their defence.
Uzoho is 19, Ezenwa is 29. I repeat, if Uzoho goes to be number one at the World Cup, it means we are placing our fate on a young lad who has not kept in a competitive match, and who is third choice in his club! Does it mean in a nation of more than 180 million people, there aren’t better goalkeepers?
As I once said in a piece on this same issue, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know. Ikechukwu Ezenwa helped qualify us for the World Cup. He seems lucky and often trusts his luck in his rosary which he brandishes when we win. Successful teams do need luck too. The Super Eagles will surely need any kind of luck.”
Yes, there is an element of luck in life, football is not an exception. I prefer an “average” goalkeeper who keeps regularly for his club and is so lucky that when he is on duty for some reason he is virtually on holiday, to a so-called “good” goalkeeper who when he is on duty he is kept busy all through. And at the end of the match, you hear “Ah, if not for him the opponents would have scored 10 goals.”
But Ezenwa did creditably well against Cameroon at home and away. And also showed class against Algeria and Zambia. These are top-rated teams in Africa and moreover competitive matches.
Rohr is fixated on foreign-based players to the detriment of home-based players and our local league.
If Ezenwa were playing abroad, perhaps he would have been favoured. But remember that Vincent Enyeama was playing at home with Enyimba FC of Aba while he was our number one goaltender. This is the same club Ezenwa is playing for now. Rohr by his action is really affecting the psyche of the home-based players. Enyimba is the most successful club in Nigeria today. We should believe it can produce at least one first-team player if not more in the Super Eagles as obtains in other great footballing nations.
Almost all the players going to the World Cup for Nigeria are foreign-based. This does not speak well of our league. Come to think of it, how many domestic league matches has Rohr watched? He was nowhere for the CHAN Eagles. In the past, it was suggested that any foreign manager that Nigeria contracted must help in developing our league. Those responsible should please advise Rohr before he ruins our World Cup.
Foreign managers have always worked against our league and this is hampering our progress. They use the home players for practice and discard them when the real thing comes for the foreign-based players who may be overrated. And we think karma can’t explain our past disastrous outings.
Dr Odoemena, a football enthusiast, is a medical practitioner based in Lagos