I spent the whole of today in search of opinions on who the greatest goalkeeper in the history of Nigerian football since Independence in 1960 will be. What a day it turned out to be….working with my phone. It reminds me of Owolabi Ilori, the late sports editor of the Punch newspaper who covered the entire 1980 Moscow Olympic Games from his hotel room in Moscow using a telephone.
His reports brought down the structures of the original National Sports Commission and started its southward dive into the mess that eventually consumed Nigerian sports from which they have not fully recovered, 40 years after. The telephone is a very powerful tool. It was on full duty today connecting me with some of the most unlikely people you can imagine that have been quietly following my reports and have decided to add their voices to the current conversation.
Senior Pastors, top military brass, police officers, politicians (big and small), journalists, ex-international footballers, and ordinary football lovers, amongst others, have all joined our sentimental party down memory lane to break the monotony and frustrations of the ongoing necessary but tough country-wide lockdown.
Who remembers the second of two ‘Professors‘ in Nigerian football? The first was Peter Eto Amaechina. They were not academic professors. Alabi was a coach, but was so good that at a particular period in his coaching career those who had the privilege of being coached by him when he was invited to join Coach Father Tiko in the Green Eagles camp at the campus of the University of Ife in Ile Ife, preparatory to the Montreal Olympic Games of 1976, had to ‘crown’ him an honorary ‘Professor’. He was the most erudite and articulate coach in Nigerian football that I ever met. I have no idea what his academic qualifications were, but his team talks, his analysis of games and players, and his mastery of the English language, were truly exceptional.
When he unleashed his team on Nigerian football it 1978, the team, Bendel Insurance FC of Benin, truncated the almost 8 years’ dominance of Rangers International and Shooting Stars in Nigerian football. The team deservedly climbed the ladder of ‘best team in Nigeria’ in that year. No one doubted that that Bendel Insurance team, with 10 out of 11 of the players invited to the national team, was the product of a very fertile coaching mind.
Enough credit and recognition have not been given to him till now even at 86. Time to honour him is fast running out.
I called him this morning after decades of trying to locate where he had been hibernating.
To my pleasant surprise, he had not lost any of his sharpness of mind and language. Our conversation was so refreshing I may reproduce it soon for the public to enjoy. I am referring, of course, to ‘Professor‘ Alabi Aissien. He tutored late Shuaibu Amodu to become the great coach that he was.
He is alive and kicking in the city of Benin.
He was the very first person I called up to seek his opinion on who he considers the best goalkeeper at national team level from 1960 to date. To my shock, he did not hesitate to name him. I thereafter went on to place calls to various others in my original list. Along the way several persons began to call me, offering to add their voices and opinions. So, what you have now is a mixture of all these opinions from across the entire spectrum of Nigerian football.
Enjoy a few that I selected from tons of incredible views.
Alabi Aissien – former international Coach
Vincent Enyeama – there is no element of luck that follows many goalkeepers in Vincent‘s case. He is good and dependable. He knows how to hold his position in goal during matches, and kept developing it throughout his career, getting better all the time.
Admiral J. Ayinla – Naval Officer
Vincent Enyeama. I throw my hat in for Okala, Rufai and Vincent, each a great and deserving goalkeeper of his era. Give them 2 numbers each from 1 to 6, and throw a dice, I will be comfortable with the outcome. But, ok, I pick Vincent Enyeama.
Aghanya Ibezimako – former Police Commissioner.
Emmanuel Okala. He is simply the best because his errors were few and his saves on one-on-one situations outnumbered those of the others put together. Most of his saves were critical, often leading to his team winning a match.
Hon. Gbenga Elegbeleye – administrator
Peter Rufai. His accumulation of international laurels is a reflection of his quality. He comes ahead of all others. He is always reliable in goal.
Toyin Obitoye – journalist
Vincent Enyeama. In a match against Messi when the Argentine genius was at his very best, at the World Cup of 2010 in South Africa, Vincent confronted the best player in the world and denied him finding the back of his net. He was so good on the night that he was nominated (as well as in a second match too) as Man of the Match! 4 years later in 2014, at the World Cup again, even when the Eagles lost to France, he was rated one of the best in the championship. Playing at such levels and earning such accolades speak volumes.
Samson Siasia – coach/ex-international player.
Peter Rufai, of course. His showmanship was a reflection of his confidence and ability. With every step forward from goal, he was flying in the air stopping goals. He took this to win the African Cup of Nations and to the 1994 World Cup. He was simply the best.
Kadiri Ikhana – coach/ex-international player.
Best Ogedegbe. He is like a rubber ball. When everything failed in a team he was always there to save the team and the situation. He did it over and over again, and won several victories for his team through his dramatic and unbelievable saves.
Dahiru Sadi – ex-international player
Vincent Enyeama. He had too many qualities of a great goalkeeper- very calm in the net, never ruffled, never quarreled with his defenders, always controlling and initiating attacks with his kicks and throws. a very disciplined and highly technical goalie.
Kola Taiwo (SKT) – Coach/ex-international player
Inua Lawal Rigogo. The only goalkeeper that could fly and suspend in the air. Very acrobatic. His training was exceptional, always doing more than the rest and utilizing it in matches. Was very difficult to beat him. He was technically very sound. A good goalkeeper indeed.
Tony Nnachetta – Administrator
Emmanuel Okala. I saw him with my two eyes actually diving and changing direction in mid-air like a bird, from one direction to another, in a successful effort to stop a goal-bound shot from Johnny Nwadioha of Vasco Dagama in Enugu. Jonathan Ogufere was a witness of that unforgettable display. That is it for me. I have never seen anything quite like it. So, there has never been anyone like him.
Ituah Ighodalo – Pastor.
Peter Fregene. Hard to choose between Inua Rigogo and Peter Fregene. I saw them both. Stationary Stores was my team with Muyiwa Oshode, Opone, Anieke, etc but I think I give it to Fregene.
Femi Aluko – politician
Vincent Enyeama, for his longevity and leadership qualities. As a goalkeeper, he captained the National team and distinguished himself against the best in the world. Gave Messi a run for his money at the World Cup. Played for top teams in the French league. He won the Africa Champions Club cup twice with Enyimba. Won the Cup of Nations in 2013. With Joseph Yobo, they are the only two with over 100 national caps each. This signifies supreme fitness and discipline.
Satish Sekar – British Journalist
Vincent Enyeama. He won AFCON and was also a great leader on the pitch. He had longevity in his career. Of the three Nigerian AFCON winning squads, the 2013 one needed him to head its spine more than the other two. He delivered.