Thursday, 15 October 2015

Vincent Enyeama: When the ovation is still high

Vincent Enyeama: When the ovation is still high
BY  UBONG  INYANG

Gone are the days when football  evolved around loyalty. Soccer today has taken a new dimension which has seen money pumped into it and it has been yielding results. Success in football can be bought with money and that is why Arsene Wenger once accused Chelsea of “financial doping” when the blues were on a spending spree which eventually brought them the premier league crown in 2005 after 50 years of waiting. 
 
The concept of loyalty died long ago except for a chosen few who chose to stick and abide by the principle of loyalty with their clubs and national teams. With the nature of today’s game, transition should not also be sacrificed on the altar of loyalty. Transition is paramount not only in football but in our everyday activities because those who have seen and done it all should pave the way for the future breeds.
 Veterans in the game who showed much loyalty and dedication in their careers at some point didn’t end up on a note they hugely deserve. Why am I emphasizing about loyalty? My answer is simple. Loyalty at times does not mean one should fail to leave the stage when the ovation is high. The legendary Paolo Maldini who kept on postponing his retirement date was forced to finally hang up his boots and even when he did a lap of honor around the San Siro pitch, he wasn’t given the applause he duly deserved. 
 
A man who accumulated more than 800 appearances for club and country was seen by Italians as the man who refused to pave way for the future Italian generation due to his loyalty and unwillingness to retire as at when due. The same could be said for Greek veteran Nikopolidis, Italy’s Phillipo Inzaghi to mention a few.
 
The names mentioned are not Nigerians and the football philosophy in their countries is quite different from ours. Nigeria parade what I’ll call the “Jews and Pharisees” of football because the same people who will eat your bread and fish, sing Hosanna in the highest; will also be the ones to shout “crucify him”. In as much as our enthusiasm for football is compared to none, there is need for us to lay down our usual bandwagon of criticisms at least for once. The task of coaching the Super Eagles is even more demanding than marriage itself especially now that the adoption of Indigenous coaches has come to stay in the country. 
 
Going down memory lane, Clemence Westerhof, Bora Multinovic, Phillipe Troussier, Bonfrere Jo, Berti Vogts and Lars Largerback are the familiar names known to have handled the national football team and not all of them fared well even with their show of promise for the future generations. Their criticisms were a bit meager considering the ‘skin factor’ but nevertheless, one of them (Westerhof) led the team to a Nation’s Cup title in Tunisia 94 and within touching distance of a World Cup quarterfinal place the same year if not for Italy’s Roberto Baggio’s brilliance. The other (Bonfrere Jo) made history by guiding the country’s Under 23 “Dream Team” to a first ever football Olympic gold medal at Atlanta 1996. He was eventually given the senior team to handle and a Nation’s Cup runner up medal was the best he could conjure. The other names were at most average except for one Berti Vogts who remains in my view the worst mistake the NFF ever made when he was appointed as coach.
 
I brought up all these names in order to highlight my view point that even the foreign hands can succumb to undue pressure and excessive demands from employers. The era of indigenous coaches saw Shuaibu Amodu emerging as replacement for Bonfrere Jo and he took to the team to the Nations Cup in Mali 2002 and came back with a third place medal. Even after qualifying the team for the world cup that same year, Nigerians called for his head and he was sacked and his replacement was the most comic coaches in Nigeria’s football history Chief Onigbinde, a coach who never stood up during matches, a coach who watched the game like a spectator and all other funny stuffs could be said about him. 
 
The team output was poor because he had series of face-offs with his senior players. The same could be said to Christian Chukwu but he unlike his predecessor had no major issues with players in the team. Equaveon then came, praised at the start but eventually crumbled and was dismissed paving the way for the return of Shuaibu Amodu after Berti Vogts soap opera with the team. Then came Lars Largerback, Samson Siasia and Stephen Keshi before we finally settled for Sunday Oliseh.
 
Sunday Oliseh was the obvious choice for the NFF and his appointment was heralded but recently, he did not only disappoint many Nigerians by picking up a point against lowly Tanzania in the qualifiers but the axing of one of the longest serving servant of the Super Eagles, Vincent Enyeama under unceremonious circumstances. Both the coach and player gave their own side of the story but a lacuna will still be there with regards to who is actually saying the truth. Enyeama first took centre stage after he was selected in goal in the inconsequential final group game of the world cup in 2002 against the three lions of England. The young goalie kept the only clean sheet for the team during that tournament including strings of saves from David Beckham and red-hot Michael Owen. He then became a constant in goal and his brilliance continued during the 2010 world cup where he had a personal duel with Lionel Messi and the Akwa Ibom born goalie came out on top. Vincent Enyeama is seen as the symbol of Nigerian football today with more than 100 appearances to his name for the national team which is a record Oliseh, the coach, never had during his playing days. 
 
It will be irrelevant for me to start the blame game as to why the Enyeama was stripped of the captaincy and forced to leave the camp in Belgium. The fact still remains that it is obvious the goalie’s services is no longer required by coach Sunday Oliseh. His dismissal from the team had been brewing after the incidence in Kaduna where he questioned the safety of the players in the trouble stricken northern state during a qualifying game against Chad. Truth be told, Enyeama is the most decorated goal keeper in the country past and present with a Nation’s cup title to his name, back to back CAF champions league title and keeping one of the longest clean sheet record in the French Ligue 1 to mention a few, it would have been more fitting if he had left the national stage after the world cup in Brazil last year. As I stated in the first paragraph, this is where much loyalty turns to hunt someone. 
 
Enyeama’s loyalty and dedication to national duties is second to none. Coaches who stood up against him during his prime paid dearly for it with their jobs taken away from them such as Samson Siasia and Berti Vogts. Judging from the look of things, Oliseh feels safe with his decision to axe the Lille’s shot stopper considering his comment that he needs a long term captain and with the backing of the NFF, Enyeama for me should not force himself back to the team. 15 years of service to the country is worth being proud of and I would insist he resist the moves by the NFF to reconcile him and the coach because this is almost a publicity stunt and bottom line remains that he is no longer wanted by Oliseh. The great Zinedine Zidane who retired earlier only to be brought back into the team for the 2006 world cup, though he had a good tournament, left with a sour taste in his mouth because he was sent off for a show of indiscipline. 
 
Had it been the Algerian born midfielder stood by his earlier decision to retire, he wouldn’t have exited the world stage via a red card for a head butt. The reality for Enyeama is that Oliseh is planning for the future and it is glaring that he is not part of it. His dismissal should not spark chaos rather we should watch out for what happens next. The next friendly game played by the eagles after the defeat against Congo was convincing. Cameroon was easily thrashed and things don’t seem wrong within the Eagle’s camp. The manner of Enyeama’s dismissal was bad but going by the purported rumor that a testimonial match will be played on his behalf, then this will be the best way to send off one of our greatest heroes in the game. His best highlight for me is the quarter final match against Tunisia in the 2006 Nation’s cup where he stopped four penalties during the game; one from open play and the other three during the shootout to the dismay of Tunisia’s Ali Boumnijel. 
 
On the other side, Oliseh should be left alone. He is in charge and what we football lovers are after is the results no matter how he does it. If stripping Enyeama of the captaincy of the team will make the team progress then there is no big deal about it after all Stephen Keshi Paraded a virtually inexperienced side to the Nation’s cup in South Africa and he came back with the trophy and when his ego began to take the most of him, he lost his job. The same can be said to Oliseh. The way he is starting may not be appreciated but I’ll suggest he be left alone to tinker the team. The law of Karma does not respect anyone. Oliseh, known for his indiscipline during his playing days, was never forced out of the National team. He confronted then coach Onigbinde demanding the inclusion of his other teammates before he rejoins the team for the world cup in 2002, a demand which was a show of rudeness and indiscipline but he is the one preaching discipline. 
 
Like every other person would demand, let’s give him time and he should be left alone. This is not a new case in Nigerian football, the sack letter is always available when need arises but I’ll conclude by saying that if Oliseh has a long term plan for the team, the World Cup in Russia 2018 should be part of it else his job will be meaningless. And for our beloved Enyeama, you’ve paid your dues with excellence. You deserve more than a testimonial match but as the saying goes, “all good things do come to an end” but as it is, the ovation is still high and this is the perfect time for him to take a bow. Gracias Vincent.


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