A tribute to Vicent Enyeama: Retired but not forgotten
Coach Sunday Oliseh has gone public to dispel the rumored furore with the outgoing skipper of the national team Vincent Enyeama, but doubts still remain as to what really transpired in Belgium, but the glittering career of the Lille of France shot stopper that started in between the sticks at the 2002 mundial in Korea and Japan has come to an undesired end in Belgium, the home of Sunday Oliseh.
The Super Eagles, under the tutelage of coach Adegboye Onigbinde had lost the opening two games of the FIFA World Cup to Gabriel Batistuta's near post finish against Argentina and Henrik Larsson's double against Sweden respectively. Those losses signaled the end of the road for the AFCON bronze medalists and got only pride to play for in the final group match against the David Beckham led three lions of England. Onigbinde opted for a relatively unknown Enyimba goalkeeper in goal ahead of the veteran Ike Shorounmu; There were fears as the English midfield had players that could rip the net from the center circle, but Enyeama's save in the second half off the boots of Manchester United legend Paul Scholes highlighted the goalless draw.
That was the beginning of a career that would sail across boundaries, continents and leagues. From Enyimba of Aba, to Israel, to France, Vincent Enyeama remains a household name written in the rocks for eternal relevance, beyond the hate of individuals or even the indignation from an entire nation. When Vincent Enyeama announced his retirement from international football following an altercation with the chief coach of the national team, Sunday Oliseh, the announcement was greeted with mixed reactions, but for those who witnessed the emotions that stormed our spines in 2003 when Enyeama led Eyimba to CAF champions league triumph over Etoile de Sahel of Tunisia in the second leg of the final in Tunis, saw him saved severally against Cameroon in 2004 in a 2:1 win that redeemed Nigeria from the dominance of the indomitable lions, if you saw his heroics in Eyimba's successful defense of their continental trophy, to his magnificent 2010 World Cup showings, to Nigeria's 2013 nations cup glory and finally his exploits at the 2014 World Cup then you would understand the tributes we rain on him are not out of place.
Shooting Stars and Rangers, the leading lights in the Nigerian league had tried fruitlessly in the past to win the elusive CAF champions league, for all our talents and resources, it was Enyimba of Aba that would register us on the continental map as winners in 2003 and then 2004 thanks to Vincent Enyeama and Co. The rise of the shot stopper grew sporadically, even when he moved across town in the Nigerian league, his standards weren't compromised. At the 2004 nations cup in Tunisia, it was the blinding heroics of Enyeama that kept the scoreline at 2:1 after John Utaka had latched on to a sleek Kanu pass to give Nigeria the lead.
Enyeama was accused of being weak at penalties, he responded in 2006 with three spot kick saves in one match against Tunisia at the quarter final stage after Joseph Yobo and Yussuf Ayila had missed respectively to hand Nigeria the semi final ticket. He returned in 2010 to repeat the feat against Zambia as the chipolopolo forced the game to spot kicks after a goalless 120minutes of intense football. Fast forward few months later in South Africa, it was Vincent Enyeama against the entire Argentina team as he saved countless times from Messi, Tevez, Higuain, Aguero and was only beaten by a debatable Walter Samuel header. He was arguably Africa's best export at the mundial with a repeat of his heroics across the three games Nigeria played.
He became the captain of the squad as injuries forced Joseph Yobo on the sidelines and his commanding of the team was never in doubts, he may have been accused of confrontations with the football authorities of the nation but a leader must always stand his ground at some points. For the first time since 1994, Vincent Enyeama helped Nigeria to a nations cup success in South Africa and subsequently went on to help us through the group stages of the world cup as we bowed to France at the second round. Give or take, Enyeama served his nation meritoriously, he holds the record for highest minutes without conceding a goal in Lille, his name in the history books are forever secured.
Oliseh has made some points that only time will confirm, but the coach must remember his own antecedents, the 2002 story and a certain late sport minister. Enyeama is retired but certainly, whether the NFF or Oliseh wants or not... He'll never be forgotten. #ThankYouEnyeama