Vincent Enyeama’s new project: Raising clean sheet machines

Former Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, who has not played competitive football since 2018, but he is hopeful that his career is not over yet, and he is open to the right offer.

Enyeama has not played since leaving Lille in August 2018, when a potential move to Dijon fell through at the last minute, but he remains determined still to wring out a few more years from his 37-year-old body before calling it a day.

“If I have the right project, yeah, I will get back on the field,” he told ESPN. “I am looking at projects that will help me get to the next stage and pursue the things I want to do. It is not about just football.

“It was a choice of staying with the family and pursuing a future. That is what has kept me in France. The opportunity I had with Dijon did not work out. The details were not good. I don’t like suffering and smiling.”

There have been reports about him joining South African giants Orlando Pirates or Kaizer Chiefs, though he told ESPN that he was more answering a theoretical question from a reporter than saying there had been discussions.

He was asked whether he’d move to Johannesburg if the right offer came along: “He [the reporter] asked if I would be willing to play in Africa, especially in SA. He mentioned some clubs, Joburg clubs. I told him why not, if the details are ok.”

While waiting for the right offer to come along, the former Enyimba man says he is in the process of grooming a new generation of goalkeepers to solve Nigeria’s woes in that position.

He explained: “I have plans with the governor of my state (Akwa Ibom) to raise an academy for the people. I have a few goalkeepers I am training already. I want to give back, to raise clean sheet machines.”

The inspiration for the project comes from the progress he made in his career when he spent about three weeks training at Bolton Wanderers in the early 2000s.

Enyeama said: “I was a very good goalkeeper before I went to train with Bolton, but the two or three weeks I spent at Bolton gave me a different style of goalkeeping and opened my eyes.

“The goalkeeper trainer then, Fred Barber, told me things I needed to change. When I started doing the things he told me, I unlocked different levels to my game.

“I started using those methods and my game really changed. It is those secrets that I want to impart to my students.”

Bolton gave him a taste of what English football was like, but for some reason, the deal never happened and Enyeama remains unsure why: “I am still wondering why I didn’t sign.

“It was a trial that went so well. They even told me I was going to get jersey number 35. All that was left was just to do the medicals.

“I was supposed to be number three, because Bolton had two goalkeepers already, with Jussi Jaaskelainen as number one.

“But I don’t regret it because it gave me the opportunity to go to Israel. I am so happy that I went to Israel because it opened doors for me.”

But Bolton was not the only Premier league club he missed out on, as London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham also made overtures.

The veteran explained: “Arsenal wanted me for second choice, but I was not interested. I also had an offer from Tottenham that wanted me for second choice also and I wasn’t interested.

“It was after 2006 Nations Cup and then again around the 2014 World Cup. When I turned them down, that is when they [Arsenal] took David Ospina.

“For me, I was at the stage where I preferred playing even if it was for one of the smallest teams. That is what the agents that were involved told me. That Arsene (Wenger) wanted me but he is not so sure because of my height and things like that.

“People have their choices and I respect their choices.”

Choices have dominated Enyeama’s career, not least in 2015 when his volatile relationship with then-Super Eagles head coach Sunday Oliseh led to his retirement from the national team.

After hitting the 101-cap mark that made him the most capped Nigeria player ever, Enyeama’s time with Nigeria’s Super Eagles could have stretched to four World Cups and perhaps up to another 10 or 20 caps.

His departure sent the Super Eagles’ goalkeeping stocks into a tailspin.

Where Enyeama had been the undisputed mainstay since 2002 — except for a brief period of disagreement in 2008 under Berti Vogts — Nigeria have burned through five goalkeepers since, with slim signs of a permanent solution.

Carl Ikeme, Daniel Akpeyi, Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Francis Uzoho and Maduka Okoye have all had stints trying to replace one of Africa’s legendary goalkeepers, and so far, not succeeding.

One reliable goalkeeper for nearly 13 years, and then five in five years. That prompted former number one Peter Rufai to call for Enyeama’s recall in 2017.

Those calls have not completely died down, even in 2020 but Enyeama shot down suggestions that he should be called to the national team.

He continued to ESPN: “A good Nigerian league goalkeeper right now will be better than me because I haven’t played in over a year.

“Playing for Nigeria is not an easy thing. If you have not played for a year, you can’t come out and say you want to play for Nigeria. Nigeria is such a big country, you can’t go and mess up.

“What is Uzoho doing that they should call me? What about Osigwe or the young boy Maduka in Germany? Akpeyi is doing excellently well in South Africa.

“Why should they call Enyeama when Ezenwa is playing and there are good goalkeepers in the Nigerian league? You can’t call Vincent Enyeama. It would be insulting to the other goalkeepers.

“We should be proud of these guys. They are all good goalkeepers.”

If he will not rejoin as a goalkeeper, how about following in the footsteps of the man who passed him the armband, Joseph Yobo and join the technical staff?

Once again, Enyeama defers to those he considers to be higher up in line: “There is Peter Rufai, there is Alloy Agu doing very well with the team right now and others who are still out there that can help.

“If these guys are considered, it can be nice. If you want Vincent to be part of the set up, it can also be nice. I don’t have a problem, I will never say no to Nigeria.”

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