By Salifu Usman, Abuja
The sudden sad news that Super Eagles’ first-choice goalie, Carl Ikeme, was diagnosed of acute leukaemia and the repeated refusal of Vincent Enyeama to accept the olive branch from Coach Genort Rohr to return to the national team means that the team’s goal-keeping issues would, for now, continue abated.
The diagnosis, automatically rules Ikeme out of the impending World Cup qualifier against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon next month.
The Super Eagles have been having goalkeeping challenges since the Lille of France safe hands quit the national team. The discovery of Ikeme helped stabilise the defence for some time, but it does not seem as if Rohr reposes so much confidence in the abilities of second-string ‘keepers Daniel Akpeyi, Dele Alampasu and Ikechukwu Ezenwa.
With the trio still unable to get the nod as reliable replacement for Ikeme, perhaps, it is time for Super Eagles technical crew to place faith in ‘old warrior’ and Hapoel Ashkelon sho-stopper, Dele Aiyenugba.
Since moving to Europe in 2009, the former Enyimba of Aba safe hands has been the first-choice keeper at Bnei Yehuda and his present club, Hapoel Ashkelon.
Aiyenugba joined Ashkelon from Bnei Yehuda and was impressive in goal throughout last season, as they escaped relegation to remain in the Super League, having never enjoyed more than a season in their previous trials.
The former Enyimba FC goalkeeper who admitted that it was a difficult season for his adopted club noted that Ashqelon gave him opportunity to relaunch his career to be shortlisted as one of the best keepers of the season in Israel top flight.
“I joined Hapoel Ashkelon for only one season, on a loan from Bnei Yehuda with one year left on my contract. It was a very hard season for Ashkelon and, especially, for me, because all the media said we were going to go back to the lower league, as Ashkelon had never stayed a season in the Super League.
“With the grace and favour of God, I re-launched with Hapoel Ashkelon. We made history by staying in the league and I won a number of man-of-the-match awards. Also, I saved six penalties out of 10 in the league,” he recalled.
Aiyenugba, 31, has not featured for Nigeria since the infamous 2-2 draw against Guinea at the National Stadium, Abuja, in November 2011; a game which confirmed the Super Eagles’ failure to qualify for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
As far as returning to the Super Eagles is concerned, though, he confessed to be keeping an open mind.
“I will always be ready if I am called, because I’ve always had an open mind that I could make a return someday and, truth be told, I hope I’m invited. But that depends on the coach and what he wants. If he thinks he needs me, I will surely be available,” he said.
After the drama and twists over the unceremonious retirement of Vincent Enyeama from the national team under Sunday Oliseh in 2015, none of the other choices have displayed the strength of character and ability to command the Eagles back line like Ikeme.
If the coaching crew has no trust in the other ‘keepers in the team – Akpeyi, Alampasu and Ezenwa – it is time, then, to look towards Aiyenugba, who shares a number of qualities with Enyeama, as far as goal-tending is concerned.