Manuel Neuer, Jan Oblak, Ederson and Alisson are some of the names that routinely come up in discussions about the world’s best goalkeepers but for Heartland boss Fidelis Ilechukwu, none of them can hold a light to Super Eagles keeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa despite the goalkeeper seeing little playing time recently.
Ezenwa, who rejoined the Naze Millionaires from Katsina United in 2019, has had a start-stop season with injuries keeping him out for significant spells and also costing him his Super Eagles spot.
When he has played, he’s often turned in mixed displays and drawn severe criticism for costly clangers such as his error which gifted FC Ifeanyiubah a late equaliser and denied Heartland all three points at home in February.
He was dropped for the next game at MFM leading to whispers his time in Owerri might be nearing an end and his performances this season have sparked talk of a terminal decline.
Ilechukwu, however, insists Ezenwa’s quality remains unparalleled in Nigeria and globally regardless of “what people are saying about him”.
The former Katsina United man has failed to make the last two matchday squads, however, with veteran understudy, Chijioke Ejiogu impressing in his absence with the shutouts against Plateau United and Enyimba taking his clean sheets tally to six this season.
Amid rumours this could be Ezenwa’s last season at the crisis-ridden club, Ilechukwu says dropping Ezenwa in recent games does not diminish his status as number one but is only due diligence on his part to prepare for a situation where Ezenwa leaves by showing that in Ejiogu, the Naze Millionaires “have another person who can as well do well in the absence of Ezenwa”.
“Ezenwa, the best keeper in the world, the best keeper in Nigeria,” Ilechukwu said.
“As far as I’m concerned, no matter what people are saying about him, he’s still the best. What we’re trying to show, is that we have another person who can as well do well in the absence of Ezenwa. I’m trying to prepare Ejiogu, in case if Ezenwa is not around. That’s what I’m trying to do as a coach.”
Heartland who are 10th on the log next play 4th-placed Rivers United at the Dan Anyiam Stadium on matchday 25.