Being a goalkeeper can be a thankless task. Goalkeepers have no hiding place; always in the firing line, their errors tend to be overly amplified and often prove costly making them an easy target for fans’ ire.
When a goalkeeper is dropped, it often precipitates an extended spell on the sidelines because unlike outfield players, goalkeepers rarely get substituted into matches save for injuries or in the event of a sending off.
Coping with the demands of that position, therefore, requires extreme mental toughness and steely strength of character with every goalkeeper devising a coping mechanism which helps them deal with the unique pressures they face.
For newly crowned Super Eagles Number 1 Daniel Akpeyi, taking solace and drawing strength from his spirituality has been key to surmounting the challenges and obstacles he’s faced in his long journey to finally being the first choice for Nigeria at a major tournament.
Akpeyi has had to be patient and overcome many lows since his debut for the national team when he was called up to replace Vincent Enyeama in the starting lineup in a friendly against South Africa in 2015 under Stephen Keshi.
The Kaizer Chiefs of South Africa goaltender has had to play second fiddle at various times to Vincent Enyeama, Carl Ikeme, Ikechukwu Ezenwa and Francis Uzoho in the national team and never quite seemed to gain coaches favour the few times he’s been afforded an opportunity in goal for the national team.
Indeed, the former Heartland FC and Warri Wolves player was the player Gernot Rohr turned to after Carl Ikeme’s forced retirement as a result of cancer and, while he initially impressed in games against Algeria and Senegal, he put in an unsteady display which cost Nigeria in the 2-0 defeat to South Africa in Uyo in the first game of the 2019 AFCON qualifiers and thereafter, failed to make a competitive appearance for the Super Eagles until the 2019 Nations Cup in Egypt.
In the intervening period, the 32-year old has had to watch from the bench as first, Ikechukwu Ezenwa and then 20-year old Francis Uzoho were selected as first choice goalkeepers for the national side.
And in an exclusive chat with busybuddiesng.com the former Gabros International goaltender, who is expected to start in goal when Nigeria play Cameroon in the Round of 16 at the 2019 AFCON on Saturday, said being in touch with his spiritual side has helped him stay the course and deal with the barrage of criticisms that trailed his performance against South Africa.
“[My spirituality] has actually helped me a lot because when the people out there don’t understand you and they don’t know you, they tend to say everything about you,” Akpeyi confided to busybuddiesng.com.
And while recognizing that players also “have to work hard to put all your best into the game”, the goalkeeper who started Nigeria’s first two games in Egypt after being third-choice at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, says there are periods when even one’s best isn’t enough to forestall criticisms that seems designed to destroy rather than build and in situations like that, he turns to the Scriptures for strength.
“You know, when people misjudge you and you look at yourself and sometimes some of those words come to pull you down, the Word of God for me helps me.”
He credits the teachings of popular tele-evangelist Chris Oyakhilome with helping him build the strength of character and confidence that enables him deal with the vagaries of life and imbue him with the zeal to never give up in pursuit of his dreams.
“I go back and listen to his words,” Akpeyi says. “And they remind you; you are a great thing that is bound to happen. It doesn’t mean that if you’re spiritual, things won’t happen to you but you have to understand that God has not called you to fail,” he exhorts.
“So, the circumstances around you is just to build you, to make you stronger to become the best of you. God has not called you to fail; you’re a success. Greater one dwells in you, so, you are meant to go out there and prevail as a great man but remember, that the other side of the world you’re going to have stones thrown at you just like Jesus or any other great man in the world but these are like a stepping stone into a great future.”
Wise words to live by and watching him earnestly connect with his spiritual side, one gets the impression that a career on the pulpits awaits when he eventually hangs up his gloves but, in the meantime, Nigerians will be counting on him to emulate his Biblical namesake and emerge unscathed from the Lions’ Den when the Super Eagles confront the Indomitable Lions on Saturday.