Nigerian football fans on Sunday afternoon were pleasantly surprised to watch the debut of previously unheralded Francis Uzoho in goal for Deportivo La Coruna against Eibar in the Spanish La Liga.
The goalkeeper who only clocks 19 in exactly ten days, exhibited good ball handling and composure for a relatively untested rookie, earning high praises and reviews across the globe.
Deportivo La Coruna have a strong connection with great African goalkeepers. Cameroon legend Jacques Sango’o and Nigeria counterpart Peter Rufai, both donned the jersey of the Spanish club at various points of their hugely successful careers and it must be pleasing to groom yet another future African great goalkeeper in Uzoho, who coincidentally was born a year before Rufai departed Deportivo.
The greatest beneficiaries of Uzoho’s emergence are the Nigeria Football Federation, who should know a thing or two about the teenage star who served as third-choice goalkeeper at the 2013 FIFA U17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates. Nigeria won a fourth world title at that level of football, but little or nothing was heard and known about Uzoho, while the much celebrated first-choice goalkeeper Dele Alampasu, who was selected as best in his position by the world football governing body took all the spotlight and accolades.
Nigeria have a major goalkeeping worry ahead of next summer’s FIFA World Cup in Russia. There is no tried, trusted and verified number one goalie eight months before kickoff at the Mundial, despite talks of the possible return of joint-appearance record holder, Vincent Enyeama to the Super Eagles, his experience an undisputed valuable asset missing in the squad.
In the event Enyeama is successfully convinced by Gernot Rohr, top hierarchy of the football federation and a few other past and present teammates to return to the Super Eagles for one last swansong at the international level-he will be creating a unique record of being the first Nigerian to appear at four FIFA World Cup tournaments and could surpass Ghanaian Richard Kingston in terms of appearances for an African goalkeeper at the Mundial- the future should be adequately and effectively projected to avoid a long void in the goalkeeping department like was the case in several outfield positions following the retirement of certain star players.
Carl Ikeme who seemed to have calmed frayed nerves unfortunately is battling Leukaemia, a battle we all pray he wins and bounces back to continue with his normal life, the fact remains Nigeria have no readymade long-term replacement for Enyeama, hence the emergence of Uzoho could be celebrated in same breath as the Eagles sixth FIFA World Cup qualification.
By the end of 2018, the duo of Daniel Akpeyi and Ikechukwu Ezenwa would have clocked the age of 30, the former will actually attain the age of 32 in August, while the latter joins the 30 club in October, hence the need to bring on board a much younger goalkeeper, like was the case with Enyeama in 2002 after the retirement of Ike Shorunmu.
While not totally ruling out Alampasu from a future role with the Super Eagles as number one, his inability to play league games in Europe has definitely done his prospects major damage, a setback the new kid-on-the-block, Uzoho will definitely capitalise on as he continues to polish and harness his talent at the magnificent and historic Estadio Municipal de Riazor. Forza Depor!