Francis Uzoho says he isn’t particularly bothered by the challenge to his place in the Super Eagles by the ageing duo of Daniel Akpeyi and Ikechukwu Ezenwa but admitted that new boy Maduka Okoye poses an entirely different concern.
Uzoho made his debut for the Super Eagles as a 19-year-old in a friendly against Argentina in October 2017 when he came on to replace Akpeyi.
At the time of his debut, he was virtually unknown and even though he managed just two appearances for Spanish club Deportivo La Coruna that season, Eagles supremo Gernot Rohr installed him as Nigeria’s first choice at the 2018 World Cup.
A lack of game time at club level eventually forced Rohr to demote him to 3rd-choice behind Akpeyi and Ezenwa at the 2019 AFCON.
But Uzoho said he didn’t lose too much sleep after losing his place at the AFCON because he knew Akpeyi and Ezenwa are getting on in age and nearing the end of their careers and won’t be in the team “for the rest of their lives”.
Akpeyi was 32 at the time while Ezenwa was 30-years-old.
The now 21-year-old Uzoho said his reaction would have been very different if it had been Maduka Okoye that was elevated in his place.
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Okoye, 20, much like Uzoho appeared on the national team scene from virtually nowhere.
The Germany-born Okoye played in the semi-professional 4th tier Regionalliga West for Fortuna Dusseldorf II when he was called up to the Super Eagles camp in 2019.
He made his international debut for Nigeria in October 2019 when he came on for an injured Uzoho in a friendly against Brazil.
And Uzoho who is fitness again after recovering from knee surgery says among the three goalkeepers in the Super Eagles, Okoye more than Akpeyi or Ezenwa will be his main worry when he makes a come back to the national fold.
To make matters interesting, both young goalkeepers recently signed for new clubs in search of regular playing time.
While Uzoho returned to Cyprus to pitch tent with APOEL Nicosia having spent part of last season on loan at Omonia Nikosia, his national team rival Okoye made the more prestigious move to Eredivisie side Sparta Rotterdam.
“Yes, it’s different [how I reacted to losing my place], because I’m a young guy. These guys; Daniel is 32, Ezenwa is 30, so they’re not going to be there for the rest of their lives. So I’m a little bit less worried,” Uzoho told Lagos-based radio station Lagos Talks.
“Let me give you an example, assuming it was Maduka Okoye or somebody else that is within my age, that stripped me of my position, I would be more worried because I know that this is a competition now.
“I’m not saying that Daniel Akpeyi and Ezenwa are not competition to me, but I know that, they are above 30, so I didn’t feel so bad. I just had to keep doing my job and believe that the same way he took the position from me, I can still work hard and take it back.”
Uzoho said the fact that Okoye plays for a top European team makes him a more formidable threat and provides him with an added edge compared to the South Africa-based Akpeyi and Ezenwa who plies his trade for Heartland in Nigeria’s topflight.
And Uzoho says having observed Okoye at close quarters, he believes the former Dusseldorf man is destined for the very top provided he puts in the work.
“Of course, he does [possess the ability to be a top goalkeeper]. I’m sorry to say, I’m not trying to say that other goalkeepers playing in Africa are not good, there’s a difference, you have to have the opportunity,” he explained.
“But for Maduka to be in Dusseldorf, he’s good and he has the quality to be at the top, but it’s also up to him to work hard and achieve the dream. But if you’re asking me if he has the quality, yes he does. I’ve played with him, I’ve trained with him and he really does have the quality to get to the top.”