MINDING THE NET | Who should it be?

By Iwedi Ojinmah

I really like coach Rohr and it has nothing to do with the fact that he once played for Bayern Munich – which just happens to be my favourite club. I like him because he is a player’s coach and a true motivator of men to whom no detail in his overall game plan is too small. He worries when one his players does not get enough playing time with his club, and frets over possible transfers making sure they are a great fit for both player and club – sometimes even more than the player himself.

He is so keen on giving each of his wards as much of an advantage as possible, that he has even complained to Nike about the optics of the Nigeria kit. He has begged for a new design that enhances visibility on the field. So today as I write and you read, the Nike designers are already working on something new for the World Cup.

Super Eagles players celebrating on the pitch after beating Zambia to qualify for Russia 2018

Again after qualifying the Super Eagles to their sixth FIFA World Cup, he is saying and doing the right things. He will start a much-changed side, for the last 2018 World Cup qualifier against Algeria in Contantine on the 10th of November, while still taking it seriously.

This means that players like John Ogu, Oghenekaro Etebo, Kelechi Iheanacho, Anthony Nwakaeme, etc could start against the North Africans in an effort to either solidify their role in his pecking order, or be dismissed for new talent. They would also, more than likely, feature predominantly in a follow-up friendly shortly afterwards, to help lend continuity to the process of making the team deeper and better.

The German coach shared with Jollof Sports: “We never go to a match with second team, we want to win our last match as well.

“At least not to lose so we can qualify without losing any game, it will be wonderful this is another challenge but I think we will play a second friendly game perhaps in Morocco to see all the players who couldn’t play in our previous games.”

Gernot Rohr

I am not sure how this ‘observation process’ will carry over into our Africa Cup of Nations Qualifiers, especially after the set back against South Africa, but maybe we could see just a little more against the Seychelles at the Stade Linite on March 27, 2018, though I won’t recommend it against Libya on September 3.

Anyway, this leads me to the reason for my write-up, namely the number one position. As I pointed out in my preview of the Nigeria-Zambia game in Uyo it is obvious to all that there is a big difference between the skill set of Vincent Enyeama and Carl Ikeme, as opposed to Ikechukwu Ezenwa. While the latter rebounded mentally well, after the shellacking dished out by Ghana in the WAFU Cup final, his performance against the Southern Africans must have coach Rohr worried. Granted not as much as the left-back chink in the amour, but worthy of nail-biting anyway.

Ikechukwu Ezenwa

Ezenwa simply has too much exuberance and unfortunately mans one of the few positions on Earth, where this can count as a negative. He dives so much after almost everything, that the only time you can really count on him being still, is during the playing of the national anthems. The World Cup will need a player with the ability to contain his emotions and marry skill with on-field intelligence.

Based on this, Rohr must play his other two net-minders in Algeria. I say other two because, in my honest opinion, only they can be taken seriously. He should play one preferably in each half. This should also be done in the next friendly, though Ezenwa should be brought back into the fold as well. The last thing we need is for him to develop a complex on the bench. Now by the other two most of you know, I mean Dele Alampasu and Oladele Muniru Ajiboye. Here is what a side by side comparison between all three will reveal.

Dele Alampasu during the 2013 Under-17 World Cup

At 1.99m, Alampasu is the tallest of the trio. Weighing 78kg he also has the largest body mass and at age 20 is the youngest of the three. What is most freakish about him though is his wingspan. I am approximately two inches taller than him, and yet his long sleeve size is the same 38-39. He was called up by Rohr ahead of the Cameroon double-header and along with Chelsea’s Ola Aina, were supposedly the standouts in the Eagles’ camp. Furthermore, in the Goal Magazine survey in August 2017, more fans picked him as Nigeria’s next best goal keeper. Despite this, the FC Ifeanyi Ubah captain was given the nod and Rohr must know the reason. Regardless as to why, Alampasu has continued to build on his 2013 U-17 World Cup record (where he was voted the World’s best goalkeeper) at C.D. Feirense, where he as virtually taken over the number one spot, and has to be looked at again. He is ripe for 45 minutes at least.

Dele Alampasu in goal for Portuguese club Feirense

The third option in goal would be Oladele Muniru Ajiboye, who plays for the Nigerian champions Plateau United. At 27, he is one year younger than Ezenwa, but 4kg heavier, weighing in at 72kg. Measuring 1.85m he is also the shortest of the three. Called up by Coach Stephen Keshi (RIP) in 2013, the ex-U-17 captain, who led the Golden Eaglets to the U-17 World Cup victory in 2007 as well, has had the longest time to solidify himself in the keepers rotation, but simply hasn’t. Our rotating coach situation certainly hasn’t helped his cause because in most cases its always been one step forward two steps back when starters are identified and re-identified.

Dele Ajiboye

Coach Yemi Tella (RIP) called him the most talented goal keeper he ever coached and that alone speaks volumes. Scouts claim that he can be too hot tempered and point to Match day 14 in the NPFL when the LMC suspended him for ‘behaviour capable of inciting others’ as an example. But both at Shooting Stars SC and now in Jos, he has been a gifted and solid contributor and is certainly one of the reasons as to why United are currently the toast of Nigerian football. This certainly warrants him another peek.

Plateau United coach Boboye and Dele Ajiboye

It is not rocket science that the most successful teams in any tournament have more than one more option available. It’s called a solid plan B. Especially so, at critical positions such as the number one. Baring even a miraculous return of either Enyeama or Ikeme before the opening game in Russia, it is imperative that we need to have a solid back-up if we are to get into the knock-out stage yet alone progress to the semi-finals.

Rohr needs to do the right thing now and I am betting on him to do just that. So should you.

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