When I wrote a few weeks ago that everything the Nigeria Football Federation will do until the FIFA World Cup qualifier against Cameroon, should be preparations towards that encounter, I never foresaw this; the leukemia diagnosis on Carl Ikeme is arguably the saddest news to hit Nigeria football since the story of Nwankwo Kanu’s heart defect broke in 1996. This is not exactly the doing of the NFF, however, the effect on the Super Eagles qualifiers is massive and the response of the Federation must be swift. But first, some issues that will crop up:
The NFF failed the first test, but can recover well. How did they fail the first test? Simple. It took more than two hours after the story broke, before there was public acknowledgement by the Federation on any of their social media handles, while social media buzzed about the incident. A phone call to the handler of the NFF account should have sorted this. While this may not have any impact on the World Cup qualifiers, subsequent actions will show how adept the NFF machinery is, in handling delicate matters. One of such will be:
The matter of the goalkeeping issue of the Super Eagles. The NFF will never admit it, but they didn’t really handle the Vincent Enyeama vs Sunday Oliseh matter well. And Gernot Rohr has not handled the matter of goalkeeper selection for the Super Eagles well either. The emergence of Ikeme meant the retirement of Enyeama was not deeply felt. The emergence of Ikeme meant that ignoring the likes of Austin Ejide, and Dele Aiyenugba, two goalkeepers with immense experience, became acceptable. It also meant that the likes of Daniel Akpeyi played second fiddle, with little chance of being Number One. All that must now change, unless Rohr has already picked out a foreign born goalkeeper to replace Ikeme, himself and…
The NFF must now find a way to convince Akpeyi he’s the best in the land. Footballers, like all performers, thrive on ego boosts; when their morale is high, they deliver the goods. The other goalkeepers have been made to feel inadequate for so long, they will need major psychological boost for the battles head. The jitters Akpeyi displayed against South Africa could be a result of this. Stephen Keshi rotated his goalkeepers to keep confidence high. Oliseh ejected Enyeama, Rohr deified Ikeme, now we must repair the psychological effects of these actions.
Finally, the goalkeeper trainers will have to earn their keep, and develop the talent in the NPFL, fast. The loss of Ikeme meant a deep (unforeseen) hole has appeared in that position, just before major qualifiers. And it must be filled. Nigeria has always been blessed with embarrassing riches of goalkeeping talent. We just lost our way in the area of identifying and developing them. It’s time to, again, look inwards.
Way more important than all these, is the health and recovery of Ikeme. Thankfully he is good hands. Former Aston Villa captain, Stiliyan Petrov has fully recovered from the same ailment, Ikeme should too. Our prayers are with him.