Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Clean-sheetometer

VINCENT Enyeama’s goalkeeping heroics at his French Ligue 1 club, Lille FC, is one that should make every Nigerian football fan proud. In a sport where it is the goal-scorers that usually grab the headlines, Enyeama has broken into French football consciousness by consistently stopping the goals from going in.

At the moment, the talk in UEFA president Michel Platini’s country is not all about Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani and Radamel Falcao. It is also about a brave Nigerian goalkeeper who refuses to be beaten between the sticks.

At the last count, Enyeama had kept eight consecutive clean sheets (10 overall in the 12-week old league season), and he’s looking every Euro a bargain for the transfer fee that Lille paid for him from Israel’s Hapoel Tel Aviv two seasons ago. His early season form has helped Lille to gate-crash the duopoly of big spending Paris St. Germain (PSG) and Monaco at the top of the French League as Lille sit in second place behind PSG, but ahead of Monaco whom Lille beat 2-0 in their last game.

It’s not often that goalkeepers get praised for their important roles in football teams, but the case has been different for Enyeama so far this season. Thanks to Complete Sports editors who have been tracking the ‘keeper’s records, we know that Enyeama’s current cruising speed at 90 clean-sheetometer per game has translated to 720 uninterrupted minutes when no football has found its way into the back of his net in Ligue 1. This is a remarkable record indeed for a ‘keeper who spent his first season at Lille permanently on the bench. He was subsequently loaned to Maccabi Tel Aviv and he only returned to France at the start of the current season.

After helping Lille to their 2-0 win over Monaco last weekend in a game where even the feared Colombian striker Falcao couldn’t find a way past him, Enyeama’s team captain Rio Mavuba jokingly described him as “Jesus.” “We have Jesus in goal,” Mavuba reportedly said, wondering how Lille had not made the Nigerian their number one when he first arrived two seasons ago. Better late than never.

Personally, I am very proud of what Enyeama is doing at Lille and that is why I have put his clean-sheetometer machine in focus today in Soccertalk. But I am sure that most Nigerian soccer fans would be even prouder of him if he could install the same machine between the posts when on duty for the Super Eagles as well.

Had Enyeama’s clean-sheetometer been plugged in for our first leg World Cup play-off against Ethiopia last month, the Eagles would probably have departed Addis Ababa with a 2-0 win. Unfortunately, Enyeama switched off for just one second and that was enough for Ethiopia to snatch a controversial “goal” even though the ball never reached the back of the net. The referee apparently gave the goal because Enyeama’s leg was clearly behind the goal line when he ‘plucked’ the ball out.

In Calabar for the return leg against Ethiopia on November 16, I hope Enyeama will bring along his clean-sheetometer from Lille because he has a chance to single-handedly take Nigeria to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. With a 2-1 lead from the first leg, the Eagles can even afford not to score in Calabar, provided Enyeama does not concede any goal.

If there is one item Nigeria need to secure with a N255million bullet-proof car on November 16, it  is Vincent Enyeama’s clean-sheetometer! 

FOR THE RECORD: The highest number of minutes without conceding a goal in the French Championnat is 1,176 minutes by Gaetan Huard in the 1992/93 season. The longest consecutive run in the English Premier League is 1,025 minutes by Chelsea’s Peter Cech in the 2004/05 season. The most clean sheets in one EPL season is 24 also by Cech in 2004/05.

The longest clean sheet at a World Cup finals was 517 minutes kept by Italian goalkeeper Walter Zenga at Italia ‘90. After not conceding in the earlier five games, Zenga was beaten by a Claudio Cannigia 67th minute goal for Argentina in the semi-final in Naples. The match ended 1-1 and Italy were eliminated 4-3 on penalties.

League Focus

lMy league focus this week is on the Italian Serie A where Roma’s 10-match winning start to the season finally came to an end in a 1-1 draw with Torino last Sunday.

The 10-match winning streak was already an Italian record, but coach Rudi Garcia’s Roma were aiming to equal the European record of 11 wins start recorded by Tottenham Hotspur in the 1960-61 English league season. They will have to try another time.

Back home, Soccertalk was on break when the 2013 Glo Nigeria Premier League was concluded, so I couldn’t offer my immediate congratulations to champions Kano Pillars. I watched the controversial replay between Pillars and Enyimba and I agree with all league commentators that Pillars’ 1-0 win in that Lokoja game ultimately decided the title race in their favour.

I agree also that Enyimba were worthy runners-up and will give us a better representation in next year’s African Champions League than El-Kanemi Warriors who also stood a chance up till the last day of the season. I watched El-Kanemi against Rangers in Enugu in their final fixture but they (El-Kanemi) didn’t look like title contenders at all.

Enyimba not only deserved their Champions League place, their record of not conceding any goal at home throughout the season is also remarkable. In fact, it may even be a world record and I think Salihu Abubakar of the League Management Company should write to FIFA to get a clarification. Meanwhile, I suspect that there’s another clean-sheetometer hidden somewhere at the Aba stadium. Enyimba’s opponents must investigate before the start of next season!

On a personal note, I am yet to recover from the disappointment of seeing my boyhood club, Shooting Stars, relegated from the top flight once again. For a team that started the season at the top of the table, it’s devastating that they ended it at rock bottom.

I can’t tell what the problem really was because I’ve not been close to the club since I served on its management board more than a decade ago. But I hope that, given the necessary support, the new coach Franklin Howard will be able to return the Stars to where we truly belong next year. He has done it before.

The Foiled Coup By “Club Owners”

Meanwhile, the ubiquitous “club owners” in the Nigeria Premier League tried again last week to “reclaim” control of its day-to-day running by asking the League Management Company (LMC) to step down ostensibly because its interventionist tenure had expired. Citing so-called “standard FIFA statutes” on the “ownership” of football leagues around the world, the “club owners” sought to reclaim what they believe is rightfully theirs.

Although several other “club owners” have rejected the attempted coup by some of their members while the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) has declared that the LMC should continue its work, I am of the view that the so-called  statutes being cited by the renegade “club owners” should be revisited.

Whatever those statutes may say, they have failed to work in Nigeria. They should therefore be reviewed to recognise our present LMC arrangement which has yielded positive results in only its first year and promises to deliver even more dividends in the years ahead. The “club owners” should face the reality that the LMC has been accepted by the generality of Nigerians because of their good work, despite some mistakes here and there. Anyone trying to destabilize the present arrangement will therefore be seen as an enemy of progress.

Rather than seeking to regain administrative control, my advice to the “club owners” is to pursue how to make the LMC management accountable to a board of directors where  the “club owners” will be adequately represented. That board should have the power to approve the yearly programme and budget of the LMC, appoint the auditors, fix the renumeration of key LMC staff, but is not involved in the day-to-day administration of the league as was done in the past.

For the Nigerian league, it should be forward ever, backward never. The old system where the “club owners” elected some of their own members into a league board to run the league on a day-to-day basis has failed. Irrespective of what any statutes may say, I will not support any agitation for a return to status quo ante. I would rather amend the failed statutes!

Ferguson’s Autobiography

LAST week, I announced that I was trying to get a copy of Sir Alex Ferguson’s new autobiography. Well, I actually have two copies now, courtesy of my younger brother, Ali, who just returned from a trip to the UK. Thanks a million, Ali.

I am keeping a copy in my library for my personal reading. The other copy will be serialized in Complete Sports sister publication, International Soccer (i-soccer for short) for the benefit of all Manchester United fans and fans of Sir Alex.

If you’re wondering whether I have started reading the book, the answer is yes. Just a few hints: There are 402 pages and 25 chapters. Some of the chapters are titled Beckham, Rio, Ronaldo, Keane, Van Nilstelrooy and Rooney. Others are Mourinho–The ‘Special’ Rival, Competing with Wenger, and Barcelona (2009-11) – Small is Beautiful.

I have read the chapters on Beckham, Mourinho and Wenger but I won’t repeat here what I think about Ferguson. Read the serialization and form your own opinion.

FEEDBACK

Re: Keshi on the threshold...

AFTER reading “Keshi on the threshold,” I just asked myself: Keshi owed seven months salary? Unbelievable! – Howard Odigie.

l HOPE that the NFF did not use Stephen Keshi’s salary to buy an armoured car worth N250million. – From Gbadamosi M.A.

WILL someone tell me what Alhaji Aminu Maigari is doing in UAE after going to Jordan for the Eagles friendly? He is globe-trotting when he can’t pay the salary of the coach – ???

l REMEMBER Danny Joordan of South Africa at a Lagos soccer summit some years ago teaching the NFF under Alhaji Sani Lulu how to raise money for the Super Eagles. Didn’t NFF learn anything from the lecture? – Chuddy Okeke, Lagos Island.

Re: Kanu is an angel

OGA Mumini, when a VIP like you lavishes so much praise on my boss Nwankwo Kanu and his Kanu Heart Foundation (KHF), it eases my job as media officer of the foundation. Thanks for your support and the generosity of Complete Sports in devoting four full pages to KHF in just one week. – Camillus Nnaji, media officer, KHF.

KANU is more than an angel. In fact, he is an archangel. All of us should support the KHF. – Azunna Chibundu, Lagos.

YOURS was a nice report on KHF and a good analysis on Euro Leagues. This is the first time I would read your column although I’ve been hearing about you on radio. Please keep it up. – Capt. D.O. Adeniyi.

*Welcome to the club, sir. You may read past articles at my blog,www.soccertalknigeria.blogspot.com.


2 comments:

  1. He kept another clean sheet this week making it 11 out of 13. Incredible! During the match against Monaco the commentator said "fans of the SuperEagles will be particularly happy, 86 caps for Nigeria! He came into prominence at the 2002 World Cup against England, kept a clean sheet; infact he made a terrific save on a ferocious shot from Paul Scholes. Tonight he's proven unbeatable.
    After the game I had to watch that game against England again from my YouTube archive. "What a save by the rookie goal keeper, I have never seen a goal keeper so comfortable in his debut at a World Cup Finals like this goal keeper here". Those where the words from the ESPN commentator in 2002. No wonder since then he's been Africa's undisputed Número UNO.

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  2. Sir Alex Ferguson autobiography: The top ten inaccuracies from Fergie's book

    1. The Italian job
    Ferguson says he sold Dutch defender Jaap Stam to Roma, but he actually went to Lazio. Wouldn't want to make that mistake in the bars of the Eternal City, Sir Alex.
    2. Argie Bargie
    Argentine pair Gabriel Heinze and Juan Sebastian Veron apparently had a bit of a row during a game against Portsmouth. But the two never played for United at the same time. Oops.
    3. Time machine (part one)
    Reflecting on Gianfranco Zola's goal for Chelsea against United in 1997, Ferguson recalls one dressing-room exchange:
    "Oh the stick Pally got that day. Bryan Robson said: 'Any chance of you staying on your feet?'"
    All well and good, except for the fact that Bryan Robson had joined Middlesbrough fully three years earlier. Time plays tricks.
    Bryan Robson. Not in 1997
    4. Fash-ion statement
    Danish goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel was asked to play up front for the final few minutes of a cup game against Wimbledon, as United chased a goal. This left Denis Irwin "back on the halfway line against Fashanu".
    No guesses for guessing where John Fashanu wasn't playing at the time.
    5. Dear John
    Remembering the day a stand at Old Trafford was named after him, Fergie recalls "The Sunderland players, O'Shea, Brown, Bardsley and Richardson, all former United men, smiling broadly and very appreciative."
    But was John O'Shea in the Sunderland squad that day? No, no he wasn't.
    6. Time machine (part two)
    Everyone knows Ferguson had a fractious relationship with Irish firebrand Roy Keane. But we didn't realise it was serious enough for the manager to block out an entire year of his life. Fergie says Keane spent 11 years at United, when it was 12.
    7. Up for the cup
    David De Gea made a famous mistake at Anfield in 2011-12, gifting Liverpool defender Daniel Agger a goal. But it happened in a cup game, not in the Premier League as Sir Alex claims.
    8. Taking stock
    The Scot claims that Manchester United were floated on the stock exchange in 1990. It was 1991. How very dare you?
    9. You again?!
    Fergie says the jettisoned Jaap Stam played against United in the 2007 Champions League semi-finals. In fact, it was the last 16. In 2005. Close but no cigar.
    10. Left, right, what's the difference?
    Ferguson in the Champions League final penalty shootout against Chelsea: "Edwin (van der Sar) kept diving to his right. Except for the penultimate kick which Salomon Kalou took, when Edwin dived to his left".
    Note quite, amigo. Van der Sar actually dived left against Michael Ballack, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole, going to his right for Kalou

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