Super Eagles captain Vincent Enyeama relives the best moments of his sparkling career in this interview culled from Lille FC website…
You made your competitive debut for Nigeria at the 2002 FIFA World Cup and was impressive in the third match against England which ended goalless following the defeats against Argentina (1-0) and Sweden (2-1). What memory do you have of your first game?
That game remains great in my memory, although in reality it was my second appearance for the Super Eagles because I played a warm-up match against Kenya, a few weeks earlier. The atmosphere, the poster, everything was incredibly perfect. Especially for a young player like me at that time. I felt very proud, because I did not concede a goal against one of the best teams in the world with the likes of David Beckham, Paul Scholes Michael Owen, Emile Heskey, Ashley Cole, David Seaman and the rest.
But at that time you were still evolving as a goalkeeper in the Nigerian league with Enyimba. How different was the experience then?
I am someone who does not isolate the events, who looks at things – and football in particular – as a whole. At no time did I say to myself, “The World Cup is more important than what I live every day with my club.” I just play the games as they arise. No matter the mood, I try to move forward. So of course, everything was bigger, the stadium, the quality of players, the competition.
But it’s still the same sport.Two years later, you were named in the squad for the 2004 AFCON and was decisive in the quarter-finals against Cameroon which Nigeria won 2-1. Despite bowing out in the semi-finals against Tunisia on penalties you were named the best goalkeeper of the tournament. How did you feel?
That is true. The 2004 AFCON was my first major international competition, even though I had already won the African Champions League in 2003 few months later in 2004 with Enyimba. I got a lot of pride and satisfaction to have been voted the best goalkeeper of the competition ahead of Carlos Kameni in particular. I saw that as an important step.
At the 2010 World Cup, you were a hero again despite the defeat to Argentina and was voted as man of the match. How did you feel receiving plaudits from Diego Maradona?
Diego Maradona was the greatest player in the world and to get compliments from him is something extremely rewarding. There’s no other player like him, he is unique. In football, everyone respects him. At that time, I said to myself, “If Maradona says, then it is right.” That meant a lot to me. Although I realized other good games in this World Cup, it really did something to me to receive such praise.
In 2013, your dream finally came true, winning the 2013 AFCON and was named the best goalkeeper of the tournament. Could you share with us how intense your joy was?
Winning a trophy is not something that happens by chance, that time we deserved it is always joyful we won it for the country. But this time, my pleasure was multiplied by five or ten, it’s true! I could finally caress the African Cup of Nations after five participation. I have experienced as a result, a great sense of relief). On a more personal level.
How do you explain your ability to regularly stop penalties?
Without hesitation, It is primarily thanks to God and then hard work. A lot of work goes into trying to stop them. I say that because it is not easy. That’s the secret work. My statistics are good with penalty kick? Maybe, but it does not come alone. I am constantly trying to put me in the mind of the shooter, to stand ready at the time of the shot. I just bump to be the best possible.
At the World Cup 2014, you manage to keep your clean sheet in the first two meetings against Iran and Bosnia. But Nigeria finally crashed out in the second round against France. Is it still a defining moment?
If you knew how much I wanted to win the game against France. But we lost and that’s life. It’s football. You dream, you hope, but something else happens. So it is not a strong memory of my career. I reserve that term for wins. But it was a great game, it’s true.
You just won your hundredth cap with the Super Eagles. Can you talk on the achievement as a sense of pride?
Yes of course. Very few people in this world have played a hundred times under the shirt of their national team. Whether in France, Nigeria and elsewhere, we are not likely to have reached this milestone. This is a very great prestige, a huge honor to represent as many times your nation.
This means that your country wants you, appreciates you. Currently, I’m the most capped player, tied with Joseph Yobo. I am still active in the national team, I am even the captain. I will therefore have to take this on my own record. But for me, it’s not a dream, or even a goal. What I want above all is to be able to write a page in the history of Nigerian football. And that, I think I have accomplished with my team winning the Nations Cup.