Vincent Enyeama radiates a genuine zest for life. Whether he wins or loses, Nigeria's captain and goalkeeper never drops his famously broad smile, which has been on prominent display once again at the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013. The Super Eagles have blown hot and cold so far, beating Tahiti 6-1 before losing 2-1 to Uruguay, but Enyeama himself has remained unchanged, exuding a permanent sense of enjoyment.
"He's a lad who has a happy and expressive personality," explained his former coach at Lille, Rudi Garcia, last October. "Thank goodness that there are players like him who feel good every day despite a difficult personal situation, because he's a player who came to us having had a lot of match time but then found himself second choice and not playing much at all. In spite of that, he works hard and keeps his spirits high."
Enyeama was loaned out by the French club to Maccabi Tel Aviv last term, so it will always remain a mystery whether or not he could have helped Garcia's men avoid their calamitous end to the season. But while the northern outfit missed out on a European spot, Israeli club Maccabi ended a ten-year wait for the championship title with Enyeama in their ranks. "I definitely had a very good season, but life goes on," the goalkeeper told FIFA.com. "It's true that I feel good in Israel. I'm not really sure why. Perhaps it's because I've been there a while."
The 30-year-old certainly knows the country well, having spent much of his career playing for Israeli sides. His first taste came during a two-year stint with Bnei Yehudah after he left Nigeria in 2005, and he then turned out for Hapoel Tel Aviv between 2009 and 2011, before returning to represent Hapoel's great rivals last year. In characteristic fashion, he was completely relaxed about crossing the Tel Aviv divide. "I'm a professional and I try to do my job," said the Kaduna native, considered one of Africa's leading custodians. "I was given the opportunity and I seized it."
Appreciating every minute
Blessed with all-round ability, Enyeama helped Nigeria seal continental glory earlier this year with their victory in the 2013 CAF Africa Cup of Nations. Leading by example, the man with the armband was superb for the Super Eagles as they went a record 18 matches unbeaten before succumbing to La Celeste on Thursday. "I don't know if there's another goalkeeper like him on the continent," said Joseph-Antoine Bell recently, the legendary former Cameroon No1 sharing his thoughts with FIFA.com. Despite the glowing appraisals, however, not to mention his 77 international caps, Enyeama has never paraded his skills in a more prestigious league than Israel's Ligat ha-Al.
"In a sense, I don't think that European coaches appreciate African goalkeepers for what they're really worth," explained the man himself. "That's how it is. We'll see in July what the future holds for me." For now, of course, he is fully focused on the FIFA Confederations Cup, with Nigeria still hoping to claim a spot in the semi-finals. "We're here to make the most of it, to bring pleasure to Africa and give people something to smile about. If we win, all the better, and we won't forget to thank God. But nor will we let it affect our good mood if we're eliminated."
The strident positivity is not merely for show either. Enyeama knows better than most that life is precious, having almost lost his own nine years ago in a tragic car accident in Uyo, in the south east of Nigeria. "I basically haven't been the same man since that day," he said. "That changed my mentality and my way of seeing life. I'm now able to appreciate every minute and every moment that life offers." And with that, he beamed another winning smile.
I don't think that European coaches appreciate African goalkeepers for what they're really worth.