Nicknamed “The Cat”, Vincent Enyeama is one of the most favorite players in the Nigerian National Squad by both fans in his country and coaches. For several years he had been the undisputed first choice by Nigeria’s coaches in goal for the squad. Born on August 29, 1982, he had been the top goalkeeper for the Super Eagles since he took over from Ike Shorunmu in his country’s final match at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Beginning his soccer career at an early age of 16 with the semi-professional club Ibom Stars, he continued to improve his skills until he was signed by the major club Enyimba Aba where he played for three seasons from 2001-2004. During his stint at that club, he won the CAF Champions League twice. However, he was always substituted before penalty shootouts by his coach. Not knowing the real reason behind this, but accepting the fact that he probably was not good enough for penalty kick stoppages, he work doubly hard and mentally trained himself to prepare for such events and not falter. He moved to FC Heartland for the 2005 season before transferring to Israel.
In Bnei Yehuda Tel Aviv, a minor league club in Israel, he had a very productive first season showing his feline-like physical abilities and athletic skills. In his first season there, his contributions on the pitch helped his team qualify for the Israel State Cup and achieve fourth place in the Israeli Premier League which, in turn, qualified the team to the 2006 UEFA Cup. He stayed with the club for two seasons and in 2007 moved to Hapoel Tel Aviv where he is currently connected.
Although his team did not have a good 2007-08 season, Vincent Enyeama continued to grow and improve not only his goalkeeping skills but also his leadership skills as well. At one time when his club wasn’t performing well, he wrote his team a letter asking them to work together and fight for each other and the club. He had not only continued to improve as a player but also a leader which helped his team not only avoid relegation and but also contend for the state cup final. His consistent improvements are results of a superb training system that include not only physical conditioning but mental training as well to keep his focus intact every second of a match.
His consistent performance for his commercial clubs earned him a substitute spot for the 2002 World Cup where he played for only one match which was against England. During that last group game, he steadied is nerves and kept his composure to keep a clean sheet and salvage a draw against the powerhouse English squad. Since then he became his coaches’ top choice for goalkeeper when Ike Shorunmu retired from international soccer.
He had consistently contained his country’s goal during the 2004 and 2006 African Cup of Nations. He had a very memorable 2010 sequel of the tournament when he stopped three penalties in the quarterfinals against Tunisia but unfortunately lost to Cote d’Ivore in the semi-final.
The goalkeeper who had been substituted before penalty shootouts early in his career became the hero for many of Nigeria’s international games.
In the first group stage match against Argentina in the 2010 World Cup, had a superb performance by stopping and saving a variety of shots from some the top goal-scorers in the world such as Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain but could not save the game-winning header from Gabriel Heinze. Still, with that loss, he was named Man of the Match for his spectacular performance.
Even in the face of defeat, an athlete who had shown great resilience and desire against a mightier opponent is always given due recognition. Enyeama, who chose to be better than who he was before by consistently learning, is one goalkeeper who has etched his name as one of the best in the world of soccer.