Former Nigeria goalkeeper and captain Vincent Enyeama, along with striker Odion Oghalo, have condemned the recent outpouring of invective and online death threats, against the Super Eagles goalkeepers after the team’s World Cup qualification failure.
Nigeria failed to qualify last month after Ghana won their playoff tie on away goals and the resulting reaction from fans saw Enyeama airing is view: “It makes me feel disappointed because football is just a game. It’s not our life.”
The goalkeepers involved in the two legs against the Black Stars, Maduka Okoye and Francis Uzoho, received the worst of the abuse online, with Watford-bound Okoye disabling his social media comments after disturbing threats.
Enyeama added: “Nobody’s life depends on football. So it’s very disappointing to hear that the young guy (Maduka) had some death threats, then that Uzoho had some issues after that game (against Ghana). Nobody wants to go on the field and make mistakes.”
Uzoho’s failure to deal with what was at best a routine, even speculative, shot from Thomas Partey ended up ultimately costing Nigeria a place in Qatar. He was only on the field due to Okoye being ruled out after testing positive for COVID-19.
But Uzoho was already in line to compete for the spot, and possibly make a return ahead of Okoye, after the latter’s gaffe at the AFCON in Cameroon earlier this year.
There, Sparta Rotterdam’s Okoye failed to deal with a long range shot from Tunisia’s Youssef Msakni. The resulting goal proved enough to eliminate Nigeria from the tournament.
After the loss to Ghana just over a week ago, Uzoho wrote on his Instagram page: “This past couple of days have been the worst in my lifetime.
"I wanted to take my nation to Qatar but rather did the opposite. I know what football means to you all and myself, I can't promise to make mistakes again, but I can promise not to give up until I bring back that smile on your faces. Thank you for the support and God bless."
Former Manchester United striker Ighalo has also suffered death threats, after the World Cup in 2018 which saw him deactivate comments on his social media and come close to quitting International football.
“I felt sad about all the abuse. I know Nigerians always want to win, but these are young boys.
“One mistake is not the end of the world. People tend to forget that footballers are humans too. We cannot destroy the confidence of these boys because of one mistake.
“Okoye is a good goalkeeper. Uzoho is a good goalkeeper and they will grow and learn from this experience. But they need support.”
Enyeama, the former Lille stopper, says he learned to develop a thick skin when he endured similar invective, and stayed away from social media: “I stopped reading the press. I stopped listening, I stopped going on Facebook.
“It is really one of the reasons I deactivated my first Instagram account because I had so many threats back then. I shut out the noise. I moved on, I grew past it and I learned to develop a thick skin and just focus on the prize.
“That is the same thing I will advise them because that is how I came out of it.”
The alternative, Enyeama warns, could be dire: "It doesn't give anybody any confidence to continue. Doesn't give anybody the desire to be part of the system any more. Players will make mistakes, goalkeepers will make mistakes and these guys are young.