By George Akpayen
When the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) Championship Playoffs gets underway at the Agege Stadium in Lagos there will be a handful of foreign players in the six clubs vying for the title and continental places.
However it is not the foreign players who will catch the fancy of followers in the NPFL as there will be up to five foreign goalkeepers in the fold of the competing sides and www.npfl.ng writes that two of them, Nana Bonsu with Rangers and Kano Pillars custodian Idrissu Ibrahim, are already commanding first-team places.
NANA BONSU (RANGERS)
Bonsu has been in brilliant form this season for the Flying Antelopes who are now eyeing a record eighth league title. The former Ghana U17 national team goalkeeper is one of the shining lights among the foreign stoppers in the league this season, and that has been a major reason he has remained first-choice in the books of Rangers head coach Gbenga Ogunbote who prefers the 30-year-old ahead of Femi Thomas, Opubo Japhet and another Ghanaian ‘keeper Seidu Mutawakilu.
The former AshantiGold man who joined Rangers in January 2016 on a free brings to mind legendary Ghanaian goalkeeper Edward Ansah who remains famous in Nigeria’s top-flight for his time at some top clubs in the 1980’s to 1990’s including Abiola Babes, Leventis United and Iwuanyanwu Nationals (now Heartland).
IDRISSU IBRAHIM (KANO PILLARS)
The former King Faisal and AshantiGold goalkeeper joined Kano Pillars on a two-year deal at the start of this season at the age of 32. Of course his signing raised eyebrows in the city of Kano as ‘Sai Masu Gida’ were in dire need of a proven stopper following the departure of David Obiazo to rivals Plateau United after a fallout over their defeat at the AITEO Cup final to Rangers last year.
With a floundering Danladi Isah who by his standards should be commanding the number one jersey but remains a bit rusty owing to little playing time, Idrissu easily claimed the position between the sticks this season. The Ghanaian goalkeeper has taken to the number one spot like a duck to water and surprisingly finished with 11 clean sheets — a feat only equalled by Mustapha Aliko of Niger Tornadoes, Amas Obasogie of Bendel Insurance and Plateau United’s Dele Ajiboye.
SEIDU MUTAWAKILU (RANGERS)
He is another impressive Ghanaian goalkeeper in the top division. The 23-year-old in his first season with Rangers in 2017 hit the ground running but this term has found it difficult to wrest the number one position from his countryman Bonsu. Mutawakilu has fallen in the pecking order of goalkeepers at Rangers and has only been handed just one appearance when the Enugu club suffered a 0-1 defeat at Wikki Tourists in Round 22 in the regular season.
FATAU DAUDA (ENYIMBA)
It is a Ghanaian affair in the goalkeeping area, and Fatau joins in the list of foreign stoppers who will have their opportunity during the playoffs in Lagos. He is known for his outlandish goalkeeping style and often times that has robbed him of appearances and on other occasions, he is preferred between the sticks when the going gets tough.
This season at Enyimba, the 34-year-old Ghanaian goalkeeper has shared the responsibility of stopping the opposition with Theophilus Afelokhai and Stanley Nwabali which led to four clean sheets in the regular season. He is expected to play his part between the sticks for the People’s Elephant who are also aiming for a record eighth league title.
JEAN EFALA (AKWA UNITED)
The 26-year-old Cameroonian goalkeeper joined Akwa United before the start of this season, and the plan from the outset was to make him a backup to Olorunleke Ojo until the Promise Keepers suffered an opening day misfortune in the hands of El-Kanemi Warriors with the club’s number one directly involved in the error that led to their defeat.
Some followers of the NPFL still felt Olorunleke deserved a second chance but the former Giwa FC man’s confidence level suffered for it, and Akwa United’s Brazilian coach Rafael Everton turned to Efala. The ex-UMS de Loum and Cotonsport stopper simply slotted into the number one position at Akwa United and racked up seven clean sheets in the regular season. However, he lost his place at the tail end of the regular campaign to Olorunleke with brilliant performances including penalty saves against Delta Force and Yobe Desert Stars.
Efala is surely in for a straight fight for the number one position with Olorunleke when the playoffs begins in Lagos on Monday.