Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr suggested during the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt that all was not well between the sticks with the national team and performances by the three goalkeepers did not exactly wow Nigerians anyway.
Nigeria ended qualifiers for the AFCON with Francis Uzoho as the first choice, Ikechukwu Ezenwa as 2nd and Daniel Akpeyi as 3rd, but by Nigeria’s opening game at the competition proper, Akpeyi was first, Ezenwa was 2nd and Uzoho was 3rd choice.
By the time Nigeria played the 3rd place game, it seemed the pendulum had swung again and Uzoho was the 1st choice, Akpeyi 2nd and Ezenwa 3rd.
Such was the uncertainty in the Super Eagles’ goalkeeping ranks at the AFCON and up until now.
A goalkeeping problem?
Do the Super Eagles have a goalkeeping problem? Certainly they do and that is why Gernot Rohr was ready to give youngster, Maduka Okoye a chance against Ukraine in a bid to try out another option brought to him, but eventually, it was Francis Uzoho between the sticks and he had a fairly decent game in Dnipro.
As a teenager he was, one ordinarily would have expected Francis Uzoho to grow more in experience and performance but he is either not that good or his growth rate is very slow. He often made blunders that left lots to be desired. Daniel Akpeyi has been said to be jittery while Ikechukwu Ezenwa is not trusted, maybe because of the league he plays in.
David Nwolokor? A shiny light?
In July 2014, soon after arriving in Europe from Abuja (Nigeria), David Nwolokor signed a two-year contract with HNK Rijeka.
In his first season with the club, he played for Rijeka II in Croatia’s Treća HNL.
In early 2015, he was an unused substitute for Rijeka’s first team in five Prva HNL matches.
In July 2015, Rijeka sent Nwolokor on a season-long loan to HNK Šibenik in Croatia’s Druga HNL where he featured in 19 games and kept 9 clean sheets.
This was followed by another season-long loan to NK Vitez in the Premier League of Bosnia and Herzegovina where he also played in 26 of their matches, with 11 clean sheets.
From the dusty roads of Bori to the streets of Europe
NigerianFootballer.com have done their scouting and can confidently point to this youngster based in Eastern Europe as a top pick for the national team as the country gets set for 2021 AFCON and 2022 World Cup Qualifiers soon.
So, maybe, Gernot Rohr should review his scouting policy and look towards the direction of David Samuel Nwolokor as an alternative for Super Eagles, but who is this Nwolokor?
He started his playing career with the Indomitable Lions, a youth club based in Bori in Rivers State (Nigeria), now known as Ogoni United before joining the Abuja Football College.
“While in Abuja, I found my way to Europe and though it was not easy, things got better with time.
“I have played for HNK Sibenik in the Croatian 2nd division and then I have been in Bosnia and Slovakia and then HNK Rijeka,” Nwolokor told NigerianFootballer.com.
“When I first got to Europe it was difficult but it got better for me. The weather was terrible, too cold and the culture was totally different. The food was also strange but I managed and re-adjusted. Now I am better than when I first came in here.
“I am yet to move to central Europe, but it is just a matter of time. You never can tell what my next career move will be,” the young goalkeeper said.
“At the best time, I definitely will move to central Europe, but for now I am where I am.”
Standing at 1.86 metres, the commanding presence in the box of Nwokolor has made him stand out whenever he gets to play.
He has made 60 first-team appearances since his move to HNK Rijeka in the 2014/ 15 season, keeping twenty-three clean sheets. His ball stopping, positioning and reflexes have been his major qualities.
“Playing in Europe was one of the dreams I had as a little boy growing up in Nigeria. Another dream had always been to play for the Super Eagles and I believe that will also come to pass pretty soon.”
Waiting for a call-up
Nwolokor told NigerianFootballer.com that he regularly hopes for a call up to the National team and will not stop believing a call will come.
‘‘I’m optimistic of a call-up to the national team. I will not lose hope, I intend to continually impress at my club, I am certain to play for the Super Eagles and it will be a dream come through.
“But as far as a call up is concerned, it is not my doing. I hope that if and when I get an invitation to play, I will do my best to make sure the goalkeeping issue in the team is resolved,” Nwolokor said.
“With God and everything, I know I have some good qualities that can see to my call up and inclusion to play for the Eagles.”
“My qualities as a goalkeeper are there for all to see. If I say I am a very good keeper, it may not make sense because it is coming from me. So it will be better you (the scouts) see me in action rather than me seeming to mouth off.”
The good, the bad and maybe, embarrassing games
No footballer gets it all rosy in life or in his career, as David points out, explaining his worst game ever, in Europe as well as his most memorable.
“I have had lots of great games in Europe, my most memorable being in Slovakia and my worst being in the Croatian second division with HAK Sibenik,” Nwokolor continued.
That game happened to be between IClinic Sered and MSK Zilina which his side won 2-1 away from home.
“I will never forget that match and neither will I forget the disastrous loss in the Croatian second division when my club Sibenik lost to NK Sesvete and I conceded four goals. These are some games I will remember forever.”
From outfield to stick man
Like many other top goalkeepers- Rene Higuita, Jorge Campos, Idah Peterside, Imama Amapakabor etc, Nwolokor did not start his career between the sticks as he used to be a midfield player.
“I started playing as a midfielder before I switched to goalkeeping and because of that I actually never had a role model at that time.
“But there were some goalkeepers I looked up to and I started watching Vincent Enyeama and admired him, then grew up loving his style.”
Last season Nwolokor played fifteen games in all competitions for his club, SKF iClinic Sered where he was on loan, keeping three clean sheets, but he is yet to get between the sticks this season even though he has been part of the travelling party twice for HNK Rijeka in the Europa Cup.
“As for National team invitation and me not being first choice in my club currently, you never can tell. Maybe it will affect my call up but you never can tell. I am still optimistic that I will be called up.”
In 2016/ 17 season he was on loan again to Vitez in the Bosnian League and there he got to play twenty-six times, keeping eleven clean sheets.
With the Super Eagles goalkeepers in a musical chairs contest regarding who wears the jersey and the continuous search for a half-decent goalkeeper for the team, David Nwolokor could just be that man.