Celebrating Excellence & Integrity

IKE SHORUNMU : ‘Unforseen forces denied me USA ‘94, France ‘98′

Posted By Godwin Onyemaechi

Regarded as one of the longest-serving goalkeepers with the national team, erstwhile Nigeria international and Super Eagles goalkeepers’ trainer, Ike Shorunmu, recalled some of the best moments of his career.

It is nearing two decades that he missed  Nigeria’s 21-man  cut for her two successive  FIFA World Cup appearances in 1994 and 1998, but former goalkeeping international Ike Shorunmu is still livid ironically without a tinge of regrets on how he missed the trips to the USA and France.

That Ike Anobi (as Shorunmu was fondly called during his heyday) pulled his socks in the qualifying tournaments for both events was not in doubt yet he was surplus to requirement in extraneous circumstances on the two occasions.

While the Super Eagles’ three goalkeeping roster to the  USA’94  was filled by the trio of late Wilfred Agbonavbare (Rayo Vallecano)Alloysius Agu(RFC Liège)Peter Rufai  ([SC Farense), that of France ’98 was completed by   Abiodun Baruwa (FC Sion )Willy Okpara  (Orlando Pirates) and Peter Rufai(Deportivo La Coruna).

“I am not regretting the fact that I missed the USA’94 and France’98   World Cup,” the 53-year-old former Stationery Stores shot-stopper recalled in an interview with The Nation.“  I tried all I could and coach Clemens Westerhof tried for me in 1994 but some ‘unseen forces’ denied me the opportunity.

“I missed the 1994 World Cup by the whiskers and not because I was not good enough.

“ I was with the team throughout the qualifiers and I made valuable contributions to our qualification but suddenly,  Peter Rufai just emerged from nowhere and he was doing well.

“There was so much pressure on Westerhof. When we got to Portugal, Westerhof said he had to drop one goalkeeper. Alloy was number 1 then. I was the youngest and I was eventually dropped.

“ Nduka Ugbade, Isaac Semitoje, Edema Fuludu, myself, and a few others were dropped.

“Before the World Cup, the coach took me with the team to Tunisia for the AFCON although I was not registered for the tournament.”

But Shorunmu was the worst hit in 1998  when he broke his hands on the eve of the championship at a time he’d already made the Super Eagles’ number 1 shirt his own only for  Rufai to be brought back from international wilderness yet again by  Serbian coach Bora Milutinovic.

“Injury actually stopped me from going to the 1998 World Cup,” Ike who was then with Swiss side, FC Zurich, recalled ruefully. “ I got injured in my club a few weeks to the end of the season in a vital derby against Grasshopper Club Zurich and was laid off for six months, but my biggest moment came in the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup.

“I was privileged to make it to the 2002 World Cup after missing the 1994 and 1998 editions. Coach Adegboye Onigbinde was fantastic but we couldn’t go beyond the first round.”

Yet year 2002 is best remembered for the catharsis that befuddled the Super Eagles following their bronze-medal effort at the Mali 2002 Africa Cup of Nations where the rank and file of the team reportedly fell out with overbearing sports administrators.

Shorunmu recollected:

“The problems we had at Korea/Japan 2002 started from Mali 2000. Not all the players that took part in the qualifiers made it to Korea/Japan. In Mali, I was injured during the quarter-final match we played against Ghana. I was rushed to the hospital because I was unconscious.

“Thank God for the oxygen in the ambulance as I was resuscitated before we got to the hospital. After regaining my consciousness, I was taken to the hotel.

“I got there before the rest of the team arrived from the stadium. They were all happy to see me on my feet. The Sports Minister then, late Mark Aku was in Mali.

“ In fact, he was at the stadium when the incident(my injury) occurred but never bothered to visit us at the hotel to find out how I was doing. Not even the leader of the delegation, Dr. Patrick Ekeji visited.

“Before the semi-final against Senegal, the Minister came with his entourage, including Ekeji and Coach Adegboye Onigbinde.
“After the minister addressed us, they asked the captain of the team, Sunday Oliseh to respond to the minister’s address. Oliseh cleared his throat, looked the Minister in the eye, and said:

‘ Honourable Minister, we are not very happy that you have not demonstrated enough care for us, your children. One of our prominent players in the team was injured and stretchered out into an ambulance and you never cared to visit our hotel to check how he was recovering till this moment that you are charging us to go all out and beat Senegal.

“This caused a lot of ripples, particularly, among the government delegation and the NFA. Incidentally, we lost that match to Senegal.”

He continued: “Two indigenous coaches – late Amodu Shuaibu and late Stephen Keshi – qualified Nigeria for the Japan/Korea 2002  World Cup; they were brought in on a rescue mission after the NFF sacked Bonfrere Jo.

“But after the 2002 Nations Cup in Mali where the team lost to Senegal in the semifinal, the pair were sacked few months to the World Cup and Onigbinde was called upon.

“ A lot of things went wrong before Korea/Japan 2002

“The politics that engulfed the team were so much that some players like Oliseh and Finidi were dropped from the Nigeria 2002 World Cup squad.  Nigeria 2002 World Cup squad in Japan/Korea were – and still are – incomparable to the squad at USA ’94 and France ’98 squad.

“Super Eagles failed in Korea/Japan, losing two matches and drawing one against England.

“Our problem started with the first game against Argentina and we couldn’t rise up to the pieces until the last group match against England where we managed a 1-1 draw,” noted Shorunmu as he spoke candidly about his goalkeeping odyssey and other sundry issues. Excerpts…

Importance of goalkeepers

A good goalkeeper or striker has to be 120 percent fit because they hold the ace and are the hearts of the team. Without the goalkeeper, there is no team and without a dependable striker, no team can play a strong opponent. Although, the middle, which is the midfield is important too but not as reliable as goalkeeping. Early in life, we know what we have chosen and the challenges that follow it. Goalkeepers are like sacrificial lambs. No keeper would like to concede or pick up the ball from the net. It reduces the confidence and strength of a keeper. When a goal is scored goalkeeper carries most of the blames. When other aspects of the team are not functioning well, there’s a tendency that the keeper will suffer throughout the match. There’s always a good and dependable goaltender in the goal for a great team. There is always a problem if a team is scoring and no keeper and great defenders to keep the back. In fact, every department of a team is more important.

Early in life

My turning point started when I started training in front of my compound. The location of my school, Ikeja  Grammar School, was in front of our compound at Oshodi, where clubs always trained.  Berec FC used the secondary school pitch as their training ground. Having seen me showed some skills on that pitch, the club approached me to join them and understudy their goalkeepers because I was very young.

Their coach had a chat with me. He called me one day and I had to arrange myself in a bid to join the team after school hours. During practice matches, the coach would introduce me towards the end of the match and I would feature for few minutes.  In 1984, I officially became a Berec FC player and gathered enough experience which I took to Stationery Stores as a reserved goalkeeper.

Faith with destiny

I had the best opportunity and I gathered enough experience with Stationery Stores. I enjoyed my career under coach Austin Ofokwu even though the club had no money but I was happily playing for the club. If you are in Stores, you will always get everything without money. The club provided us with imported kits and their supporters were fantastic, wonderful. The club had the biggest supporters in Lagos alone is a club I can never forget in my life. The memory is always ‘flaming’ like the club.

Playing for Stores was like a dream come true even as a reserved goalkeeper I was on top of the world and until this faithful day when I was given the chance to wear the club number one shirt. It did not happen by accident I think it was just God’s arrangement and time. I don’t know what happened because club number one keeper abandoned the team after he performed poorly in a match and he refused to show up the following day. The match affected him and he had to stay away from training but suddenly, a call came in from the Nigeria Football Association that Stores should prepare to play a pre-season opening match in Kano against Iwuanyanwu Nationale.

That match usually came one week before the new season. In 1990 and in the absence of Berthold, I was called by coach Ofokwu to dress up for the match and I proved my worth because it ended in a draw. In the season’s opening match, we travelled to Kano and played against Kano Pillars, I was adjudged the Man of the Match. That was the beginning of my breakthrough. In between, we won the Challenge Cup against the Rangers.

National team

Between, 1990 and 1993, Shorunmu received his baptism of fire from the Lagos Darling team, Stationery Stores where he was spotted by the Super Eagles Technical Adviser  Clemens  Westerhof.

As a test rehearsal, in January 1990 I was invited to the national team for screening for the ECOWAS tournament, which was like modern-day CHAN, a tournament for players from the domestic leagues of West African states. Other countries too came with their own home-based players. The tournament held in Lagos and you know 95 percent of football fans in Lagos were fans of Stationery Stores Football Club. When they saw me in the national team colours, they felt proud that one of their own was also on the national team. The fans were all behind me and that gave me a lot of confidence. During the tournament, Coach Clemens Westerhof was watching me and after the tournament, he invited me to the main Super Eagles. There I met the likes of Alloy Agu, David Ngodigha, and one Abdullahi Danjuma from Ranchers Bees of Kaduna

Super Eagles goalkeeping rivalry

In 1992 I was invited to the national camp by Westerhof to understudy my seniors, Peter Rufai, Alloy Agu, David Ngodigha, and Wilfred Agbonavbare. They saw me as someone who came to learn and wait for his time. I had no problem with any of them. They were accommodating and friendly. They encouraged me a lot. It was a war in the goalkeeping section. The competition was tough. Four experienced goalkeepers fighting for the number one position. You know what would happen. So if you are not good you cannot be a national team goalkeeper and at the same time, you need to be prayerful and concentrate because there’s an element of luck in football.

Current Super Eagles

I cannot say much on our present Super Eagles, especially our goalkeepers because they are in the modern era with a scientific approach to things. This is the computer era. The way they see things are different from our time. The goalkeepers are trying their best with the input of their coaches. There are different dimensions to things now in the national team. The team has just qualified for the AFCON and we have seen the best they could offer and hopefully, they would improve more before the tournament proper and the World Cup qualifiers are also around the corner, the coaches know what to do to get the right result. As I have said only those with the mind to achieve success always utilise their chances in life. All the players are all professionals. They know what they want. The national team is different from their clubs; they should always have that in mind.

Regrets and Joy

I will always say that losing the AFCON 2000 trophy in front of Nigerians has always been my greatest regret as a goalkeeper. I shed tears when I saw the expression of bitterness on the faces of football followers. The fans were sad. We did everything we could but we were not destined to win the trophy. We placed second because we lost out in a penalty shootout. That was my saddest moment in a Super Eagles jersey. But in 2013 in South Africa, I won the AFCON as a coach that is my greatest joy with the late Stephen Keshi. I have the AFCON gold medal in my kitty.

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