The vile insults Maduka Okoye received in the aftermath of Nigeria’s 1-0 Africa Cup of Nations elimination by Tunisia represented the worst of the Super Eagles fanbase.
The goalkeeper was barracked on social media with personal insults, disgusting accusations and nasty mockery in the aftermath of his gaffe to allow Tunisia to open the scoring in Sunday’s Round of 16 meeting.
The Carthage Eagles bagged the only goal of the game in the 47th minute, when Ola Aina misjudged a crossfield ball, allowing Youssef Msakni space to run at the defence.
The Tunisia maestro, always one to try his hand at an effort from range, made the most of the opportunity afforded him and sent a daisy-cutter towards Okoye’s goal.
He put some power behind the ball, and the keeper’s view was blocked by a smattering of Nigeria defenders, but he’ll know he should have done better than his feeble attempt to keep the ball from crossing the line.
Ultimately, it proved costly, and while Aina and Alex Iwobi—who received a senseless red card soon after entering the pitch—have both ‘enjoyed’ their fair share of villain status in the aftermath of the game, the reprehensible abuse aimed at Okoye has been particularly ugly.
Of course, there is a place for light-hearted humour aimed at sportsmen who mess thing up on the grandest stage.
Maybe it’s a Nigerian coping mechanism; maybe we should make light of the heartbreak of defeat by Tunisia by making light of the woe we’ve brought upon ourselves.
Maduka’s appeal with Nigeria’s female fanbase and his good looks made him a natural source of banter even when things were going well at the Eagles’ Afcon, before his costly mistake against Tunisia.
However, like with David Beckham during the 1998 World Cup, those who we put on a pedestal are liable to fall the furthest.
There’s nothing served in giving airtime here to the abuse Okoye received in the aftermath of Sunday’s defeat, but needless to say that comments such as those inane suggestions that Okoye should not be No. 1 for the Eagles, without being able to identify a better alternative, have been abundant.
The facts are that, after years without a stopper who inspired confidence, since the departure of Vincent Enyeama and the sad circumstances around Carl Ikeme’s retirement, we finally have a goalkeeper upon whom a defensive unit can be built.
Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Daniel Akpeyi and Francis Uzoho all had moments to forget—and plenty of detractors—and none have truly inspired the kind of confidence that Okoye has.
In his 15-game international career so far, he’s kept seven clean sheets, and after conceding seven goals in his first four matches, has only let in five in his subsequent 11 games.
Even without Leon Balogun, the defence has looked organised and solid—a goalkeeper can rightly take some credit for this—while Okoye dealt well with the two shots on target he faced against Egypt in the Super Eagles’ decisive opening victory.
None of his rivals for the No. 1 jersey have played at the kind of level Okoye has with Sparta Rotterdam in the Eredivise—they’re not in the relegation zone because of their goals conceded, by the way—while his imminent move to Watford offers hope that he could be the Eagles’ first Premier League keeper.
At 22, and recently linked to Ajax, Okoye represents the future of the Nigeria goalkeeping position whether Super Eagles fans like it or not. He certainly doesn’t receive the treatment he received earlier this week.