Super Eagles goalkeeper, Adebayo Adeleye, recently made his first appearance for the senior national team in a recent test game against Algeria in Constantine. The 22-year-old Hapoel Jerusalem goalie shares his experience and how Vincent Enyeama inspired ed him in this interview with JOHNNY EDWARD
How did you feel when you received your first invitation to the Super Eagles?
It was a dream come true for me because I was keen to show the coaches they were not wrong in inviting me. I’m happy with the minutes I had against Algeria because it made me realise my dreams. I’m also happy with the coaches, who believed in me, to see it happen.
What was the experience like?
It was a tough and exciting experience for me. I am happy to be part of this great team, but I’m not here to make up the numbers. It’s a very big one for me and I am giving it my best shot and see how it goes. I got a chance against the Algerian second-string side and hopefully more will come. For now, I’m just happy to make my debut for my country. I believe I will get my chance on the big stage to show what I can do. My main aim is to help the team qualify for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations. I also try to train hard to convince the coaches to consider me as a first-choice goalkeeper in the future.
Were you disappointed not to keep a clean sheet on for your debut?
Not at all, but I felt a bit bad I conceded a goal on my debut even if it was from the penalty spot. I love keeping clean sheets, which I feel helps my team win games. I’m looking forward to doing that with the Eagles, as I have done with my team in Israel.
You are Nigeria’s keeper with the highest number of clean sheet in Europe from last season. How does this make you feel?
I feel great, but that is not enough. I still have to prove myself with the Eagles and that is why I’m working harder to ensure that I get a chance to show that.
What does Eagles keepers trainer Ike Shorunmu tell you on and off the pitch?
The conversation with him is very easy; on a day-to-day basis, he is totally accessible to the players. Personally, I notice the affection and confidence he has in me. Obviously, I want to play more. It’s true that he’s choosing other teammates (Maduka Okoye and Francis Uzoho) and that’s what I’m trying to change in my day-to-day training when I get the chance. I want to play for the Eagles and that’s what I train and prepare for.
Nigeria will face Portugal in a friendly next month. How are you looking forward to that game?
That’s going to be a tough game in Lisbon. I believe we have what it takes to hold our own against any team. I look forward to that game and hope that I play a part in it because those are the kind of games I love to feature in.
Do you think you are a slightly better keeper now, than when you arrived in Europe?
Not slightly, but a lot! When I analyse myself and watch videos of my games from years ago, I notice the difference in how I feel on the pitch now. I control all the facets better, I have more experience, I am more involved and have improved my understanding of the game.
Growing up, which goalkeeper did you idolise?
I watched so many goalkeepers growing up, but I think the likes of Vincent Enyeama, Peter Rufai, Ike Shorunmu and Dosu Joseph have been exemplary. I hope to achieve even more than they did with the Eagles, but I have to start playing first to realise that dream.
Who do you think is the best in your position in the world?
I think there are lots of goalkeepers at the moment in the world, but Thibaut Courtois is the best right now. He is having a remarkable year at Real Madrid. He won the LaLiga and Champions League, where he was decisive in the final as well. Also, Andre Onana is another great goalkeeper I adore so much not just because he is an African, but because he is very good.
You have kept 44 clean sheets, and conceded 83 goals in 96 games for Hapoel Jerusalem since you arrived three years ago. What’s the experience like playing for the Israeli side?
The journey has not been rosy, but I thank God for where I am now and I hope to be better, that’s my goal. I hope to help my team record more wins and stay in the topflight division for as long as they can. We are currently second in the table and I hope we can stay up for as much as we can, to get a place in next season’s European competitions.
The Isreali Ligat Al seems to be a haven for Nigerian goalkeepers. The likes of Enyeama, Dele Aiyenugba and Austin Ejide were outstanding when they played there. What’s it like playing in Israel?
It has been a wonderful experience for me since I arrived from Nigeria in 2019 at Hapoel Jerusalem. I try as much as I can not to lower the standards of the legends you mentioned. But Enyeama stands out for me because of the way he encourages me, telling me I would get called up to the Eagles, even when I was constantly snubbed. He inspires me a lot. He used to tell me to keep making saves and keeping clean sheets and that the reward will come someday. Truly, it did and I’m happy because his words kept my Eagles hopes alive. He is one goalkeeper I model my game after. He has made his mark in Nigerian football and I hope I can just be like him.
What does Enyeama tell you when you discuss?
Enyeama is full of optimism and tells me I can be better than I am. He regularly analyses my game and advises me on where to improve; he is a great man and I love him so much.
Many believe the Eagles have a goalkeeping crisis, do you agree with this assertion?
No, I don’t I believe that. We have a crop of young goalkeepers who can make the country proud. That’s all I can say.