With Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) already installed as firm favourites to retain their Ligue 1 title this season, Monaco are still expected to mount the strongest challenge to Laurent Blanc’s formidable team. Yet Lille are the team currently offering the most direct threat to PSG ambitions by occupying second place and having conceded only four league goals this term. Their 1-0 win against Marseille this week was their 11th consecutive clean sheet in Ligue 1 with goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama rapidly becoming recognised as a Lille legend.
The Nigerian born ‘keeper has been accredited with several fine performances in recent matches as his team has emerged with five 1-0 victories in the previous seven games. At times, the opposition players have left the pitch demoralised after being denied on several occasions by world class saves.
For 31 year old Enyeama, his current spell in the football spotlight is a far different scenario from his early footballing career when plying his trade in Israel for six years after several seasons in Africa. Lille eventually offered him the opportunity of a berth in a European league by offering him a three year contract in June 2011.
Enyeama failed to earn any first team appearances during the following season and manager Rui Garcia decided that a return to Israel may be in his best interests with agreement for a season long loan brokered with Maccabi Tel Aviv for the 2012-13 campaign.
The Israeli team won the national title that season thank to some inspired displays by their goalkeeper and when Rene Girard was appointed manager of Lille following Garcia’s move to Roma, Enyeama was selected as first choice ‘keeper.
Girard guided Montpellier to the French title in 2012 but inherited a Lille team from which several key players had departed since winning Ligue 1 in 2011. Eden Hazard, Yohan Cabaye and Mathieu Debuchy command regular first team places with English Premier League teams, but Girard has managed to instil a winning mentality into the current Lille squad.
Since the beginning of the current campaign, which began with a 1-0 win against Lorient, Lille have only lost two matches with Enyeama an ever present as goalkeeper. Of 16 league matches played, the Nigerian has conceded goals in only two of those games and is deservedly earning his hero status among the home supporters.
No doubt Enyeama will concede further goals this season with a trip to PSG before Christmas certain to provide a real test of his credentials. Yet his sudden rise to fame can serve as a lesson for all aspiring goalkeepers hoping to succeed in top flight football. Retaining self-confidence and a willingness to maintain sharpness at a lower level may eventually yield its rewards.