Pitchside Europe

‘Eight-armed’ Enyeama falls just short of record

Vincent Enyeama came agonisingly close to breaking the French top-flight shutout record, but even as he was finally beaten after 1,061 minutes on Sunday, the infectiously enthusiastic Nigerian still managed a smile.

The 31-year-old had come to be known as 'Jesus' by his Lille team-mates during a remarkable run of 11 consecutive clean sheets which had helped propel the Northern club to within a single point of Paris Saint-Germain at the top of the Ligue 1 table.

Sunday's match at improving Bordeaux should have been all about Lille's quest to keep the pressure on PSG. But instead it was all about Enyeama.

Could he keep another clean sheet and edge a little closer to breaking the all-time French top-flight record of 1,176 minutes without conceding, set by Girondins' goalkeeper Gaëtan Huard in 1993?

The Bordeaux players were determined to maintain Huard's - and their club's - record and they finally ended Enyeama's invincibility after more than 17 and a half hours. It needed something out of the ordinary to beat him, and he was left with no chance when a Landry N'Guémo shot took a huge deflection off Simon Kjaer and ended up in the back of the net.

"When you have a man behind you with eight arms..." Kjaer had said after last midweek's 1-0 win against Marseille.

Sadly, on this occasion, not even Enyeama could keep the ball out. And as he allowed himself a smile, the Bordeaux players ran across to celebrate with Huard, who was at Sunday's game in his capacity as a touchline reporter for beIN Sport.

Despite that, and Lille's resulting 1-0 defeat against a Bordeaux side that played the last half hour with ten men, Enyeama was still the visitors' top performer on the day in the eyes of sports daily L'Equipe, thanks to two crucial saves at the end of the first half to deny Ludovic Obraniak.

"Honestly, I was never even thinking about the record," Enyeama said later. "When I'm on the pitch I just enjoy myself. If I concede a goal, it's ok.

"I knew everyone had been waiting (for him to concede), so it made me smile. I think my team-mates wanted to see me beat the record, but I will go into the game against Bastia (next Sunday) only thinking about winning. This defeat is just what happens in football, life goes on."

Enyeama in action earlier this season (All pictures: Reuters)

To many observers, it seems like Enyeama has emerged from nowhere to become one of the stars of the season so far in France. Having initially signed for the club in 2011 before being loaned to Maccabi Tel Aviv last season without having played a Ligue 1 game, it took him until this campaign to break into the Lille team.

The departures of Mickaël Landreau last December and then coach Rudi Garcia in the summer helped. New coach René Girard chose Enyeama as his number one ahead of Steeve Elana, and he has not looked back.

Enyeama is already 31. He won back-to-back African Champions League titles when with Enyimba and then spent six years in Israel with Bnei Yehuda and Hapoel Tel Aviv before joining Lille.

He also starred for the Super Eagles at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. In their opening game, they lost 1-0 to Argentina but, as the report on FIFA's website says, the South Americans "might have won by more but for Enyeama".

Indeed, Lionel Messi described him as "phenomenal" in that match.

He won the Cup of Nations with Nigeria earlier this year, but it has still taken him until now to make his mark at club level in Europe. Previously, Wolfsburg sporting director Dieter Hoeness turned down the chance to sign him because, at 5ft 11in, he was too small. Sam Allardyce also opted against signing him for Bolton in 2004.

Now he is happy where he is. Enyeama is always smiling, and his team-mates say that his Nigerian accent gives them endless hours of fun. He has even more reason to smile now. His infectious positivity has him convinced that the Super Eagles can go all the way at next year's World Cup.

And when he comes back from that he will see his wages almost double as a new contract - which was agreed last week and extends his stay at the club until 2017 - kicks in. He deserves that.

After all, Lille have conceded just five goals in 17 league games this season. That is a record in the history of the French top flight, and one for which Enyeama takes an awful lot of the credit.

Andrew Scott | Follow on Twitter