Nigeria goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi has revealed his mental strength is helping him deal with criticism from fans and teammates.
The 33-year-old has endured a barrage of condemnation in the past following high profile mistakes while in goal for the Super Eagles.
One such mistake was against Argentina in a 2018 pre-world Cup friendly when he stepped out from his box to pick the ball up and that resulted in a free-kick and goal.
“What helps me is my mental strength. I really don’t follow the news about what is going on, especially when it comes to soccer from Africa and this part of the world,” Akpeyi told ESPN.
“Thank God I grew up with a mentor who taught me how to be mentally strong. With all I have learnt from my mentor, I can’t give up on myself. I am not going to prove a point to anybody, I only have to prove a point to myself that whatever I have been trained with actually works.
“When we got to the hotel [after the Argentina friendly], I overheard one of my teammates in the other room telling somebody on the phone ‘I don’t think he should be invited to the national team again; how can he concede that kind of goal’.
“My own teammate! He was just outside the room next to mine and talking. This is a professional footballer who plays in Europe. But I thank God because it is by His grace that I am here.”
Akpeyi was replaced at half-time in the Argentina friendly by Francis Uzoho, who went on to become the Super Eagles first-choice goalkeeper at the World Cup in Russia.
The 33-year-old, however, insisted his substitution was not as a result of his error but as part of Gernot Rohr’s tactics.
“He had already told me that he invited this new boy, Francis Uzoho, and I will play the first half and then he will bring him in for the second half. So he did not sub me in the first half because of the goal,” he added.
“At the Nations Cup, the same thing happened. He had already told us that he would want all the players to play.”
Akpeyi was also blamed for not being able to keep Riyad Mahrez’s match-winning stoppage-time free-kick from goal when Nigeria faced Algeria in the semi-final of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.
The Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper explained he has learnt his lesson from his failure to deal well with the free-kick but feels the huge criticism that followed the error was uncalled for.
“I must say that maybe I was not in the right position where I should be,” he continued.
“My coaches always say that if the position of the set play is very close, he will probably have a 20% chance of scoring on the other side. So I should have shifted a little.
“But not to take anything away from Mahrez; he has scored such free-kicks before at his club against great goalkeepers. But we won’t say that we won’t learn from our mistakes and others’ mistakes.
“I take the blame for everything because it is what it is. As a goalkeeper, they won’t look at what you have done before. I remember they had a couple of chances in the first half that I made one-on-one saves. But those ones won’t count in people’s eyes because no matter how much a goalkeeper saves, it is the one mistake he makes that people remember.
“At the back of my head, I just knew that Nigerians will come at me again, but you just have to stand your ground. It has happened to the best in the world. It is going to happen again, you won’t be the last. But if you keep this in your head, it is going to drain you.
“At the end of the day, the people that tried to put you down will rejoice over this. So be a professional, take it, learn from it, and go on. So when I got all that backlash, as a human, you will feel it; but I laughed at it and shook it off.
“Imagine that a week later, he scored a similar goal in his club and the world did not come down but because it is Akpeyi, it was very easy for the bell to ring in people’s mind that Akpeyi is this, Akpeyi is that.”
Akpeyi has been in fine form lately for his South African club Kaizer Chiefs since replacing Itumeleng Khune, who was out injured.
The Super Eagles shot-stopper was, however, able to prove his worth and when Khune returned from his lay-off, the 33-year-old maintained his position in goal, impressing in a derby game too.
“There was this debate over who would play and who would not play because Itu is back and all that,” he said.
“I respect Itu because he has paid his dues. So if he has a whole lot of supporters backing him to play, he deserves it 100%.
“Again, I am not fighting for a position with anybody, but sometimes the fans do not understand the dynamics of football and they believed that since Itu was back, whether I am playing or not, the coach should just throw him back into the team.
“But the coach is that kind of person who sticks to his instincts and doesn’t get swayed by anybody’s decision. He just stood his ground.
“After Itu came back he was playing cup games to get his match fitness back. So the coach made it clear that he should go on playing cup games while I should continue with the league.
“The atmosphere wasn’t too conducive but I had to be mentally strong because I understand even some club legends wanted him to play.
“But the coach stood his ground and gave me the nod. So I made up my mind to go into the game to prove a point that we wanted to win the derby, and Akpeyi is not the Daniel Akpeyi they think. So I had a point to prove and I just had to make sure I don’t disappoint the coach and the people who believed in me.”
Akpeyi was part of the Super Eagles squad that was scheduled to take on Sierra Leone in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in March before the game was suspended due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.