PETER RUFAI

Date of Birth: 24 August, 1963
Nationality: Nigeria (international)
Period at Deportivo: 1997 - 1999
Transfer: Free Transfer (1997, from Hércules Alicante)
Clubs: Gil Vicente (1999-2000), Deportivo (1997-1999), Hércules Alicante (1997), Farense (1994-1997), Go Ahead Eagles (1993-1994), Beveren (1992-1993), Lokeren (1989-1992), Dragon FC (1986-1989), Femo Scorpions (1985), Stationery Stores (1980-1985)-
Sold: Free Transfer (1999, Gil Vicente)
Height: 189 cm
Weight: 84 kg
Position: Goalkeeper

Deportivo had countless of goalkeepers in the nineties, but none of royal blood until RUFAI arrived in La Coruña. In Nigeria he was born as the son of an Idimu tribe king, but instead of becoming a prince he wanted to play football. And after a long journey through Europe he ended up at Deportivo in 1997.

Rufai, nicknamed "Dodo Mayana", started his professional career in 1980 at Nigerian club Stationery Stores, at the age of 17. It made him burst onto the national spotlight as a youngster, leading the "Adebajo Babes" to the African Cup Winners' Cup final in 1983 with his brilliant goalkeeping.

It was the year when he also made his debut for the national team of Nigeria, leading a young Nigerian side past the favoured Moroccans in her final African Nations Cup qualifier. Rufai frustrated the Moroccans for ninety minutes, and came up with more heroics in the ensuing penalty shoot out.

During the African Nations Cup 1984 his heroics were necessary again in overcoming the Egyptians in the Semi-Finas, where Nigeria prevailed on penalty kicks. But Rufai would miss playing the final due to injury, and Nigeria would crash out at the hands of Cameroon (with players like Milla). Despite Nigeria's fall in the finals, Rufai had now established himself as the unchallenged number one goalkeeper of Nigeria, a position he held for quite some time.

In 1985 he moved to Nigerian club Femo Scorpions, and one later year Rufai became the first ever Nigerian goalkeeper to play abroad, when he signed for Dragon FC of the Republic of Benin. It was there where he prepared himself to make the jump into Europe, which would be materialized in 1989.

Strong Rufai was 26-years old when he started his journey through the Low Countries, as he played for Belgian clubs Lokeren and Beveren while he played in the Dutch league at little Go Ahead Eagles. As he possessed a double Nigerian-Belgian nationality, he wasn't considered in foreigner in the European competitions.

Then his international received another boost, when Nigeria won the African Nations Cup 1994 in Tunisia. Rufai's point blank save off of Kalusha Bwalya, when the Zambians were gunning for the equaliser in the final, remains one of the most important saves ever made by a Nigerian goalkeeper. Six years earlier Rufai had been inspirational in the Eagles' surge to the final. In 1993 he even scored a goal in the 6-0 victory against Ethiopia, an African Nations Cup qualifier in July of that year.

But his personal highlight of the mid-nineties would be playing the World Cup 1994 in the United States. In the previous month he already had beaten his colleagues Alloysius Agu and Wilfred Agbonavbare in the fight for the goalkeeping spot. During the tournament he was captain of the "Super Eagles" and played all group matches from finish to start. Nigeria beat Bulgaria 3-0, wasted a lead against Argentina (1-2) but finished as winners of the group after beating Greece (2-0). But on 5 July, 1994 all was over when Nigeria went out in extra-time against Roberto Baggio's Italy.

After returning to Europe, the goalkeeper moved to Portuguese club Farense and was acknowledged to be the best goalkeeper in Portugal. Rufai stayed there until the start of 1997, when he was signed by Hércules Alicante from the highest Spanish level. The Eastern-Spanish club had troubles surviving their season in the Primera División, and counted on Rufai to save their status. He made his Liga debut in Spain on 3 February, 1997 when he held a clean sheet at Extremadura (0-0). Two and a half weeks earlier he had made his Copa debut against Lleida (a 1-0 loss).

Rufai would play ten matches during that campaign, among which one against Deportivo on 19 February, 1997. It was a much needed victory for the Galicians, when they took away a 1-3 win from Alicante. For his part, Rufai was replaced during the break by Huard, but nonetheless play several matches after it. In fact, he would reached the total number of ten Liga matches during the season 1996/1997.

In that same campaign, Deportivo saw goalkeeper Songo'o winning the Zamora trophy for leaking least goals in the Spanish Primera División. In the winter months they had signed talented Portuguese youngster Nuno, but saw Canales (31) leaving the club during those same months. So what they needed that summer was a goalkeeper prepared to take the third role, and found in 34-years old Rufai what they needed.

Jacques Songo'o was going to play the African Nations Cup 1998 tournament, while Rufai hadn't been playing with Nigeria for a while, and needed a replacement for those weeks. But Rufai made his debut earlier as expected, when his African colleague was sent of after two minutes on 4 January, 1998 against Sporting de Gijón. The Galician club desperately needed points at the time, and finally clinched them with ten men and Rufai as their goalkeeper.

Rufai, who speaks six languages (among which Flemish and French), had signed a contract at Deportivo running until 30 June, 1998. He replaced suspended Songo'o during the next match, a 1-0 home win against Tenerife. His best heroics he spared for the match against Real Madrid on 8 Febuary, 1998 as he saved a penalty kick against Savio in the dying minutes. With it he won a point for his much handicapped team (2-2).

He added two more Liga matches in the time Songo'o was playing for his country: a 1-0 loss at Valladolid (while injury-troubled Deportivo played with the likes of Aira, Pinillos, Padín and 'Manteca' Martinez in the starting eleven) but added up for it one week later against Athlétic de Bilbao (3-0). Surprisingly he played three other matches that season because of another red card Songo'o received on 15 March, 1998. He played the final minutes of that loss (1-0), and replaced his suspended colleague against Zaragoza (2-1 win) and Espanyol (0-2 loss).

Although Rufai had been absent in the World Cup 1998 qualifiers, he got a recall for the Nigerian national squad which had qualified for the tournament taking place in France that summer. Once more his team did pretty good by winning against Spain (3-2), Bulgaria (1-0) and losing against Paraguay when it didn't matter anymore (1-3). Rufai again would play four matches from finish to start this tournament, but couldn't avoid the beating Nigeria suffered against Denmark in the next round (1-4).

Rufai had not been able to reproduce the form he had shown in United States four years earlier. What he did earn was a one-year renewal at Deportivo because goalkeeper Kouba was loaned out to Viktoria Zizkov, after he spent the season 1997/1998 at Kaiserslauntern. But this campaign Rufai would play just one Liga match: a 2-0 loss at Real Sociedad on 4 October, 1998. It was a season when Rufai coincided with Irureta at Deportivo, and got the coach’s confidence for his match to the disappointment of Nuno. The African goalie also played during a 3-1 Copa win against Jerez de los Caballeros.

On 17 February, 1998 the father of Rufai died and the goalkeeper was permitted to return to his country to discuss who would succeed the king. Rufai made clear that he didn't want the status, arranged the question with his family and returned to La Coruña. But after the 1998/1999 campaign was over there would be no other contract for Rufai, who turned thirty-six that summer. He chose to continue his career at Portuguese club Gil Vicente and after one season quit football.

But not for long, as he settled down in Spain and in 2003 opened a goalkeepers' school there. The African travels from club to club throughout the country to coach goalkeepers from the age of 6 to 20. "I'm not doing this to earn money, but because I enjoy it and it's a worthwhile occupation," he commented. "There's a dearth of coaching for young goalkeepers because no-one feels like showing them the ropes".

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