Rivers United reject Gopey shows the way for NPFL players

By Samuel Areo & Andrew Randa

When the 2020/2021 Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) season began in December 2020, Stephen Michael Gopey was on the books of Rivers United and featured for the Pride of Rivers throughout the first stanza.

It wasn’t exactly a great melody for him in Port-Harcourt as the likes of Fortune Omoniwari and Godwin Aguda hugged the headlines.

However, in search of more first-team opportunities, the striker jumped ship and went up North to pitch his tent with Wikki Tourists of Bauchi.

Right there, in the shiny skies of Bauchi, it did not take long for him to prove his worth at his new home. The 21-year-old scored on his debut as the side lost 5-1 at rampaging Katsina United in a Northern Derby on matchday 20 – his first league goal of the season.

For a player who failed to hit the back of the net while at Rivers United earlier in the campaign, Gopey went on to add four more strikes in his next five league games. He ultimately became the go-to man for the Elephants who were deep in a relegation battle at the time.

Those impressive displays over a short period at the NPFL side earned the youngster a move to Ukrainian elite division side FC Inhulets Petrove on a three-year contract.

Just like he did when he moved from Port-Harcourt to Bauchi – Gopey, who also doubles as a personnel of the Nigerian Army, got his maiden goal on his debut for FC Inhulets in Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk.

Gopey, who replaced Artem Sitalo at the start of the second half, scored nine minutes from time when he toe-poked Yevhen Opanasenko’s pass past goalkeeper Anatolii Trubin for his new side’s first goal of the 2021-22 campaign.

Despite the narrow loss to the 13-time Ukrainian Premier League Champions, Gopey’s debut performance earned him praises from his manager Serhiy Lavrynenko after the game.

“The first is a good age, 21 years old. The second is his ability to fight, cling to the ball, score. This player is a prospect,” Lavrynenko told the club’s media.

“Hopefully, he will gain his optimal physical condition and will be a player of the starting lineup. It all depends on him.

“We took him to develop. I think until today’s match, hardly anyone would have found him even on Wikipedia or Wyscout.

“And after this game, some information will appear in the press tomorrow. The striker was able to show himself well.” the 46-year-old gaffer concluded.

On the back of his debut performance, the former Rivers United man, who has a contract with the Petrove based club until 2024, could be in line to make his full debut when they host Zorya Luhansk on August 2.

Gopey’s story has clearly shown that hard work pays and has also added to the fact that good players exist in the Nigeria Professional Football League.