The continent of Africa keeps producing outstanding athletes who are showcasing their talent internationally. When it comes to African footballing nations, Nigeria is a dominant force. Its three AFCON championship victories, which rank it as the fourth-most successful national team in the competition, are not surprising. The nation has given the football world enthralling players from all across the field over the years.
With a population of over 100 million, Nigeria has access to an infinite reservoir of potential, and because football is the national sport and the most popular sport in Nigeria, talent of all shapes, sizes, and styles comes off the Nigerian production line. Here are the top football players in the nation throughout history.
One of the best players from Nigeria currently is Victor Osimhen. Due to his talent, the 23-year-old is currently valued at €65 million, and this worth will only rise in the future. The striker now represents Napoli in the Italian Serie A after leaving LOSC Lille in 2020. With Nigeria, he has previously won the U17 World Cup and the U23 AFCON.
Ahmed Musa has been a member of the Nigerian national football team for the longest. With the Super Eagles, the captain has taken part in the most games (106 total). In Turkey’s top league, he plays for Karagümrük and is well-known in Nigeria. Musa participated in Premier League games for Leicester City.
While playing for Newcastle United, Obafemi Martins was extremely well-liked. In addition to Inter Milan, he has played for Wolfsburg, Rubin Kazan, Birmingham City, and other European teams before relocating to England in 2006. The forward’s toughness and pace made him a favorite among FIFA video game gamers. Martins has won several awards, including the League Cup with Birmingham and the Italian Serie A once with Inter.
Kelechi Iheanacho was considered as one of Europe’s best up-and-coming stars while he was a member of Manchester City. The attacker joined Leicester City in quest of increased playing time, and since then, he has won one FA Cup and one Community Shield. With MCFC, he also received one League Cup winners’ medal. He was a member of the Nigerian U17 World Cup winning squad.
As a steadfast leader on the backline for his nation, Joseph Yobo, one of Nigeria’s all-time co-captains, made a significant contribution to the team’s success in the early years of the twenty-first century. He was selected for the 2008 AFCON because he was an indispensable Super Eagles player. Yobo participated in all four of Nigeria’s Super Eagles matches throughout the competition, which was a disappointing result for a squad of that caliber. Yobo put out a strong individual effort, aiding his team in maintaining two clean sheets throughout the games.
Fortunately for Nigeria, Yobo recovered in time to lead his nation as captain for the first time at the 2010 World Cup. The defender participated in all three of Nigeria’s games at the tournament, which saw them lose in the group stage. Yobo is considered to be Nigeria’s finest central defender of all time and a legend on the continent.
One of the few Nigerian football players who have won the UEFA Champions League is Nwankwo Kanu. He won the contest while he was a student at Ajax. The attacker twice earned the African Footballer of the Year title and played 87 times for the national side. He also won the Premier League twice with Arsenal FC. In addition, Kanu helped Nigeria win the Olympic gold and has won several club championships with Inter Milan and Portsmouth.
One of the depressing facts of Nigerian football is that historically, there haven’t been many players of Nigerian descent who have consistently performed at a level that might be described as “world-class” during the course of their careers. One of them was Vincent Enyeama.
He was frequently referred to in Lille in heavenly terms, commensurate with one of the greatest Nigerian football players in history. Rio Mavuba, a player, quipped that the squad had Jesus in goal after a 2-0 victory against Monaco, while Rene Girard, the manager, reacted to Enyeama’s performance in a 2015 victory over Montpelier by saying, “It is God who is with us right now.”
Rashidi Yekini may have been even better given how late he reached his best, but he instead had a career significant enough to position him second on the list of the greatest Nigerian players.
Although he was far from a technical marvel, his game had a harsh efficiency that focused mostly on goals and the movement that made goals possible. Yekini frequently found himself in excellent positions, despite the fact that his finishing was far from dead-eye. He would have been the idol of football analytics in this era of expected goals.
Mikel John Obi
Mikel John Obi was and is consistently evaluated in comparison to an unmet expectation rather than the caliber of his actual efforts. It is far simpler to appreciate Mikel for what he was: a midfield controller with a combination of core strength, balance, calm under pressure, timing, and elegance. Put away the desire for a resurrected Jay-Jay Okocha.
His maturity, even as a small child, was equally astounding. After all, he was a guy who, as a youngster, chose Chelsea over Manchester United after realizing that his choice might affect the careers of two other players.
In the summer of 1998, Paris Saint-Germain needed to break the French transfer record in order to buy Jay-Jay Okocha, who is ranked number ten on the list of the best Nigerian footballers. They also had to essentially sequester him in an Istanbul hotel while negotiating with Fenerbahce. Former PSG president Charles Bietry, however, would not be silenced. He told Le Parisien that “He is a creator, an inventor, without a doubt the best dribbler in the world.”
It is uncontroversial to say that Okocha is the most skilled and skilful football player to have ever emerged from Nigeria. Never before or after has a player been as casually clever, as capable of accomplishing whatever he wanted, or as mesmerizing with the ball. However, Okocha’s impact was more akin to decoration than definition in the strictest sense. He was mostly, ultimately, an entertainer.
When he played a key role in the 1994 edition of the AFCON victory in the mid-1990s, his status as one of the best Nigerian players had already been bound and sealed. In the history of Nigerian football, no midfielder has ever controlled an international competition quite as Sunday Oliseh did that year in Tunisia, but Rashidi Yekini received all the praise justly for his goal scoring.
The Super Eagles scored nine goals on route to the championship; Oliseh either assisted or played the ball that led to an assist for five of them, and in the one game in which he did neither (against Egypt), Nigeria went scoreless. Because Oliseh was a defensive midfielder and the one player that the team’s organization depended on when they didn’t have the ball, this was all the more extraordinary. His style of play combined discipline with and without the ball, great tackling, logical decision-making, and distribution across all distances into one solid mass of midfield brilliance, making him well suited for the position.
Although Nigeria has had several outstanding captains throughout its history, Christian Chukwu was the first to establish the position as a national symbol. Chukwu dominated Nigerian football in the 1970s as captain of Enugu Rangers, winning three league championships and three domestic cups. They frequently appeared in the latter rounds of the African Cup of Champions Clubs, making it to the final four three times in the 1970s and winning both the league and the continent in 1977.
Chukwu, a man of few words who led by example and won his colleagues’ respect with his uncanny composure, was at the center of it all. But he was much more than just a leader; he is unquestionably among the best center backs the country has ever produced. As the deepest defender, he was a great sweeper, clean in his tackles, and possessed exceptional power, anticipation, and passing skills.
Muda Lawal was a very skilled and flexible midfielder who excelled at both passing the ball and winning it. Because of his persistence and quickness, he frequently won the ball back without using dishonest tactics. His ability to control the play’s tempo, though, may have been his greatest strength. He was able to greet the ball with finesse and combine fast, either in the center of the field or out wide, where he frequently dribbled to generate overloads.
With the exception of the 1982 competition, Nigeria’s national team placed in the medal positions in each AFCON Muda competed in. He is the only Nigerian to have scored in both AFCON Finals and for over 30 years, he held the record for most international appearances with 86. It is impossible to overstate Muda Lawal’s excellence, and his inclusion among the best Nigerian footballers should be without controversy.
It is not overstated to say that fans traveled great distances to see Segun Odegbami in his prime or that every football-crazy kid growing up at the time inscribed the number 7 on the back of their jerseys as an homage. Even pinning Odegbami down is quite challenging from a positional standpoint. ‘Mathematical’ was highly contemporary in that he could play everywhere on the front line, and he was notable not just for his enormous talent but also for his good looks and knowledge.
Odegbami was not just quick, but he also possessed a relaxed dribbling technique that allowed him to glide past opponents rather than power past them. Odegbami, although having a brief five-year international career, is the second-highest goalscorer in national team history with 23 goals, a feat that immediately qualifies him for a spot among the best Nigerian players.
In addition to being a subject of this article, Stephen Keshi was the best Nigerian player of all time. He was also a pioneer, an inspiration, a bully, an idol, an organizer, a big brother, and many other things. He is also one of the most talented footballers to have ever represented Nigeria. He was a strong defender with the ability to play in defensive midfield. He was ‘The Big Boss’ in more ways than one, both in terms of significance and personality. He also has the talent to support it. In terms of distribution and carrying the ball, he was superb. Defensively, he was deceptively quick and a ferocious opponent.
Nigerian football has only recently gained popularity. The War Memorial Cup, the inaugural Cup, and an organized league have only existed for 50 years. The first Cup was held in 1942. Even with the famed dearth of documents, these are more workable time periods for evaluation purposes. Nigeria, one of the most prosperous countries in Africa, has produced several imposing football players throughout the years, as mentioned in this article.