The Best Nigerian footballers of all time
Nigeria are one of the most decorated national football teams in African history but how much do you know about their players? Here we look at the best Nigerian footballers of all time.
So, who are the best Nigerian footballers of all time?
Number 10. Vincent Enyeama
We kick off our list of the best Nigerian footballers of all time with Nigeria’s most capped player, Vincent Enyeama. Enyeama won 101 appearances for the Super Eagles in his 13 year career. The keepers’ career started in his homeland where he had major success with Enyimba International winning two CAF Champions League titles and three Nigerian Premier League titles; he was named CAF Champions League player of the year in both years he lifted the trophy.
A move to Israel followed where further honours were won but, certainly outside of Africa, he’s probably best known for his spell at Ligue 1 side Lille. His introduction to the team saw him record 11 consecutive clean sheets – 1,062 minutes; it was a stretch that threatened the Ligue 1 record. To cap his career off, he won The African Cup of Nations in 2013.
Number 9. Taribo West
The colourful headed Taribo West is next up. The centre back played 42 times for Nigeria appearing in two World Cups and a duo African Cup of Nations Championships. Unlike Enyeama, West fell short of winning the AFCON but did experience success with his nation; they won Gold at the 1996 Olympics. It was no mean feat either, they beat an Argentinian side featuring the likes of Diego Simeone, Hernan Crespo and one of the best right backs of all time in Javier Zanetti.
At club level West’s best spell also came in France as he collected a league winners medal and two Coupe de France titles with Auxerre. He also had a prolonged spell in Italy where he represented both Milan clubs; he won the UEFA Cup with Inter. Whilst with AC, West went on a loan spell to a then Premier League Derby County; despite only spending limited time with the Rams, he’s considered a cult hero to this day.
Number 8. Segun Odegbami
Next on our list is Segun Odegbami. He might not be one of the best strikers of all time but he’s certainly one of the best strikers to wear the green and white. His game wasn’t all about scoring goals though. Odegbami was nicknamed ‘Mathematical’ because of the accuracy of his crosses whilst he was also a highly skilled player and a great finisher; he made 47 appearances for the Super Eagles and netted 22 goals in that time.
The Shooting Stars stalwart helped Nigeria win their first ever African Cup of Nations title in 1980; in fact, his role was so influential that he made the team of the tournament. That was largely down to the fact he was joint top scorer. His career wasn’t defined by international football though; Odegbami also won three Nigerian Premier League titles in his career.
Number 7. Emmanuel Amunike
Despite playing only 27 games for his country, Emmanuel Amunike had a huge impact on Nigerian football. The talented winger scored two goals in Nigeria’s first ever FIFA World Cup in 1994. Later that year, he helped the Super Eagles win the African Cup of Nations Championship; that was the country’s second title. His performances across those tournaments saw him voted African player of the year. Fast forward a couple of years and Amunike won BBC African player of the year in 1996. That award was, in no small part, due to his performance in the Atalanta 96 Olympics.
It’s not like Amunike had a shabby career with honours won for both Sporing and Barcelona in the mid-nineties but he could have been so much more. Unfortunately, injuries didn’t do him too many favours. He left Barcelona in 2000 to join fellow Spanish side Albacete but only managed 17 league appearances over a two year stay; he retired at just 32.
Number 6. Victor Ikpeba
We’ve already touched on one player who won Olympic Gold in 1994; they were dubbed the ‘dream team’ and Victor Ikpeba is another member of that squad. Ikpeba is a man that will be well known in European circles having played for the likes of Monaco and Borussia Dortmund. He was small in stature at just 5’8 but had explosive pace, which made him a tough player to stop.
Victor Ikpeba was another member of the dream team, who won Olympic gold in 1994. The talented striker played for some of the top teams in Europe, including Monaco and Borussia Dortmund. He won the Ligue 1 title with Monaco, which led to the African footballer of the year award in 1997. Ikpeba could score from anywhere on the pitch, he could also play as a winger and a second striker. Victor Ikpeba was also part of the team that won the African Cup of Nations in 1994.
Number 5. Teslim Balogun
As we move into the top five of our look at the best Nigerian footballers of all time we honour a player few of the younger generation would have heard of. In his homeland though, Teslim Balogun is the man who changed it all. First he was the first professional to come out of Nigeria; then he became the first to play overseas. It’s a path many Nigerians have walked now but it was Balogun who paved the way.
The 6’3 centre forward represented several clubs in Nigeria before finally making his move to Europe; he joined Peterborough for the 1955/56 campaign. Statistics of Balogun’s career are limited but he was known for his ferocious ball striking ability – hence his nickname of ‘Thunder’ – and, after retirement from playing, he went on to coach the Super Eagles. His place in Nigerian history is assured with the Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos being named in his honour.
Number 4. John Obi Mikel
If the younger generation aren’t familiar with our last entry, they’ll definitely be familiar with the Chelsea legend that is John Obi Mikel. Mikel is one of the most decorated players in Nigerian history and, as of the time of writing, is the only player that is still active; he currently plays for Stoke City in England’s second tier.
After his early years were spent in Nigeria and Norway, Manchester United and Chelsea battled for his signature; the Blues won the race and the rest is history. He won a total of eight major honours with Chelsea including two league titles and a Champions League. His time in London is by far the most successful of his career although a Turkish Cup and the 2013 African Cup of Nations win with Nigeria deserve a mention too.
Number 3. Rasheed Yekini
When you talk about the best Nigerian footballers of all time it’s hard to ignore what is arguably the best goal scorer in the nations history; step forward Rasheed Yekini. Nobody has netted as many goals for the Super Eagles with his haul of 37 in just 62 appearances. They weren’t just meaningless goals either; he fired them to their first ever World Cup, scored their first ever goal at the tournament and then helped them to just a second African Cup of Nations title. He won the golden boot and golden ball in the process.
During his career, Yekini represented no fewer than 13 clubs during his globetrotting career with his longest spell coming in Portugal with Vitoria Setubal; he joined the then second tier side in 1990 and banged home 34 goals tow in them promotion before following that with 21 in Liga Nos. That goal tally saw him win top score in the league and the African Player of the Year award duly followed. He continued playing until the age of 41.
Number 2. Jay Jay Okocha
‘So good they named him twice’; that’s what they used to say about Jay Jay Okocha and, boy, could he play. He’s probably the most skilful player to have come out of Nigeria. When you consider that football is about entertainment, Okocha had it all. He could beat a man, he could pass short and long and he could score goals of the highest quality.
His reputation in Nigeria is enormous with the midfielder having won the nations Player of the Year award seven times as well as helping the Super Eagles to win the African Cup of Nations and Olympic Gold. It’s hard to believe but that is about it as major honours go. Despite his flair for football, Okocha was never picked up by a real superpower of European football with his longest spells coming for Eintracht Frankfurt, PSG and Bolton. Had he won more, he might have topped this list.
Number 1. Nwankwo Kanu
After counting down the best Nigerian footballers of all time we have finally reached number one. Nwankwo Kanu. If Okocha fell short in the fight for top spot due to not representing some of the biggest clubs in the world and not collecting major honours then it must be said that those aspects have helped Kanu’s case. He had a tremendous career.
At the age of just 17-years-old – and already a Nigerian Premier League winners – Kanu joined Ajax. With the Dutch giants he’d help them to three consecutive Eredivisie crowns along with the 1994/95 Champions League. Then came a short stint at Inter Milan where he added the UEFA Cup to his trophy cabinet. It’s perhaps the next move with which Kanu is most synonymous; he joined Arsenal. With the Gunners the lanky forward won a league and FA Cup double, a second FA Cup and became part of the Invincibles side of 2004.
Kanu wasn’t done there though. On leaving Arsenal, he joined West Brom and then went on to sign for Portsmouth. Everyone expected that the silverware days were over but Kanu helped Pompey to the FA Cup final and then starred in that match as Portsmouth beat Cardiff. It was another honour that Kanu could place alongside his Olympic Gold medal. Oh, and then there is just the small matter of him being twice named the African Player of the Year; he’s the only Nigerian to win that award twice.
There you have it, the best Nigerian footballers of all time.