Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. It is home to over 200 million people with diversity in culture, religion, and tribe. The nation sits among the top in the movie industry, economy, and music where Africa is concerned.
It is common knowledge that the views of the people are greatly divided concerning a number of things. But one thing that brings everyone together in Nigeria is sports. And not just any sports, but football to be precise.
Football is undoubtedly one of the most favored sports in the heart of Nigerians. Because of the passion shown for the sport, many sports betting companies are attracted towards the nation.
The national football team is called “Super Eagles” and they are unarguably among the best national teams in Africa. Nigeria has successfully won three Nations Cup competitions. The national team has qualified for the World cup six times. And they have produced some of the best football players Africa has ever seen.
Football is one of the most argued topics in Nigeria. Everyone seems to have their own opinion, and there never seems to be a consensus.
In this article, we will be looking at a topic that is pretty controversial among Nigerians. Who are the top Nigerian footballers of all time? Below is a list I’ve compiled based on my personal opinion as well as public preference. You may or may not agree with it, but either way, you’re welcome to share your thoughts. I would love to know your opinions.
Top 10 Nigerian footballers of all time
10. Vincent Enyeama
At number ten is my favorite Nigerian goalkeeper of all time. He was born on August 29th 1982. Vincent played as the goalkeeper of the National team. Back when he played for the Enyimba football club, he was their best goalkeeper. He won CAF Champions League trophies in 2003 and 2004.
His first appearance on the national team was during the 2002 World Cup against England. Vincent Enyeama gave me good childhood memories with his classic saves. He performed excellently during the match against a team with great players like David Beckham and Michael Owen.
He also showed classic skills during the 2010 World cup. In one of the World Cup matches, he was the MVP of the match after securing great saves from shots taken by Lionel Messi.
Vincent later became the captain of the National team and played 101 times for the team.
9. Stephen Keshi
Stephen Keshi played as a central back for the national team. He started his professional career around 1981. He was known as the “Big Boss” because of his natural leadership qualities.
Keshi was an excellent central defender and served as the captain of the national team longer than anyone else. He is also said to be the person who opened the door to playing abroad for Nigerian footballers. He was the one who captained the team during their first World Cup appearance in 1994.
After his retirement from the national team, he became the coach in 2011. He managed the national team into the second round of the World Cup in 2014 after sixteen years in not qualifying to the next round. He is said to be the only person to have won the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) twice. As a player in 1993, and as a coach in 2013. Sadly, he passed away due to a heart attack in 2016 at the age of 54. But his legacy lives on!
8. Sunday Oliseh
He was known for his strength and had exceptional skills that set the eyes of many on him. Sunday Oliseh won significant trophies in Bundesliga, Eredivisie and UEFA Cup. He won a gold media at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics. He also won the AFCON in 1994. Furthermore, he played 54 times for the national team and scored four goals in his career. His goal against Spain in the 1998 World Cup will remain a memorable feat in the minds of many.
7. Taribo West
This is a player known for his signature hairstyle. Back in the day, it was sometimes braided with the colors of the national flag. He was a formidable left back and was a member of the Atlanta 1996 gold-winning Olympic team. Taribo West captained the national team 41 times. He made a name for himself in international clubs like AC- Millan, Plymouth, Derby County and Auxerre. This guy made a huge impact on the Nigerian national team and later had a local club named after him.
6. Segun Odegbami
Segun Odegbami is a player many Nigerians of the older generation will find hard to forget. He was a formidable football player that was nicknamed “Mathematician”. His prowess in dribble speed and calculation earned him that nickname. He captained the national team 46 times and was among the top scorers during AFCON 1980. There, he led the nation to take the trophy for the first time ever.
Although he never played for an international club, he played locally with the Shooting stars of Ibadan. Because of his incredible agility at the right wing, his legend spread among the older generation, spreading even to the younger generations.
5. Emmanuel Amunike
This is a player that is undoubtedly one of the best wingers among Nigerian players. He was the most successful player on the level of the national team during his time. He was also known for his incredible dribbling skills and could easily slip past defenders during his prime.
It was him who scored the wining goal for the nation in 1994 AFCON Tunisia, and Atlanta 1996 Olympic final. He also won himself the CAF African footballer of the year in 1994. His incredible skills set the eyes of big international clubs on him, and he ended up playing for Barcelona in 1996.
This is a man who has become a legend, nearing something close to a myth to many Nigerians. His folklore has spread among Nigerians for over 60 years since 1949.
Balogun had incredible shot power that many myths were later attributed to him: Some say that he literally ripped a goal net and tore open the stomach of a player with his shot power.
Although the numerous stories were never proven to be true, he was undoubtedly a great Nigerian player. He helped bring limelight to the country during a time when the nation was largely unknown. Teslim Balogun was also the first Nigerian football player to sign a contract with a professional football club in the UK known as FC Peterborough.
3. Rashidi Yekini
Center forward Nigerian player, Rashidi Yekini was a football icon in the country. He remains one of Africa’s best players of all time and is the greatest goalscorer in the history of the National team. He was known for his legendary speed and was a terror to defenders.
Rashidi captained the national team 53 times and scored 37 goals. He scored Nigeria’s very first World Cup goal against Bulgaria in USA 1994. He won the award for African footballer of the year in 1993 and was the very first Nigerian player to win the award. Sadly, he passed away at the age of 48 in May 2012.
2. Nwankwo Kanu
Kanu was truly a heavenly gift to the National team. Popularly known as “Papilo” he is Nigeria’s most decorated player till date and sits among Africa’s best ever players. Kanu has captained the team 86 times. He has played for some of the greatest international clubs including Inter Milan, Ajax and Arsenal.
With his amazing skills, he has won the UEFA Cup with Inter Milan and the UEFA Champions League trophy with Ajax. He also won an Olympic gold medal, three FA Cups and One English Premier League. Furthermore, he captained the under 17 national team and won the World cup in 1993. He was awarded the CAF African footballer of the year twice in 1996 and 1999. Also, his club, Arsenal, voted him as the 13th greatest Gunner of all time. In 1999, Kanu scored a phenomenal hat-trick for Arsenal to secure victory against Chelsea in the last fifteen minutes of the match.
1. Austin “Jay-Jay” Okocha
My all-time favorite is a player who is the very epitome of football itself. This is a player with jaw dropping skills that will leave you gobsmacked. Although he didn’t have as many awards as some other great Nigerian footballers, he was a player that focused on his passion rather than achievements. I am yet to see an African player that rivals Okocha in terms of dribbling skills.
His skills were so great that he set the eyes of the FIFA president on him, making him enjoy Nigerian football for its entertainment.
Okocha was among the team that won the Olympic gold medal for the nation in Atlanta 1996 and AFCON in 1994. He was listed by Pele in 2004 among the 125 living players of all time. He was also voted in 2007 as the 12th African greatest footballer in 50 years. Okocha also won the BBC African footballer of the year award in 2003 and held it in 2004.
There are also legends about him that puts his dribbling skills at god level. It is rumored that when he was in PSG, he was a mentor to the world renowned Brazilian player Ronaldinho. It is also common knowledge that their dribbling skills are quite similar.
One of Okocha’s greatest legacies was a feat he achieved in Germany. This was when he rose to worldwide recognition after dribbling a whole defensive line. He then went on to dribble world renowned German goalkeeper, Oliver Kahn, two times before placing the ball in the net.
There are still many incredible Nigerian players that did not make this list. If you have other opinions about the list I’ve compiled, kindly comment below. I’d like to know your thoughts.