There are many things that Nigeria lacks. But football talent is not one of them. Right from the time the country gained its independence till the present day, it has been a force to reckon with in the world of football. It was Nigeria’s exploits in the Atlanta Olympic tournament in 1994 that made one of the highly rated football analysts to declare that the future of football belongs to Africa. However, before the era of the dream team that took the world by surprise, several Nigerian players have been doing wonderful things both in the national team and club levels. So, below is a list of the 10 best Nigerian footballers of all time.
10. Stephen Okechukwu Keshi
Stephen Okechukwu Keshi of blessed memory cannot be left out in the list of the best footballers that Nigeria has produced. Born in the Bauchi state of Nigeria in 1962, he started playing football at a very tender age. He was among the highest scoring defenders, and also did his defensive job excellently. The longest serving Nigerian captain was among the pillars of the Nigerian team in the 1994 world cup. Participating in five CAF Nations cups, he won one as a player and later won another as a coach, making him the second person to make that record. He played for Lokeren, Anderlecht, RC Strasbourg, Sacramento Scorpions and a host of many other clubs.
9. Teslim ‘Thunder’ Balogun
He was the most popular footballer from the country in his era. He made giant strides in the country’s football, and since 1949, his popularity has soared. His shot was one of the strongest then, and that was why he was nicknamed ‘Thunder’. He was actually the person that opened the door for Nigerian professionals to play in foreign clubs, as he was the first to achieve this with FC Peterborough in the UK. He made the country popular in the world of football. That explains why the Lagos state stadium is named after him.
8. Emmanuel Amunike
He was always the guy that scores the decider in matches, and this made him very popular. It was him who gave the African cup of nations to the country in 1994 with his decider. When Nigeria came to the world cup for the first time in 1994, he also scored two important goals. In the national team, he recorded more successes than any other player, winning the AFCON in 1994 and the Olympic Gold in 1996. He played professionally for Barcelona FC, Sporting Lisbon and Zamalek, winning the CAF player of the year in 1994.
7. Taribo West
Many people will remember him for his look and character. But when it comes to being tenacious as a marksman, just point the player out for him, and he will make sure the player achieves nothing in the pitch. He was so effective in man marking and one on one defense and was among the gold medalists in the Atlanta Olympics. He has since been ordained a pastor, even though he was so fetish during his playing years.
6. Segun Odegbami
He was so good in tactics that he was nicknamed the mathematical Odegbami. He started his career in Jos, Nigeria and played for the shooting stars of Ibadan till he retired in 1984. During these years, he featured for Nigeria 46 times and scored 23 goals. It was him that led Nigeria to their first Nations Cup triumph in 1980. He also intended running for the FIFA presidency, but later dropped the intention.
5. Sunday Oliseh
He had a long spell that was characterized by success. He is among the best the country has produced when it comes to the defensive midfield position. During his playing days, he had stints at Juventus, Dortmund, and Ajax. It was his goal that gave Nigeria victory over Spain in the 1998 world cup that was hosted by France. Spain was among the favorites for the tournament. But Nigeria beat them 3 goals to 2. He had 4 goals in his 63 games for the country.
4. Victor Ikpeba
The prince of Monaco is unarguably among the best Nigeria has had. You don’t get to be named the prince of such a football club and city if you are not very good. He was so lethal in the French Ligue 1 that his skills were told wherever he goes. He scores amazing goals with his heavy shot, making him rack 84 in 102 appearances for the French club. In the national team, he was voted the CAF player of the year in 1997, and also picked a gold medal with the dream team in the 1996 Olympics.
3. Rashidi Yekini
He remains the man with the record of the all-time highest scorer for the country. He was so prolific in attack that defenders are always afraid of him. In 70 appearances for the country, he scored 37 goals. He started playing for the shooting stars at his young age, and later moved to Vitória Setúbal in the Portuguese league where he won the highest scorer with 34 goals in 32 appearances in 1993-1994. He got the first world cup goal for Nigeria, won the 1994 nations cup with the country, and became the highest scorer of the tournament.
2. Austin Jay Jay Okocha
He is one of the best two the country has had. He was so skillful that world best players like Ronaldinho were learning from him. He started his career early enough, and at 20, he was already playing for Nigeria national team. He played in the 1994 world cup, and was a runner up in CAF player of the year award two times. He later won the BBC footballer of the year. He has been listed by Pele as one of the best 125 living players. He is the 12th best player in Africa, and scored the 1000th goal in CAF. His club playing experience took him to PSG, Bolton Wanderers and Hull City.
1. Nwankwo Kanu
He remains the best export from Nigeria in terms of football. He was a player with the most significant showings, and scored goals when it matters most for both his country and the clubs he played for. ‘Papilo’ as he is popularly called, started playing in his local league club, Iwuanyanwu National. He featured in the 1993 Under 17 World Cup, and was the captain of the team that won the gold medal in Atlanta 96, scoring the golden goal that gave Nigeria the medal. In club football, he has more trophies than any other Nigerian player, winning the Champions League, Uefa Cup, three Fa Cups and the English Premier League. For Arsenal, he is the 13th greatest gunner of all time. He was also phenomenal with Ajax and Ac Milan.