Nigeria football is on the rise yet again with several of the country’s talented youngsters gaining prominence in some of Europe’s top leagues.
Alex Iwobi is an established senior team player with Arsenal. Victor Osimhen is close to making a sensational switch to Champions League-bound Lille. Kelechi Iheanacho is getting back in the big time with Leicester City.
But for everyone of these stars, there are dozens of others who never really hit the big time after showing so much promise earlier on.
Soccernet’s Imhons Erons x-rays five of Nigeria’s most gifted wonderkids who missed their way in the game.
At just 18 years old, Ogbeche was already a first team player at French giants PSG and staring for the Super Eagles at the 2002 World Cup.
His spectacular over-head kick miss in a friendly for the national side was thought to be the onset of a great goalscoring run for club and country but it rather defined a career that sparkled but never peaked.
Hit and miss.
The Ogoja-born striker never scored up to ten goals a season for any of the European sides he played for despite his undoubted talent on the ball.
Exquisite first touch and a top class finish! We are rewinding back to Bartholomew Ogbeche's goal against Jamshedpur FC at the Sarusajai. ⚽😍#ThrowbackThursday #8States1United #StrongerTogetherpic.twitter.com/H85Kxpm6ua
— NorthEast United FC (@NEUtdFC) May 2, 2019
Now 35 and running down the clock on an uninspiring career, fans can only look back with pity at a talent that promised so much but delivered so little.
There is Messi the Great. But once upon a time, Nigeria had her own ‘Little Messi‘ who was clearly almost as gifted as the original football phenomenon.
He burst into the public’s consciousness as a precocious 16-year-old talent whose marauding, Messi-like runs helped Nigeria reach the final of the U-17 World Cup in 2009.
It appeared he had enough in him to sign for Arsenal, Athletico Madrid or AC Milan or any of Europe’s top clubs but Okoro ended at Almeria in Spain.
Even there, he was lost among the reserves as the first team was too much a step for him to take.
— League Management NG (@LMCNPFL) October 2, 2016
Okoro returned to the Nigeria Premier Football League where he is seeing out the last days of a career, the highlight of which is the story of too many ‘what ifs’ and ‘if only’.
In 2007, the Golden Eaglets of Nigeria arrived in Korea and, defeating all comers, emerged as the champions of the world U-17 championships.
One wunderkid was crucial to that triumph. His name: Macauley Chrisantus. He outscored and outclassed the likes of Christian Benteke (Belgium), Danny Welbeck (England), Yann M’Villa (France), Eden Hazard (Belgium), Toni Kroos (Germany), and Victor Moses (England) to win the Golden Boot with six goals.
Where's Macauley Christantus? pic.twitter.com/SR22l0sXkl
— Art Vandelay (@gvzie) July 8, 2016
But while Kroos is a World Cup winner; Hazard, once the best player in England, is now with the biggest club in the world; and Victor Moses is an Africa Cup of Nations winner with Nigeria; our dear old Chrisantus, 28, recently joined Iran’s Zob Ahan, after spending time with the likes of Spanish second division side UD Las Palmas.
Going by his current ratings, a tsunami will have to happen in heaven for Chrisantus to ever play for the Super Eagles.
There has to be something extraordinary about anyone tagged as the ‘next Jay Jay Okocha‘.
But already an African and World Champion by age 17, Ibrahim was justifying all the media hype.
By the time Rabiu made Goal.com’s list of 10 African Players to Watch, and The Times’ Football’s Top 50 Rising Stars it became obvious that Nigeria had uncovered another gem.
How wrong we were!
Fast forward eleven years and Rabiu has still not made any meaningful impact at senior level and a hen has a better chance of growing teeth to Rabiu winning his second Super Eagles cap.
Some people say he would have been the perfect Emmanuel Amuneke-Esque solution the Super Eagles left-wing clearly needed.
I believe he would have been better than George Finidi and Amuneke put together!
Opabunmi was that good.
When boys his age were busy writing sweet love letters to teen girlfriends, Femi was scoring one of the tournament’s sweetest goals to help Nigeria to another Africa U-17 glory.
Still only 17 years old, he scored for the Super Eagles on his debut and went on to appear at the FIFA World Cup in the same year, becoming one of the youngest players ever at the Mundial.
— Dan Ikpoyi (@danikpoyi) April 23, 2018
But how this boy’s sweet story suddenly turned sour will remain hard to explain in black and white.
One minute, most of Europe’s biggest clubs were queuing up to have the wing wizard sign for them. The next moment, he was down and out.
Before you could even point an accusing finger at the devil, Femi had quit football due to serious eye problems at the age of 22!
One thing stays clear, though: his was a star that never blossomed.