The French Ligue 1 is one of Europe’s top five leagues, and it has enjoyed the talents of many Nigerian stars both past and present.
Lille’s Victor Osimhen and Nantes Moses Simon were one of the stars of the 2019/2020 season that ended early due to the coronavirus.
The two Super Eagles stars were named their club’s player of the season respectively following a brilliant debut campaign.
They were not the only Nigerian players in the French top division this season, however, as there was also Samuel Kalu and Josh Maja who both played for Bordeaux.
But before Osimhen and Simon, there’ve been Nigerian stars who were also exceptional in the French top-flight. For that reason, Soccernet decided to create a list of best Super Eagles stars both past and present to have played in the Ligue 1.
10. Moses Simon(Nantes)
Number ten on our list is a current Super Eagles whose first year in France was the 2019/2020 season.
Moses Simon joined Nantes from Levante on loan, but he had no trouble settling down quickly. The former Gent player was a thorn in the flesh of opposition defences.
He made 30 appearances for Les Canaries, scoring nine goals and chipping in eight assists. His performance was enough to earn him the club’s player of the season.
9. Osaze Odemwingie (Lille)
Lille has been the home to three Nigerians, and all had success at the club. Osaze Odemwingie was the first Super Eagles star to play at the club.
The former Nigerian international played at Stadium Lille Métropole between 2005-2007, making 103 appearances at the club.
Osaze was one of the technically gifted strikers Nigeria ever had, and he exhibited that all through his career.
During his time with Les Dogues, Osaze scored 27 goals and recorded 11 assists. He left Lille in 2007 to sign for Lokomotiv Moscow before moving to the Premier League in 2010.
8. Wilson Oruma (Nancy, Lens, Marseille, Sochaux)
In terms of talents, Oruma was on the same level as Austin Jay-Jay Okocha even though he never got the same recognition as the latter.
The retired footballer was also a genius on the ball with his movement, while his creativity was as good as the best-attacking midfielders of the game.
Oruma had two separate spells in the Ligue 1 with the first coming between 1994-1998 before leaving for Turkey.
He returned to Ligue 1 when he signed for Sochaux in 2002, and also had stints with Olympique Marseille before leaving in 2008.
The 43-year-old made a total of 196 Ligue 1 appearances for four different clubs, scoring 11 goals and registering nine assists.
During his time in France, Oruma was a league champion with Lens, while he also won the French Cup twice with Sochaux.
7. Victor Osimhen (Lille)
Should he stay in Ligue 1 for a few more years, Osimhen will definitely rank higher when a new list is made.
The 21-year-old has taken Ligue 1 by storm in his first season after joining Lille from Royal Charleroi for 12 million euros last summer.
The Super Eagles star is already courting interest from Europe’s top clubs for his goalscoring prowess. In his first season, Osimhen scored 18 times in 38 games for Christophe Galtier’s side.
He was the league’s fourth-highest scorer with 13 goals, and that was enough to earn him a place in Ligue 1’s team of the season. The former Golden Eaglets striker was also named Lille’s player of the season.
With a lot of clubs scrambling for his signature, it’s looking likely that Osimmhen will leave this summer. However, he’s done just enough to earn himself a spot in the list.
6. Vincent Enyeama (Lille)
The former Super Eagles goalkeeper is the final member of the three Nigerians that played for Lille. Enyeama joined Lille from Hapoel Tel Aviv in 2011, but he was sent out on loan a year later to Maccabi Tel Aviv.
He returned to Lille in 2013 and was named the club’s first-choice goalkeeper that year. Goalkeepers are not often found in these types of list, but Enyeama’s achievement in the 2013/2014 season cannot be overlooked, and that’s earned him a spot in this list.
The 37-year-old went 11 games without conceding a goal that season and was just 114 minutes away from equaling the Ligue 1 record set by Gaëtan Huard’s in 1993.
Although he was relegated to the substitutes bench in the latter part of his time at the club, he still made 164 appearances, keeping 65 clean sheets.
5. Jay-Jay Okocha(PSG)
So good they named him twice. Austin Jay-Jay Okocha is arguably Nigeria’s most talented player ever.
The 43-year-old was one of the best playmakers the beautiful game has ever seen. Okocha was known for his dribbling skills, technique, creativity, and was also brilliant at set-pieces.
He started his career at Enugu Rangers before moving to Borussia Neunkirchen in 1990. After two years at the club, he was snapped up by Eintracht Frankfurt where he stayed for four years.
Turkish club Fenerbahce signed the mercurial midfielder in 1996, and he stayed with the Yellow Navy Blues for two years before Paris Saint Germain signed him.
In his four years stay at the club, Okocha dazzled fans with his tricks, and he also scored some spectacular goals including the one against Bordeaux.
He made a total of 112 appearances for the French Champions, scoring 20 goals in the process. While he did not win the league at the club, he won the French Super Cup in 1999.
4. Taribo West (Auxerre)
Known for his colourful hairstyle, West joined Auxerre in 1993 following a successful trial at the club.
Although he struggled in his first year at the club, he became a regular in the second season and made a name for himself. The former Derby star was one of the world’s top centre-backs in the mid/late 90s.
The retired footballer turned pastor joined Auxerre from Julius Berger, and he played an important role in the club’s history.
West along with former France coach Laurent Blanc helped Auxerre win their first league title in 1996. He was also a two-time French Cup winner.
He made 196 appearances for Les diplomates, and his exploits at the club earned him a mover to Inter Milan in 1997.
3. Taiye Taiwo(Olympique Marseille)
Taiye Taiwo is one of the few Nigerians that moved directly from the local league to one of Europe’s top five leagues.
The 35-year-old was left Lobi Stars at the age of 20 to sign for Olympique Marseille as a replacement for French world cup winner, Bixente Lizarazu.
While some players would’ve felt the pressure of replacing a household name like Lizarazu at a big club, Taiye Taiwo never had that problem, and he turned out to be a bargain for the French side.
The former Flying Eagles star amassed a whopping 271 appearances for Marseille and scored 25 goals in those games.
Taiwo who earned comparisons with Brazilian legend, Roberto Carlos, also provided 23 assists from his left-back position.
His honours with Marseille include a league title in 2009, two French Cups and two French Super Cups. He left the club to join Milan in 2011, but by then, he has earned his legendary status.
2. John Utaka(Montepillier, Lens and Stade Rennais)
Blessed with pace and skills, Utaka was on fire in his two different spells in France.
The Former Super Eagles attacker moved to France in 2002 when he joined Lens from Qatari side, Al-Sadd. He played 123 times for Lens, scoring 32 times before signing for another French club Stade Rennais in 2005.
Utaka’s two years at Rennes was less productive than his time at Lens, but he still managed to find the back of the net 28 times in 75 appearances.
He left Rennes in 2007 and signed for Portsmouth where he stayed for four years, winning the FA Cup with Pompey.
After his adventure in England, The 38-year-old returned to France with Montpelier, which proved to be his most successful period in terms of trophies.
Utaka played a crucial role in securing La Paillade’s first Ligue 1 title in its history. The former Nigerian international scored vital goals in games against PSG, Bordeaux and a brace in the win over Auxerre, which secured Montepilier its first league title.
Although he left the club two years later, Utaka is highly regarded at the club and was recently appointed as the team’s youth coach.
Utaka featured 239 times across his two spells in Ligue, scoring 59 times.
1. Victor Ikpeba (Monaco)
Who else to take the number one spot than someone who was named the prince of the city he played for.
Ikpeba started his European journey in Belgium, but in 1993, he was snapped up by Monaco who were managed by Arsene Wenger then. Although Wenger will later leave for Arsenal three years later, the diminutive striker enjoyed a productive time with Les Monégasques.
Nicknamed the ‘Prince of Monaco’, Ikpeba smashed in 76 goals in 217 games for the Principality club including the 13 he scored as Monaco romped to the league title in the 96/97 season.
He made his international debut while he was at the club, and won the African footballer of the year in 1997.
Aside from the league title, Ikpeba was also a two time French Super Cup winner. He left Monaco in 1999, but his time at the club and in France will never be forgotten.