Cyriel Dessers’ €5 million switch from Dutch side Heracles Almelo to Genk continues the age-long tradition of Nigerian footballers seeking fame and fortune in Belgium.
Dessers joins the likes of Emmanuel Dennis, Paul Onuachu, and Imoh Ezekiel in following the footsteps of heroes past such as Stephen Keshi, Osaze Odemwingie, Victor Ikpeba, and Alloy Agu among several others.
During the 2019/2020 season, ten Nigerian footballers played 124 matches in the Belgium top flight, netting 32 times, the most of any nationals after the host country.
In fact, 90 Nigerians have featured in more than 3,000 games over the years for Belgian clubs in the Jupiler League, scoring 499 goals and contributing 212 assists at the last count.
As is often the case in life, while some struggled and left without making any mark, others excelled and moved on to greater heights for self and fatherland.
Soccernet.ng highlights ten of Nigeria’s most excellent stars ever to grace the pitches in Belgium.
NB: Players still on the payroll of Belgian clubs are not considered.
Samson Siasia, Lokeren
Former Nantes star Samson Siasia played football in Belgium, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and France. Still, it was in the Kingdom of Belgium that the Nigerian star enjoyed his best years in Europe.
Over six years playing solely for Lokeren, Siasia found the back of the net 31 times in over 150 league matches, the most goals the former Julius Berger striker scored for any club abroad.
Siasia was a key member of the Nigerian national team that conquered Africa at Tunisia ’94, and he even scored a goal at the Super Eagles first-ever appearance at the FIFA World Cup that same year.
As a coach, Siasia guided Nigeria’s youth team to glory at the 2005 U-20 African Youth Championship as well as a runner-up spot at the 2005 Under-20 World Cup.
He also coached the U-23 team to a silver-medal finish at the 2008 Rio Olympic Games.
Moses Simon, Gent
Moses Simon moved to Gent in January 2015 in the middle of the league campaign after delivering consistently excellent performances for Slovakian side Trencin.
In Belgium, he quickly adapted to his new surroundings and quickly became a vital member of the title-chasing Gent side.
Simon proved to be a brilliant signing, scoring seven league goals as he powered Gent to their first league triumph in their 115-year history just a few months after joining.
The young winger’s performances saw him nominated for the Ebony Shoe award and he was also voted into the Team of the Season, despite playing for less than six months.
Two months after that historic title triumph, Simon then helped Gent beat giants Club Brugge to the 2015 Belgian Super Cup as he assisted the winning goal.
After 21 goals and 18 assists in 136 games, Simon left Gent for La Liga side Levante before moving to Nantes, were his displays in his maiden campaign encouraged fans to vote him into the club’s Team of the Decade.
Austin Eguavoen; Gent, Kortrijk
Former international defender Austin Eguavoen was one of Nigeria’s foremost players in Belgium in the eighties after moving to Gent in 1986 following top performances on the domestic scene with ACB Lagos.
Eguavoen spent the next ten years – except for a single season he spent at Spain’s Ouense – playing for Gent and Kortrijk, and he was starring for the latter when he helped Nigeria to the African Cup of Nations title in 1994.
He later took his football to the United States, Russia, and Malta before he retired, but his time in Belgium remains the most productive of his playing career.
A no-nonsense defender at his prime, Eguavoen has since transitioned into coaching and has managed clubs in Malta, South Africa, and Nigeria.
Joseph Akpala; Club Brugge, KV Oostende, RSC Charleroi,
Born in Jos and groomed at the Pepsi Football Academy, Joseph Akpala terrorised the Nigeria Premier Division in the colours of Bendel Insurance, finishing as the league’s joint-top scorer with 13 goals in 19 games.
Royal Charleroi took him to Belgium in 2006, and he repaid the club’s faith in him by smashing in 18 goals the following year to finish as the league’s top goalscorer.
After 27 goals in 64 appearances for Charleroi, Akpala joined Club Brugge, who were in search of a strong, robust, and reliable goal-getter.
The Nigerian international did not disappoint, making 76 goals contribution – 56 goals, 20 assists – in just 168 matches for the Blue-Black.
But Akpala’s goals didn’t translate to titles for the Belgian side. The closest FCB came to winning a trophy during Akpala’s four-year stay was a runners-up medal in the 2011-12 league campaign.
Club Brugge thus sanctioned Akpala’s switch to Germany shortly after, but the striker returned to Belgium a few years later to join Oostende for whom he found the back of the net 21 times in 104 games across all competitions.
With 76 goals and 22 assists in 234 Jupiler Pro League games for three clubs, Akpala – capped seven times by Nigeria – is the most prolific Nigerian striker ever in Belgium, and therefore merits his place on this elite list.
Sunday Oliseh, RFC Liege
One of Nigeria’s most technically gifted defensive midfielder ever, Sunday Oliseh’s footballing qualities were visible even to the blind at a young age.
Oliseh spent a short time at Julius Berger before his performances impressed scouts who wheeled him away to Belgium when he was still a teenager.
And it was at Liege that the midfielder honed his skills to a high standard, and he was duly called up to the national team, where he played a crucial role as Nigeria became African champions for the second time ever in Tunisia.
Oliseh would later play for top European clubs like Ajax, Juventus and Borussia Dortmund, winning titles in the Netherlands, in Germany, and for the Italian side.
Henry Onyekuru; Eupen, Anderlecht
Henry Onyekuru was only a schoolboy when he departed Aspire Academy in Nigeria for Belgian Division two side Eupen in 2015.
The youngster’s goals helped the team get promoted to the Belgian First Division A in only his debut season.
After snubbing offers to move to a bigger club, Onyekuru then smashed in 24 goals in 41 appearances for the newly-promoted side to cause a scrambling among top European teams for his signature.
The fleet-footed forward joined Everton for 8 million euros, but work permit issues stopped him from featuring for the Premier League team, and he was loaned to Anderlecht in Belgium.
Another ten goals in 28 matches for the Belgian giants convinced organisers to name Onyekuru as the Most Promising Player of the Year in Belgium – an annual award given the best young player in the Belgian top-flight.
Now back in France with Monaco after his second loan spell at Turkey’s Galatasaray, Onyekuru’s place as one of Nigeria’s best in Belgium is assured.
Wilfred Ndidi, KRC Genk
Nigerian midfielder Wilfred Ndidi joined the former Belgian champions from Nath Boys Academy for less than two hundred thousand euros in 2015 and proved to be one of the club’s shrewdest buys of all times.
While garnering eighty-three matches, seven goals and three assists, he established his reputation as the best defensive midfielder in Belgium.
Noted for his ability to stop opponents from scoring, Ndidi incredibly won the 2016 Goal of the Year award in Belgium for his spectacular 30-yard strike against Club Brugge.
And it came as no surprise in January 2017 when Leicester City forked out over €17 million to bring the Nigerian to England, where he has continued on his upward trajectory.
At 23, the Super Eagles midfield enforcer has already amassed 34 caps for Nigeria, and he could be even more influential for the three-time African champions over the next decade.
Celestine Babayaro, Anderlecht
Celestine Babayaro will forever be associated with his near decade-long stay at Chelsea, but the first European club he played for was Anderlecht.
The Belgian club snapped up the talented fullback after he excelled in the Nwankwo Kanu-inspired Golden Eaglets squad that conquered the world at Japan ’93.
Though still a teenager, Babayaro was an ever-present member of the Anderlecht side that won the league and cup double in 1995.
His excellent displays also earned him two consecutive Belgian Young Footballer of the Year awards, as well as the Ebony Show Award.
Babayaro was still with Anderlecht when he helped Nigeria to the Olympics gold medal at Atlanta ’96.
Chelsea were convinced of Babayaro’s quality and, in 1997, paid a club-record fee for a teenager at the time to tempt Anderlecht to let go of their prized asset.
Daniel Amokachi, Club Brugge
Daniel Amokachi was just 17 when Clemens Westerhof took him to the 1990 African Cup of Nations tournament in Algeria where Nigeria fell at the last hurdle to the hosts.
Shortly after, the energetic young forward departed Nigeria Premier League side Ranchers Bees for Club Brugge, where he blossomed into a global star.
Thirty-five goals in only 81 league matches earned Amokachi two Belgian Ebony Shoe Awards – the first-ever player to win it, and the first to win it twice.
During the group stages of the 1992/93 UEFA Champions League, Amokachi scored a 17th-minute winner for Brugge against Russia’s CSKA Moscow to become the first-ever goalscorer of the newly-formatted championship.
He then topped it off with a winners medal at the 1994 AFCON and a successful World Cup debut appearance for Nigeria where he scored two goals.
Everton had seen enough, and the Toffees splashed a then-club-record fee of £3 million to take ‘The Bull’ to England.
Stephen Keshi; Lokeren, Anderlecht, RWD Molenbeek
Stephen Keshi rose to prominence on the local scene after proving his mettle in the New Nigerian Bank team that lifted the WAFU Cup in 1983 and 1984.
After spending a couple of years in the Ivorian League, the ‘Big Boss’ made his way to Belgium, signing for East Flanders side, Lokeren.
He was quickly snapped up by giants Anderlecht where he spent four hugely successful years winning two Belgian Cups titles as well as the Jupiler League in 1991.
Keshi also helped Anderlecht to the final of the 1990 European Cup Winners’ Cup – they lost 2-0 to Sampdoria – becoming the first Nigerian to play in the final of a major UEFA club competition.
Keshi left Belgium for France to team up with Strasbourg but returned a few years later to join RWD Molenbeek, the last club he played for before captaining Nigeria to 1994 AFCON glory.
Decades after playing his last game in Belgium, Keshi remains one of the most exceptional Nigerians to run across a pitch in that country.