Who were the most outstanding Nigerian footballers of the year 2021?
Soccernet’s Imhons Erons picks a dream team of the Super Eagles’ finest first eleven, whose performances were the highlights of the past 12 months.
GK: Maduka Okoye (Sparta Rotterdam)
Maduka Okoye gets the nod in goal just ahead of Kaizer Chiefs’ Daniel Akpeyi after a great end to last season when he helped Sparta Rotterdam finish in the Eredivisie’s continental playoff spots.
The young shot-stopper has struggled with Sparta this term, but he recently sealed a move to Watford, becoming Nigeria’s first million euro goalkeeper.
RB: Ola Aina (Torino)
Tyronne Ebuehi is rediscovering his best form at Serie A’s Venezia, but Ola Aina remains the preferred right-back option.
The former Chelsea prodigy did well on loan at Fulham despite the Cottagers’ eventual relegation.
And he has found favour again at parent-club Torino, where he is one of the key reasons Ivan Juric’s men have one of the best defences in the Italian Serie A.
CB: William Troost-Ekong (Watford)
Troost-Ekong has had a forgettable start to life in the English Premier League and would have forfeited his place in this team if Rangers’ youngster Calvin Bassey made his Super Eagles debut before the end of the year.
It is, however, unfair to ignore Ekong’s impressive contribution as Watford secured promotion to the English top-flight in the middle of the year.
A few mistakes here and there aside, the former Udinese defender was also vital to the Super Eagles making it to Afcon 2021 and the World Cup playoffs.
CB: Leon Balogun (Rangers)
The second centre-back slot was a straight fight between Chidozie Awaziem and Balogun, but the Rangers’ man just edged it because of his role in the Gers’ title triumph in 2021.
Balogun’s defensive partnership with Troost-Ekong was the most consistent during Gernot Rohr’s reign, with Balogun offering experience and good ball-carrying technique.
The ex-Wigan ace is injured, though, and will miss the Nations Cup in Cameroon.
LB: Zaidu Sanusi (Porto)
Paderborn’s Jamilu Collins was the Super Eagles’ most consistent left-back under Rohr. Still, Sanusi slips into this Dream Team XI following his energetic displays for FC Porto in the UEFA Champions League and the Portuguese top-flight.
The 24-year-old played his part as Porto finished runners-up in the Primeira Liga and won the Super Cup.
DM: Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City)
There are not many better defensive midfielders than Wilfred Ndidi in the world and certainly none better than him at that role from Nigeria.
Brentford’s Frank Onyeka is developing well, and Innocent Bonke featured for Malmo in the Champions League, while Midtjylland’s Raphael Onyedika is one to watch in the future.
But Ndidi outshone them and others by crowning his excellent performances in 2021 with an incredible FA Cup win with Leicester City.
CM: Joe Aribo (Rangers)
Oghenekaro Etebo’s struggles with injury have seen him lose his midfield spot in the national team, and this dream team, to Rangers talisman.
Arguably the best player in Scotland, Aribo was influential as Rangers romped to their first league title in a decade. The ex-Charlton Athletic star has become vital for the Super Eagles, barely two years after making his international debut.
Aribo heads to Cameroon 2021 as Nigeria’s most in-form midfielder, netting three goals in his last seven league appearances.
AM: Chidera Ejuke (CSKA Moscow)
Everton’s Alex Iwobi is often deployed in this role for the Super Eagles, but the midfielder is yet to convince at Goodison Park.
Chidera Ejuke, though, continues to use every match played for CSKA Moscow to raise his profile as one of the best dribblers in the game.
The former Heerenveen playmaker has won three consecutive player-of-the-month awards at CSKA this season, and he could be Augustine Eguavoen’s secret weapon at the 2021 Afcon.
FW: Kelechi Iheanacho
Nigerian attackers enjoyed a fantastic year in front of goal in 2021, and it is difficult to pick one and ignore another.
Umar Sadiq had a stunning year firing 19 goals for Almeria, but they were not enough to push the Segunda Division side to La Liga promotion.
Iheanacho, on the other hand, was a revelation at the start of 2021 as he racked in the goals that powered Leicester City to a historic FA Cup win in May.
The 2013 U-17 World Cup winner finished the year with 22 goals and 11 assists in 55 games for club and country and added the Community Shield in August to seal his spot in the team of the year.
CF: Victor Osimhen (Napoli)
While Taiwo Awoniyi’s time in Germany and Emmanuel Dennis’ four-month spell at Watford deserve a lot of credit, Victor Osimhen takes the centre-forward role for another breathtaking year.
The Napoli lad started and ended the year 2021 with Coronavirus and injury, yet he was able to show his quality in the Serie A and the Europa League in between.
At the international level, Osimhen’s goals were crucial during the Afcon and World Cup qualifiers, with his five goals during the campaign for the latter bettered by no other.
Unfortunately, the former Lille striker will not be in Cameroon to torment African defenders and challenge for the top scorer award, won by his idol, Odion Ighalo, at Afcon 2019.
FW: Paul Onuachu (Genk)
Terem Moffi was impressive in France, while Samuel Chukwueze lifted the Europa League with Villarreal, but Paul Onuachu snatches the last striker’s spot on this list.
No Nigerian striker scored more than Onuachu’s 30 goals in 45 games for Genk in the year under review.
The 27-year-old won the Belgian Cup with the Smurfs and claimed the prestigious Ebony award following a historic goalscoring campaign that got the attention of everyone in Europe.
It is still a mystery how he was unable to seal a move to a bigger club in the summer, but Onuachu has returned to doing what he knows how to do best.
The former Midtjylland man has 12 goals in 18 league matches already this term, and only a hamstring injury has stopped him from joining the Nigerian party to Cameroon.