The Premier League is the most popular football competition in Nigeria and that’s not an accident
At the end of the 1980s and the early 1990s, the Belgian league became a Mecca for Nigerian footballers.
Playing in the Jupiler league became a pilgrimage for Nigerian footballers and quite a number of former Super Eagles stars plied their trades there. Times have since changed as the Premier League has become a second home for Nigerian footballers.
How The Premier League Became Home
Since Kanu Nwankwo joined Arsenal in 1999, the Premier League has become Nigerians’ favourite league.
Many fans wanted to see their favourite players shine at the top level and English football was beginning to grow in prominence.
Kanu wasn’t the first Super Eagles star to play in the Premier League. Efan Ikoku, who represented the Super Eagles at the USA 94’ World Cup had starred in the Premier League.
Daniel Amokachi had joined Everton and left memories of being one of the best substitutes that was never called.
Celestine Babayaro was also one of Chelsea’s bright lights in 1997 when he joined the Blues. Kanu’s Arsenal prominence however gave the league a proper base in Nigeria.
The former Ajax forward won the Premier League and FA Cup multiple times at Arsenal and is one of the club’s most revered heroes.
What Kanu and to an extent, Babayaro had started was solidified by Jayjay Okocha’s breathtaking showmanship at Bolton Wanderers. His theatrics with the ball became one of the brightest moments in the league’s history and fans loved to see him.
Okocha joined Bolton at the age of 29 but had one of the brightest periods of his career at the club. Many Nigerians saw his stardom on a more regular basis as the Super Eagles provided the best of that in the past.
His time at Bolton also coincided with a period the Premier League had begun to settle in Nigeria and the advent of Supersport. Nigerians saw their superstars on a more consistent basis.
Since Okocha, many Nigerians have shone in the Premier League. Yakubu Aiyegbeni is one of the highest-scoring Africans in the history of the league as he starred from Portsmouth to Middlesbrough, Blackburn and Everton. He moved to the Premier League in 2003 from Israel’s Maccabi Haifa.
John Obi Mikel, is by far, the most successful Nigerian to have ever played in the Premier League considering his laurels at Chelsea. His transfer tussle between Chelsea and Manchester United is still one of the coldest stories of the football window war.
Obafemi Martins also took on Alan Shearer’s #9 jersey when he joined Newcastle in a £10m move from Inter Milan in 2006.
At Everton, Joseph Yobo had become a household name and a cult hero at the club, shining as David Moyes’ first signing for the club when he joined from Olympique Marseille in 2002.
The Premier League has always been the place to be for Nigerian footballers and it’s the ultimate goal for most Nigerians.
Osaze Odemwingie also shone as one of Nigeria’s best exports when he joined from Lokomotiv Moscow. The former Lille forward also represented Cardiff City in the league.
Other Super Eagles players who also played in the Premier League in the past were Taye Taiwo, Brown Ideye, Ahmed Musa amongst others.
Some of these moves have been forced, others for the allure of money and being closer to family but playing in England’s top division, whatever the size of the club, is considered a major step to more prominence for a Nigerian footballer.
The new generation for the evergreen desire
In the current Super Eagles setup, virtually every player has had one involvement or the other with English football.
Maduka Okoye is at Watford, Ola Aina was raised in English football, Semi Ajayi, William Troost-Ekong, Kenneth Omeruo, Jamilu Collins, Leon Balogun, Oghenekaro Etebo, Wilfred Ndidi, Kelechi Iheanacho, Joe Aribo, Frank Onyeka, Calvin Bassey, Emmanuel Dennis, Musa, Ademola Lookman, Alex Iwobi, and Taiwo Awoniyi have all been involved with English football.
After Awoniyi completed a £17.5m move to Nottingham Forest, and Aribo also made a £10m plus add-ons move to Southampton, it’s expected that more players will join the massive army.
The biggest Super Eagles star of the moment, Victor Osimhen has been continuously linked with a transfer to the Premier League all window and nothing is deemed impossible in football.
Moses Simon is also believed to be on the radar of various Premier League clubs including Newcastle and Leeds United.
It’s fast becoming the Nigerian show in England’s top division and the question on lips is, who will be the next Super Eagles player to jump ships?