The art of defending or attempting to stop the opposing team from scoring has been elevated to be the responsibility of the whole team, from the attackers to the goalkeepers.
Defenders, though, remain the primary actors involved in defending and a few Nigerian defenders were at the top of their game for the most part of 2022.
Here are Soccernet.ng’s top five picks of the finest Nigerian defenders of the outgoing year.
5. Bruno Onyemaechi, Boavista
Born in Owerri and raised as a midfielder, Sopuruchukwu Bruno Onyemachi’s evolution into a disciplined centre-back is incredible.
Even more impressive, is the 23-year-old’s rise from the lower leagues in Portugal two years ago to earn a first Super Eagles call-up in November.
In the first half of 2022, Onyemaechi was plying his trade in the Liga Sabseg for Feirense but he has not looked out of place one bit in the top flight of Portuguese football now that he is on loan at Boavista.
Onyemaechi was on the bench as Portugal defeated Nigeria last month and he could become a regular for the three-time African champions in the new year.
4. Bright Osayi-Samuel, Fenerbahce
Osayi-Samuel spent three years in League One with Blackpool and four seasons in the Championship with Queens Park Rangers playing predominantly as a flying winger.
But the 24-year-old has been deployed chiefly as a full-back since joining Fenerbahce in 2020.
2022 saw him feature for the first time in European competitions.
Osayi-Samuel performed creditably well in the two appearances he made in the UEFA Champions League, eight appearances in the UEFA Europa League, and two appearances in the UEFA Europa Conference League.
His fine performances earned him a spot in the Super Eagles squad for the friendly against Portugal in November. And he is believed to be on the radar of several big European clubs – including Atletico Madrid – ahead of the January transfer window.
3. Leon Balogun, Queens Park Rangers
Balogun started the year as a Rangers player and ended it in the colours of QPR.
The veteran centre-back missed out on the Super Eagles squad to the Africa Cup of Nations in January due to injury but he was back to help Rangers reach the final of the UEFA Europa League.
Rangers lost that trophy but Balogun lifted the Scottish Cup in May to add to the Premiership title he won last year with the Gers.
The Scottish giants let Balogun go at the end of the season and are already regretting that decision.
Rangers’ loss has been QPR’s gain, though, with the Championship side putting together a run of positive results since Balogun joined them. A beautiful year it has been for the 34-year-old former Mainz man.
2. Zaidu Sanusi, Porto FC
One defender who will not forget 2022 in a rush is Zaidu Sanusi.
The former Santa Clara left-back was mostly criticised by Porto fans since joining the club two years ago.
But the 25-year-old defender turned perceptions around completely when he scored the only goal in the 93rd minute of O Clássico (Watch it here) against Benfica to seal Porto’s 30th league title in May.
Sanusi’s first goal in the Champions League this season also powered Porto to their first win of the group stage (against Bayer Leverkusen) after two embarrassing defeats to Atletico Madrid and Club Brugge.
Porto won each of their remaining four matches to win Group B.
1. Calvin Bassey
2022 has to be the best year of Calvin Bassey’s young career.
At the turn of the year, Bassey became the joker in the park for then-Glasgow Rangers boss Giovanni van Bronkhorst who deployed him as a full-back, wing-back, and centre-back.
The youngster became unstoppable, playing a crucial role as Rangers made it to the Europa League final.
The Glasgow giants lost to Eintracht Frankfurt, but Bassey was named the man of the match and he was also included in the team of the tournament.
His brilliance earned him a move away from the Ibrox as Ajax splashed over 20 million euros to secure his signature.
Bassey became not only the most expensive sale Rangers ever made but also the most expensive Nigerian defender in history.
The defender is still struggling to adapt to football in the Netherlands but he looks on course to be one of the Super Eagles’ most dependable defenders over the next few years.