Thursday, October 3, 2013

Happy birthday Nigeria: NIGERIA'S TOP 10 "GREATEST" FOOTBALL PLAYERS OF ALL TIME


Ever since Nigeria gained her independence in 1960 from Great Britain, Nigeria’s national team, the Super Eagles formerly known as the Green Eagles have continued to grow from strength to strength. Although Nigeria waited until the '70s before fully making an impact in the world of football, the Super Eagles have indeed come a long way. In April 1994, the Super Eagles of Nigeria ranked 5th in the FIFA World Rankings, the highest ranking achieved by an African football team. Some of their major achievement includes appearances in 3 of the last four World Cups, 3 wins in the Africa Cup of Nations (Current African champions), an Olympic medal, and silver medals to their credit
The Super Eagles players have shown their abilities on some of the biggest footballing tournaments in the world. I know, it may not seem all glam for now, however, over the years, their rise into an African footballing powerhouse has produced some of Africa's and the World's finest players, so, let’s take a looksee at some of the greatest players of all time.

10. John Mikel Obi (Midfielder). Obi started his football career when he was only 15; he started out with Plateau United in 2003, and then represented Nigeria in the World Under-17 youth tournament in Finland. After the competition, Mikel played for South Africa’s Ajax in Capetown, and later represented Nigeria again in the World Under20 championships. He won the silver ball as the second best player at the tournament. On the move again, this time to Europe, Mikel joined Lyn Oslo, his move to Europe was not without controversies as he made only six starts for Lyn Oslo moving, again to Chelsea in the Premier League, at the young age of 18.
Named Chelsea Young Player of the Year in 2007, till date, Mikel has made over 282 appearances so far and has scored a total of 3 goals for the Blues.
The 26-year-old midfielder contributed immensely in the just concluded Nations cup in South Africa and became an African nations champion as well a European club champion.

9. Taribo West (Defender). Although the former Derby County, Plymouth and Inter Milan defender will most likely be remembered for his very bizarre haircuts, West was quite a character on and off the field during his time. Prior to his retirement in 2005, West made over 41 appearances for the Nigerian national team, he was part of the Nigerian National team that won gold medal at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, USA and he also played in the 1998 and 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Career-1994–2005 Appearances-41 Goals-0

8. Peter Rufai (Goalkeeper). Rufai began his footballing career in 1986 playing for Stationary Stores FC and Femo Scorpions in the same year. Rufai became the very first Nigerian goalkeeper to play abroad as he signed for Beninese team Dragon FC in 1986. He eventually moved to Europe, his most successful spell being for Portuguese team SC Farense. In season 1993/1994 he played 12 games for Go Ahead Eagles. Halfway in the 1996/97 he moved to play in Spain where he joined giants Deportivo de La Coruña. Among official and unofficial matches, Rufai has played a total of 110 international matches for Nigeria and scored 1 goal against Ethiopia in a 6-0 win at the 1994 Nations Cup qualifier. He represented Nigeria at the World Cups in 1994 and 1998 and also led the Super Eagles team that won the 1994 African Nations Cup which was held in Tunisia.

7. Sunday Oliseh (Defensive Midfielder) Oliseh was highly successful in the '90s as he played for top clubs in all around the world including Ajax, Borussia Dortmund, and Juventus in an illustrious career that spanned ten clubs over 18 years in five different countries.
Oliseh made his reputation in the World Cups of 1994 and 1998, but will be forever remembered for his remarkable winning goal in Nigeria's stunning victory over Spain in the 1998 France World Cup, where the Super Eagles overcame one of the tournament's favorites in a shock 3-2 victory. He retired from international football in 2002 after being left out of the World Cup squad. In January 2006, at the age of 31, Oliseh retired from professional football after playing a half season for Belgian top club K.R.C. Genk
Career-1993–2002, Appearances-63, Goals-4

6. George Finidi (Right Winger). After moving from Nigerian Club Sharks of Port Harcourt in 1993 , George enjoyed a stellar playing career in Europe with fellow teammate Kanu Nwankwo . He was once dubbed the best right winger in the world. At Ajax, he became one of the best passers of the ball in Europe, he scored four goals in 27 games to help it win the Eredivisie title, which was also achieved in the following two seasons; additionally, as a starter, he appeared in consecutive UEFA Champions League finals, winning the 1994–95 edition against A.C. Milan. Alongside compatriot Nwankwo Kanu, he became the first Nigerian to win European club football’s most coveted accolade. He then left the Dutch giants to join Real Betis after turning down a bid from Real Madrid.The 6'3" winger scored 18 goals in 85 league appearances for the famous Dutch club.
Career-1991–2002, Appearances-62, Goals-8

5. Daniel Amokachi. (Striker) Amokachi better known as the “Bull” was discovered by the then coach of the National team, Clement Westerhof while playing for Ranchers Bee. Shortly after the discovery, Amokachi moved to Belgium to play for Club Brugge after joining the National team for their Nation’s Cup campaign in 1990. He was later signed by Everton, in the summer of 1994 after a successful wonderful World Cup in the US. Everton manager Mike Walker spent £3m to bring the big striker from Belgium club Brugge. Just ahead of the 1998 FIFA World Cup, an unfortunate injury will later cut short the players international football career. After leaving Beşiktaş in 1999, his playing career more or less ended
He was part of the team that participated in the 1994 and 1998 World Cups. He helped Nigeria lift the 1994 African Cup of Nations, as well as the Olympic gold in 1996 after beating Argentina in the final.
Amokachi is currently back in the National team serving as
Career-1990–1999, Appearances-42, Goals-14

4.Rashidi Yekini (Striker) Yekini started his professional career in Nigeria, he later joined African Sports National in Ivory Coast. Moving from the shores of Africa, Yekini’s next stop in the World was to Portugal, he then signed on to Vitória de Setúbal. He was a prolific goal scorer and he became the leading goal scorer in the Portuguese's League with 34 goals in 32 appearances for Vitória Setúbal, in the1993–94 season. The Nigerian striker bagged goals and broke records consistently during his 24-year career.
Yekini’s record breaking 37 goals in only 70 appearances is still a record for the Super Eagles, a record is still unmatched. He scored Nigeria's first World Cup goal, and also helped Nigeria win the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations, unsurprisingly he ended as the tournament's top goalscorer.
Sadly, Nigeria lost one of its greatest football legends in 2012. Yekini died in Ibadan at the age of 48 after he reported to be ill for an extended period of time.
Career-1986–1998, Appearances-70, Goals-37

3. Kanu Nwankwo (Striker). The 6’5ft football striker mainly known as ‘KANU‘ started playing professional football at age 15.kanu is one of Africa’s most decorated footballer in history. Kanu has won a UEFA Champions League medal, a UEFA Cup medal, three FA Cup Winners Medals. He is also one of few players to have won the Premier League, FA Cup, Champions League, UEFA Cup and an Olympic Gold Medal. He made the second-most substitute appearances in Premier League history, appearing from the bench 118 times. He is also a UNICEF ambassador
Nwankwo is a two time African Footballer of the year, he won the award in 1996, and 1999 respectively. Kanu was voted by his club Arsenal, as their 13th greatest Gunner of all time.
Kanu was a member of the Nigerian national team from 1994 until 2010, making his debut in friendly against Sweden. Aside from being part of the team that won the Gold medal at 1996 Olympics, Kanu participated in both the 1998 and 2002 FIFA World Cups. On 24 June 2010, Kanu ended his international career following Nigeria's exit from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Career-1994–Present, Appearances-82, Goals-13

2. Patrick Olusegun Odegbami (Forward) Odegbami was at some point in his career nicknamed “mathematical” the sobriquet was given by a radio commentator, Earnest Okonkwo mainly because of Odegbami’s ability to play accurately and also because the 6’1 ft. player attended and was graduated from Nigeria's premier technical institution, The Polytechnic, Ibadan. He studied Engineering. He started playing football in the Northern city of Jos, Nigeria where he grew up, Odegbami played for IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan his entire career, from 1970 to 1984.He won 46 caps and scored 23 goals for his country, and guided Nigeria to its first African Nations title at the 1980 African Nations Cup.

1. Augustine Azuka "Jay-Jay" Okocha (Midfielder) Okocha started his footballing career at age 20 and made his standing off his World Cup exploits in 1994.
Okocha has missed just one of Nigeria's 11 games during the three World Cups he played in. In the first game of the 1994 tournament, Nigeria notched a 3-0 victory over Bulgaria.
Okocha demonstrated his phenomenal footballing talents on the World Cup stage in the United States '94, France '98 (where he captained his nation) and Japan/South Korea '02. Okocha's silky smooth skills, and natural flair, made him a true World Cup great. He took Nigeria to the second round in the '94 and '98 tournaments. Okocha finished second in the African Player of Year award twice, becoming arguably the best player never to win the award. Jay Jay won the inaugural BBC African Footballer of the Year trophy. He later became the only player to retain the award.
In 2004, Pele listed Okocha in his list of the greatest 125 living players of all time. Okocha was voted the 12th greatest African footballers of the past 50 years in 2007.

A list of other top Nigerian footballers includes:
*Steven Keshi (defender)-Current Super Eagles head coach, till date, He is one of only two people, along with Egypt's Mahmoud El-Gohary,  to have won the Africa Cup of Nations as both a player and a coach.
*Christian Chukwu (defender), captained the Nigerian national team to its first ever Nations Cup win)
 *The late Mudashiru Lawal (midfieilder)
*Victor Ikpeba (forward), he played 31 international matches and scored 6 goals for Nigeria
 *Wilson Oruma (midfielder), was part of the team that won the 1996 Gold Olympic medal in Atlanta
*Austin Eguavoen (Defender)
*Samson Siasia (forward) would have been in the top 10, but then again, we have too many greats. Siasia has capped over played about 51 international games for Nigeria in which he scored 13 goals.
* Maureen Mmadu (midfielder), she has made over 100 appearances for the Nigeria women's national football team, including appearing at four FIFA Women's World Cups and has competed in both the 2000 and 2004 Summer Olympics
* Perpetua Ijeoma Nkwocha
 *Emmanuel Amunike



Let's have fun. Who's on your own list of 10 greatest Nigerian players of all time?