Football is a great sport widely loved all around the world. Nigerian is no exception. Nigerians absolutely love football. We have arguably the largest football fan base in Africa and can proudly stake a claim in the list of largest football supporting nations in the world.
Our love doesn’t just stop in fan support. Nigeria always boasts of a super talented pool of football players and of course, we have produced some great talents over the years. Since the country’s independence in 1960 till date, Nigeria has been churning out football players that have very well been ranked among the greatest talents the game has seen.
So let’s go right into this list we have compiled of the top Six Greatest Nigerian Football Players of all Time.
- Stephen Keshi
Keshi, the longest captain of the Nigeria national football team was a defensive midfielder who gallantly manned the back of the midfield during his day. He made the Nigerian number 4 jersey special and led the team off the field as a leader too.
Not sure which was his fav:
2006 ~ Qualified Togo to the WC
2010 ~ Inspired one of the greatest comebacks in AFCON history as coach of Mali.
2013 ~ Won AFCON against the odds with Nigeria.
2014 ~ R16, WC feat with Nigeria.
Captain, Leader, Coach, Legend. RIP pic.twitter.com/XUzZ9vKJoD
— Emmanuel Etim (@Emiearth) June 7, 2018
He started his career in 1981, featured in 4 African Nations Cup tournaments, and the 1994 World Cup for the motherland. He plied his trade for clubs both on the shores of Africa and in Europe (he led the way for several other Nigerians to follow) over a successful career.
He retired in 1994 and went on to coach the country’s national team. He led the team to the 2013 African nations Cup triumph making him the first Nigerian to win the competition as a player and a coach.
- Sunday Oliseh
Ajax Amsterdam, Borussia Dortmund and Juventus. These are some of the clubs that could boast of calling on the abilities of this talented man during his playing days. Oliseh was gifted with glorious accurate passing skills which he used to help Nigeria defeat Brazil and Argentina to win gold at the Atlanta ’96 Olympics. He also won the ’94 African Cup of Nations and represented the country in the USA ’94 and France ’98 World Cup tournaments.
#OnThisDay in 1998, Sunday Oliseh of @NGSuperEagles 🇳🇬 scored one of the great #WorldCup goals to give his side a first-up victory over Spain. See how he did it below: 👇https://t.co/I2PVT7e9FB pic.twitter.com/nR4qo3YxU8
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) June 13, 2018
Who can forget the winning goal he scored against Spain in France ’98? That ‘bullet’ volley from 25 yards which left many Nigerians screaming for joy and the Spanish goal keeper absolutely stunned. He retired in 2002 from playing.
Oliseh also coached the Super Eagles of Nigeria but resigned in 2016.
- Segun Odegbami
Happy birthday to Chief Segun Odegbami (@Mathematical7). Till date, he remains second top scorer of the @NGSuperEagles with 23 goals. Today we celebrate him at 66. An Africa Cup of Nations winner on home soil in 1980. 🎂🎂🍾🍾🍾 pic.twitter.com/UL35olLgYL
— The NFF 🇳🇬 (@thenff) August 27, 2018
‘The Mathematician’ as he was popularly called was a brilliant footballer on the field of play. He came into limelight after he helped Nigeria win her first African Nations Cup in 1980 in front of home fans, scoring two goals in the final match against Algeria. His fame only went up from there, capturing the hearts of Nigerians with his dazzling dribbles, rocket speed and pin point passes. Although Segun only played club football locally – for Shooting Stars of Ibadan, he had a very successful career with the super Eagles, netting 23 goals in 42 caps.
- Rashidi Yekini
You know that popular image of a Nigerian Player celebrating emotionally by grabbing and shaking the net of the goal post…well that was no other than this man, Rashidi Yekini, after he scored Nigeria’s first ever goal at the World Cup tournament. The match ended in a 3-0 win for the Super Eagles against Bulgaria.
On this day in 1994, Rashidi Yekini scores and celebrates Nigeria's 1st World Cup goal in a 3-0 win over Bulgaria in USA pic.twitter.com/R7WLLiAr6K
— NIGERIA FACTS & HISTORY (@NigerianMuseum) June 22, 2018
‘The Goal Father’, Yekini, went on to become Nigeria’s highest goal scorer of all time with 37 goals in 58 appearances for the National team. He did this by leading Nigeria to the country’s second African Nations Cup triumph in 1994 as both the tournament’s best player and highest goal scorer. Yekini played club football also for Shooting Stars of Ibadan and in Europe for Vitória Setúbal where he performed impressively.
He was named African footballer of the Year in 1993.
- Jay Jay Okocha
The fact that he isn’t claiming the number one spot on this list may be a cause for argument, that’s how good a footballer Jay Jay Okocha was. He is without any doubts or arguments the most skillful player ever to come out of the continent as a whole. Awesome blind passes, dazzling dribbles, stunning skills and mind blowing fee kicks; Okocha was the complete package and more!
Austin 'Jay Jay' Okocha holds the record for the Most Dribbles completed in a FIFA World Cup game since 1966 (15 for Nigeria against Italy in 1994). pic.twitter.com/MtSK2rZjms
— NIGERIA FACTS & HISTORY (@NigerianMuseum) June 2, 2018
This midfield maestro thrilled the world with his wonderful skills on the leather right from when he broke out from the U-23 National team in 1992. He was a member of the African nations Cup winning team in ’94, the team that went to USA ’94 and the gold-winning Dream Team of Atlanta ’96 amongst others. He played club football for several clubs across Europe like Eintracht Frankfurt, Bolton Wanderers, Paris Saint German, etc. Before his retirement in 2006, Jay Jay played for Nigeria in 5 Nations Cup and 3 World Cup tournaments.
Okocha was named the 2005 African Player of the Year after prior ranking second twice. He was the only Nigerian named in Pele’s top 100 living football legends. Even the great Ronaldinho confessed to having learned a few dribbling tricks and feints from watching Jay Jay Okocha play!
- Kano Nwankwo
“Papilo! One day, I know say you go make us proud” went that popular advert on television. And he went on to make us proud. Who am I going on about? None other than the legendary Kanu ‘Papilo’ Nwankwo.
Happy birthday to former Super Eagles captain,Nwankwo Kanu.
1. Kanu is the first and only Nigerian footballer to be named African Player of the Year twice.(1 August,1976)#mobilepunch @kanu @thenff #nigeria #punchng pic.twitter.com/A26qPAMzou
— The Punch Newspapers (@MobilePunch) August 1, 2018
Nigeria’s most decorated football player, Kanu is really the greatest player to come out of the country so far. Fondly known as ‘Papilo’ all around the country, Kanu was a great finisher during his playing days. He came into major recognition when he scored his way into the hearts of Nigerians with a brace to help Nigeria beat Brazil 4-3 at the Atlanta ’96 Olympics. The team went on to win that tournament.
Nwankwo also hit major success in club football with 3 winner’s medals as Eredivisie Champion with Ajax, a UEFA Champions League winner’s medal (also with Ajax) as well as that of the UEFA Cup (with Inter Milan). Kano was also a member of the FA Cup winning team in 2003 with Arsenal FC in England and the infamous ‘Invisibles’ team that won the English Premier League unbeaten!
Kanu was also two-time Africa Football Player of the Year in 1996 and 1999.
So there you have it, our Six Greatest Nigerian Footballers of all Time. Do you think we missed any one? Do feel free to leave us a comment and tell us what you think.