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Top 10 Nigerian players of all-time 

Jay Jay Okocha (right) was one of the most talented footballers of his generation.
Jay Jay Okocha (right) was one of the most talented footballers of his generation.
Elvis Ume O

Nigeria is regarded as the 'Giant of Africa' and this moniker holds true in multiple aspects, ranging from the music and movie industries, food, culture, economy and socio-political might.

The nation is home to over 200 million football-crazy fans and the passion has translated into success on the field, with the Nigerian National Team hands down one of the best on the African continent.

With Three Nations Cup triumphs, Nigeria is one of the most decorated if the history of Afcon, while they have also qualified for the World Cup on six occasions.

Throughout history, the West African nation has produced some of the best players to have ever graced a football field and most of these players can hold their own anywhere in the world.

In this piece, we shall be ranking the 10 best Nigerian players in history, factoring their contributions to the national team and overall impact on the game of football.

Honorable mentions: Muda Lawal, Peter Rufai, Taribo West, Victor Ikpeba, Emmanuel Amuneke


#10 Segun Odegbami

SeOdegbami in action for Nigeria
Segun Odegbami in action for Nigeria

Segun Odegbami was a mainstay in the Green Eagles teams that held sway in the 1970s and 1980s.

Fondly called 'Mathematical', Odegbami proved his mettle on the right flank of midfield and was one of the best right wingers on the African continent in his heydey.

He was a 'one-club man' in his career and represented only Shooting Stars of Ibadan, playing a key role in the dominance enjoyed by the club both domestically and on the continent, with his last match for the club coming in the defeat to Zamalek in the final of the 1984 African Champions Cup.

Odegbami made his debut for the Nigerian national team in 1976 and over the next five years, he represented the country 47 times, scoring 22 goals and was named team captain after the retirement of Christian Chukwu.

#9 Christian Chukwu

Christian Chuwku (right) leading Nigeria out in the final of the 1980 Nations Cup
Christian Chuwku (right) leading Nigeria out in the final of the 1980 Nations Cup

Christian Chukwu made history as the first Nigerian captain to lift the African Nations Cup when he skippered his country to victory at the 1980 edition on home soil.

The Chairman as he was fondly referred to, was a prime defender, who marshaled the defense with consummate ease while his leadership abilities both on and off the field earned him widespread acclaim.

Upon his retirement, he ventured into football management and was appointed as the coach of Nigeria in 2003, a position he held until 2005 when he failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup.


#8 Sunday Oliseh

Sunday Oliseh in action for Nigeria
Sunday Oliseh in action for Nigeria.

Sunday Oliseh functioned as a holding midfielder in his playing career and possessed the physicality and strength needed to excel in his position, while also having the technique and skillset that saw him regularly contribute to attacks.

He represented some renowned clubs like Ajax, Juventus, and Borussia Dortmund, winning a number of major trophies, including the Eredivisie, Bundesliga, and UEFA Cup.

On the international scene, he was a part of the Olympic Gold medal-winning team in Atlanta 1996, as well as the Nations Cup in 1994, while he also appeared at two World Cups in 1994 and 1998, with his wonder strike from distance in the 3-2 victory over Spain ranking as one of the greatest moments in World Cup history.

In total, he represented Nigeria 54 times, scoring two goals and he rose through the ranks to become the team captain.

Also read: Top 5 Nigerian players in world football currently

#7 Stephen Keshi

Stephen Keshi celebrates winning the 1994 Afcon as captain
Stephen Keshi celebrates winning the 1994 Afcon as captain

Stephen Keshi followed in the footsteps of his mentor Christian Chukwu by lifting the Nations Cup 14 years after he did so in 1980.

Like Chukwu, Stephen Keshi also played in the heart of defense and was nicknamed 'The Big Boss' because of his leadership abilities.

After making history by qualifying unfancied Togo for the 2006 World Cup, Keshi was subsequently hired as the Nigerian coach in 2011 and he became the first man to lift the Nations Cup as captain and coach. He also led Nigeria to the second round of the 2014 World Cup for the first time since 1998.

Sadly, he passed on in 2016 aged just 54 after a heart attack.


#6 Vincent Enyeama

Vincent Enyeama celebrates qualification for the 2014 World Cup
Vincent Enyeama celebrates qualification for the 2014 World Cup

Vincent Enyeama was the first-choice goalkeeeper of the Enyimba side that won consecutive CAF Champions League titles in 2003 and 2004 and from there went on to represent clubs like Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Tel Aviv, and Lille.

He made his national team debut at the 2002 World Cup in a dead rubber fixture against England and impressed everyone by making tremendous saves to keep out an attack that boasted the likes of Michael Owen, Emile Heskey, and David Beckham.

He went on to represent the country a further 101 times and had a memorable performance at the 2010 World Cup, pulling off spectacular saves that saw him shut out Lionel Messi and named the best player of matchday 1 and matchday 2.

Enyeama was in goal for the Nigerian team that won the 2013 African up of Nations and was voted into the Team of the Tournament.

Also read: A brief history of Nigeria’s performance at the FIFA World Cup

#5 Joseph Yobo

Joseph Yobo makes a sliding tackle at the 2014 World Cup
Joseph Yobo makes a sliding tackle at the 2014 World Cup

Joseph Yobo begun gained traction with his displays for the Nigeria Under 20 side that prosecuted the World Cup on home soil in 1999 and two years later, he made the step up to the national team.

He is the joint-most capped player of all time for Nigeria (101 appearances alongside Vincent Enyeama) and represented his nation at three World Cups and six AFCONS, captaining Nigeria to her 2013 triumph in South Africa.

His club career was also tremendously successful and he spent a decade at Goodison Park where he was an ever-present member of the side and was one of only seven players to play every single minute of the 2006/2007 Premier League season.

For many years, he was the foreigner with the most appearances in the history of Everton until he was overtaken in 2012.

He began his career as a right-back but was gradually shifted into the center of defense towards the middle of his career and bowed out from international football after Nigeria's ouster from the 2014 World Cup.

#4 John Obi Mikel

John Obi Mikel led Nigeria at the 2018 World Cup
John Obi Mikel led Nigeria at the 2018 World Cup

Big things were expected from John Obi Mikel after his starring role in guiding Nigeria to a second-placed finish at the 2005 World Youth Championship in The Netherlands and for his efforts, he was named as the second Most Valuable Player of the Tournament behind a certain Lionel Messi.

Many opined that Mikel had a better tournament than the Argentine icon and it was symbolic that they were comparable at age-grade level but that was where it ended, as whereas Messi went on to become one of the all-time greats, Mikel still had a solid career that did not quite match expectations.

This is in no way to suggest that his career was beneath par, far from that, as he was an integral part of the all-conquering Chelsea teams that redefined English football.

Mikel ended his Chelsea spell by winning all the major trophies including the Champions League, Premier League, FA Cup and Europa League, while he was also instrumental in Nigeria's triumph at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.

Mikel also captained Nigeria to a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympic Games and won silver at the 2008 edition.

His conversion from attacking midfield to holding midfield had a telling impact on his national team career, as he did not morph into the player many expected but he made 89 appearances for the Super Eagles before announcing his retirement after the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.

#3 Rashidi Yekini

Rashidi Yekini in actionat the 1994 World Cup
Rashidi Yekini in action at the 1994 World Cup

Rashidi Yekini was a prime goalscorer of epic proportions in his heydey and to this day, remains the highest goalscorer in the history of the Nigerian National Team.

He begun his career in the Nigerian scene where he represented clubs like Abiola Babes, Shooting Stars, and UNTL Kaduna before making the move abroad to join Africa Sports in Ivory Coast.

From there, he went on to Portugal and joined Vitoria Setubal where he once again proved his mettle in front of goal, finishing as the Primeira Liga's top scorer in 1994 with 21 goals, following on from his career best the previous season where he scored 34 goals from just 32 matches to help the club achieve promotion.

For his performances with Setubal, he became the first Nigerian to be named African Player of the Year in 1993 and he followed that up by helping the country to qualify for her first-ever World Cup appearance in 1994.

There were further firsts for Yekini in USA and he scored the maiden goal by the country at the Mundial, with his expression of joy by grabbing onto the net in celebration against Bulgaria one of the most defining images of the 1994 World Cup.

He was part of the squad at the 1998 World Cup but was unable to match his lofty heights from the previous year.

In total, Rashidi Yekini represented Nigeria 58 times, scoring 37 goals and he tasted success at the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations where he finished as the Golden Boot winner and was also named the Best Player of the Tournament.

Sadly, he passed on in May 2012, aged just 48.

Also read: A brief history of Nigeria’s performance at AFCON

#2 Jay Jay Okocha

Jay Jay Okocha in acti at the 1998 World Cup
Jay Jay Okocha in action at the 1998 World Cup

A case can be made for Okocha to be considered as the most talented player to come out not just from Africa but indeed one of the most talented player in the history of the game.

After starring in Nigeria with Enugu Rangers, Okocha went on to Germany and it was with Eintratch Frankfurt that he rose to global prominence, with a goal where he dribbled across the entire Kalsruhe defense before leaving German great Oliver Kahn twice on his backside being one of his most defining legacies.

The goal was voted as the goal of the season and one of the best individual goals of all time and after a further spell with Fenerbache in Turkey, Okocha was signed by French side Paris Saint-Germain for a fee of £14 million in 1998 which at the time was the most expensive fee paid for an African player.

Though the Parisians were far from the superpowers they are right now, Okocha's time in Paris was fairly eventful and more importantly he served as a mentor to a young Ronaldinho, with the Nigerian playing a key role in the development of the Brazilian's skillset.

In England, Okocha starred for Bolton Wanderers and helped the club attain previously unimagined heights and became a firm fan-favorite in the process, with T Shirts inscribed with the phrase: "Jay-Jay – so good they named him twice" printed in his honour.

Okocha made his debut with Nigeria in 1993, scoring a wonderful free-kick in his second match against Algeria that proved pivotal to qualification for the 1994 World Cup and he ended his international career with 73 appearances and 14 goals.

He tasted success at the 1994 Nations Cup and 1996 Olympic Games while he was also named captain of the team in 2002 following the international retirement of Sunday Oliseh.

#1 Nwankwo Kanu

Nwankwo Kanu of Nigeria.
Nwankwo Kanu of Nigeria.

Nwankwo Kanu starred for some of the biggest and most renowned clubs in the world including Ajax, Inter Milan, and Arsenal and won a plethora of major honours including the Champions League, Premier League, and FA Cup.

He endeared himself to Arsenal fans when he came off the bench with 15 minutes to go and scored a memorable hat-trick to overturn a 2-0 deficit to Chelsea.

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His time at Highbury was characterized by numerous impactful appearances from the bench and he won two Premier League titles, including the famous 'Invincible' season of 2003-04.

He went on to play fpr Portsmouth and once again showcased his legendary abilities, scoring the only goals in both the semi-final and final as the 'Pompey' won the 2007 FA Cup.

There were legitimate fears that Kanu's career would have ended before it really begun as he was diagnosed with a serious heart ailment and his successful battle with the condition led to the establishment of the Kanu Heart Foundation which takes care of children with heart ailments free of charge.

His forays with the National team began when he captained Nigeria to victory at the 1993 Under 17 World Cup, a feat he repeated three years later at the Olympic Games and his performance particularly in the elimination of overwhelming favorites Brazil in the semifnal led to him being named the African Player of the Year in 1996 and 11th in the Ballon d'Or voting.

A second African Player of the Year was won in 1999 and in total, he made 87 caps for Nigeria, scoring 12 goals but rather remarkably, despite appearing at six editions, he neither scored in nor won the Africa Cup of Nations.

Also read: 5 greatest Nigerian players in Premier League history

Edited by A. Ayush Chatterjee

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