The 5 Greatest Nigerian Footballers — The Sporting Blog

Arguably Nigeria’s most talented footballer of all-time, Jay-Jay Okocha captured the imagination of many at home and abroad. His senior international debut came on 2nd May 1993 during his third season as a pro and first at German side Eintracht Frankfurt; Okocha was aged 19 at the time.

Okocha impressed immediately, scoring his 1st international goal in his 2nd cap. After earning 2 more caps, Okocha was called up to the Super Eagles’ squad for the 1994 AFCON.

At the 94 AFCON, Okocha played 4 of his nation’s 5 games as Nigeria lifted their 2nd ever continental trophy, with his spectacular performances playing a huge part.

Despite not scoring at the tournament, Okocha was named in the team of the tournament. As a result of his amazing AFCON display, the maestro was called up a few months later for the 1994 World Cup.

At the WC, Okocha was more of a bench player, only starting 1 of the 3 games he played as Nigeria reached the RO16.

By 1995, Okocha’s importance had grown, and he played all 3 of Nigeria’s games after getting called to represent the Super Eagles at the Confed. Cup.

The 1996 Olympic games solidified the playmaker’s place in Nigerian history, as he was part of the team that won Olympic gold in football, netting 2 goals including the opening goal versus Mexico in the QFs. Okocha’s Olympic performance earned him a move to Turkish giants Fenerbahce that summer.

After earning 5 caps in 1997 and another 2 in early 98, whilst also playing regularly in Turkey, the midfielder was called up for Nigeria’s 1998 WC squad.

At the tournament, Okocha started 3 of his nation’s 4 games as the Super Eagles reached the RO16 once again, a valiant display. Playing in central midfield of a 4-5-1, 3-5-2 or 4-4-1-1, Okocha was named in the squad of the tournament.

His 98 WC put Okocha on the map of bigger clubs, and he joined Paris Saint-Germain that summer. Next was the 2000 AFCON, where the playmaker went on to play 5 of 6 games for his country, netting 3 times including the winning brace in the 4-2 group stage win versus Tunisia and the equalising goal in the final, which took the game to extra-time.

Okocha scored his penalty in the shootout but Nigeria lost, coming away with silver. His performances led to a place in the team of the tournament.

Post-2000 AFCON and pre-02 AFCON, Okocha earned 10 caps whilst playing well on a weekly basis for PSG, and he was called to represent his country at the 2002 AFCON. At the 02 tournament, Okocha played 5 of his nation’s 6 games as Nigeria earned their fourth-ever bronze medal at the continental showcase.

Individually, the midfielder wasn’t at his best, but still contributed to the collective effort in every game he played.

Okocha was named captain of the national team as the 2002 World Cup approached. He led his side out in all 3 games, as Nigeria failed to exit the group stage for the first time in their history, a disappointing performance from all involved.

The maestro would redeem himself in 2004, putting on a world-class display at the AFCON that year. He played all 6 of the Super Eagles’ games, netting 4 goals in an otherworldly performance.

Three of his four goals came in the knockout rounds, as Okocha scored the opening goal in the SFs and third placed playoffs game, while also scoring the equaliser versus Cameroon in the QFs.

Okocha’s amazing performances earned him the 04 AFCON Player of the Tournament award, and he was also named in the team of the tournament. His last major international tournament was the 2006 AFCON. At the tournament, Okocha only played 2 of his side’s 6 games as the Super Eagles earned bronze once again.

He retired afterwards, aged 32 years-old. A skillful, elegant dribbler of the ball, Okocha was also effective in possession due to his ability to pick a pass or score the spectacular.

A set-piece specialist from the spot and outside the box, Okocha’s similarity to Ronaldinho in playing style and skill is hard to ignore. In fact, they played together at PSG, with the Brazilian recently expressing  admiration for Okocha.

A 2 times African Player of the Year and 1 time Bolton Player of the Year, Nigeria is yet to see a playmaker of his ilk since Jay-Jay hung up his boots.

2. Rashidi Yekini 

Position: Striker

Caps: 62

Goals: 37

Nigeria’s highest goalscorer of all-time, Rashidi Yekini was a natural at his craft with the numbers to back it up. His senior international debut came on 30th October 1983 at 19-years old. This was during his third season as a pro, and second at Nigerian side Shooting Stars.

Despite not scoring in his first 2 caps, Yekini impressed enough to be called for the 1984 African Cup of Nations. At the tournament, Yekini was trusted to play 4 of Nigeria’s 5 games as the Super Eagles earned a silver medal, but he failed to score in any of the games.

After finally netting his 1st for Nigeria in the immediate game after the 84 AFCON, in a qualifier versus Kenya, Yekini began to settle down and show his skills, scoring in the game after that too. The marksman became a regular in the national team fairly soon, earning 11 caps between 1985 and 1988.

This earned him a call-up to the 1988 AFCON. At the tournament, Yekini played all 5 of his nation’s games as Nigeria earned silver once again.

Yekini had a better tournament than his first at least, scoring once; the opening goal versus Kenya in the group stages. After the AFCON, Yekini would go on to represent Nigeria at the Olympics a few months later, scoring once as Nigeria failed to progress past the group stage.

Afterwards, despite no caps from the period post-Olympics to 1990, Yekini was still called up for the 1990 AFCON. The marksman played all 5 of his country’s games, scoring 3 times to propel Nigeria to a 3rd silver medal in a row, a truly bittersweet achievement for the Super Eagles.

The marksman scored the winning goal in 2 group games at the 90 AFCON, with another goal scored in the semifinals. Inexplicably not selected for the team of the tournament after such performances, Yekini’s AFCON performance at least earned him a move to Portuguese side, Vitoria Setubal, later that year.

After another 2 caps earned between 90 and 91, Yekini was fit enough to play at the 92 AFCON, ensuring his place in Nigeria’s squad.

At the tournament, Yekini somehow managed to overshadow his last continental performance, scoring 4 goals to lead Nigeria to bronze while also winning the golden boot himself.

2 goals came in the group stage versus Kenya, whilst another 2 came in the knockout rounds in the form of winning goals in the QFs and third-place match. This time, Yekini would not be denied, earning a place in the team of the tournament.

After 2 fantastic displays in continental competition as well as playing well at the 88 Olympics, Yekini was now Nigeria’s main goal-getter. After earning 12 caps between 1992 and 1994, the marksman was made a part of the Super Eagles’ 1994 AFCON squad.

At the tournament, Yekini played all 5 of his nation’s games, netting 5 goals to inspire Nigeria to cup success finally after so many nearly moments.

2 goals came in the group stages whilst a game-winning brace secured the QFs, with the last an equalising goal in the SFs. Yekini’s winning penalty in the SFs shootout took Nigeria to the final, which they won.

After earning the golden boot again and a place in the team of the tournament, Yekini was also awarded the AFCON Player of the Tournament award. A few months later, the striker was selected in Nigeria’s World Cup squad.

At the WC, Yekini played all 4 of his nation’s games, netting the opening goal of a 3-0 group stage win versus Bulgaria as the Super Eagles reached the RO16 in an impressive display by the then-African champions.

Yekini’s last major international tournament was the 1998 World Cup. He played all 4 games as Nigeria reached the RO16 once again, an outstanding achievement. Unfortunately, no goals were scored by the aging marksman. He retired from international football after the ’90 WC, aged 34.

A complete #9, Rashidi Yekini was blessed with immense power in both feet, fantastic movement and composure rarely seen in most players. His dribbling was underrated, and he possessed all the physical attributes required to bully defenders.

14 goals in 5 major international tournaments, 2 golden boots won in his nation’s colors: Yekini is undoubtedly worthy of being Nigeria’s greatest-ever goalscorer. 

3. Vincent Enyeama 

Position: Goalkeeper

Caps: 101

Nigeria’s best-ever goalkeeper, as well as their most-capped shotstopper, Vincent Enyeama was the personification of consistency when in the goal for his country. Enyeama’s senior international debut came on 4th May 2002 at 19-years old.

This was his third season as a pro but first at Nigerian giants Enyimba. He immediately became a regular member of the national setup, even getting called up as the backup ‘keeper for the 2002 World Cup a few months after his debut.

The Super Eagles lost their first two group games and it became evident the team wouldn’t progress, so Enyeama was given the starting GK spot for the final group game versus England and performed excellently, keeping a clean sheet against the likes of Michael Owen, David Beckham, and Paul Scholes.

After Shorunmu’s international retirement, Enyeama immediately replaced him as Nigeria’s #1, amassing 7 caps between 2002 and 2003.

After consistent game time for club and country, Enyeama was called up for the Super Eagles’ squad for the 2004 African Cup of Nations. At the tournament, the shotstopper played all of his nation’s games, keeping 2 clean sheets as the Nigerians earned a bronze medal in an admirable performance from the team.

Enyeama’s efforts earned him a place in the team of the tournament. After the tournament and pre-2006 AFCON, Enyeama amassed 10 caps and continued to be indispensable to the national team.

He also moved to Isreali side Bnei Yehuda Tel Aviv in 2005, and continued to play consistently for them as well. This guaranteed his place in Nigeria’s AFCON 2006 squad.

At the 06 competition, Enyeama kept 4 clean sheets in the 6 games he played, conceding only 2 goals, and saving 3 penalties in the QFs shootout as the Super Eagles earned their third consecutive bronze medal at the continental showcase.

Despite his world-class displays, Enyeama was inexplicably not selected in the team of the tournament.

In 2008, Enyeama was surprisingly dropped to backup keeper by then-Super Eagles coach Berti Vogts, and the shotstopper endured this role throughout the 2008 AFCON, being selected for the squad but not playing a single minute at the tournament as Nigeria only advanced as far the quarterfinals.

Vogts resigned after the tournament, meaning Enyeama regained his starting spot, earning 11 caps between June 2008 and the end of 2009. He had also moved to Isreali giants Hapoel Tel Aviv in 2007, and having played consistently there for 3 years, it ensured his call-up for the 2010 AFCON.

At the tournament, Enyeama played all 6 of his nation’s games, keeping 4 clean sheets as the Super Eagles earned their 4th bronze from their last 5 AFCON appearances.

Another immense performance from Enyeama was overlooked as he wasn’t even on the bench for the team. 4 months later was the 2010 World Cup, and Enyeama was called up by his country.

Enyeama was fantastic at the World Cup, being named man of the match in two group games versus Argentina and Greece despite Nigeria losing both games. The Super Eagles didn’t progress past the group stage, but Enyeama played well.

He continued to be ever-present after this, earning 14 caps between post- WC 2010 and 2013. Enyeama also moved to French side Lille after impressing at the 2010 WC, and he became starting goalie at his new side. As a result, the shotstopper was called up to the 2013 AFCON.

At the tournament, Enyeama started all of his side’s games as Nigeria triumphed on the continent’s biggest stage for the first time since 1980, keeping 2 clean sheets during the journey (including in the final). After being overlooked for his more impressive AFCON performances, Enyeama was included in the team of the tournament for this competition.

He also served as captain for the side, as Joseph Yobo wasn’t a guaranteed starter at the time. Next was the 2013 Confed. Cup a few months later, where Enyeama once again served as captain.

At the CC, Enyeama had his only poor tournament for his country as Nigeria exited in the group stage. Enyeama’s last major international tournament was the 2014 World Cup, a fitting stage for a shotstopper of his caliber to bow out on.

At the World Cup, Enyeama kept 2 clean sheets from the 4 games Nigeria played as the Super Eagles reached the RO16 in an impressive performance from the squad. His last cap came in June 2015, as he retired from international football aged 32.

Consistently brilliant in goal, Enyeama was also a leader on the pitch, organising his defence whenever he got the chance. A shotstopper with fantastic reflexes, Enyeama stopped his fair share of 1v1s during his career, showing fearlessness in every game he played.

He was also known for his double saves, stopping shots within seconds of each other on a regular basis.

A legend of the sport, Enyeama’s performances will live long in the memory of his countrymen.

4. John Mikel Obi 

Position: Central Midfielder

Caps: 90

Goals: 6

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