Football is the most popular team sport in Nigeria. It’s a game that unites Nigerians better than religion or ethnicity.
Nigerians who support various clubs around the world will gladly sit together and cheer the Super Eagles and every other Nigerian football team each time they play.
Some players who have adorned the green and white jersey for Nigeria have truly been great and outstanding. These are the players whom Nigerians will not forget in a hurry. We all know who they are; as a reminder, here are the top 10 greatest Nigerian footballers ever.
#10 Stephen Keshi
Stephen Okechukwu Keshi is perhaps the greatest defender to ever represent Nigeria at senior level. Keshi was renown for his leadership persona as well his defensive abilities. Keshi, who played 64 times for Nigeria, captained the Super Eagles to Africa nations cup success in 1994.
At club level, the ‘Big Boss’ as he is fondly called, was quite successful. He was among the pioneer footballers to travel to Europe to play football when he completed his move to Lokeren of Belgium via African Sports of Ivory Coast in the early 80s.
Stephen Keshi was a leader, a legend and a football pioneer in many ways. I wouldn’t go into detail on his successes as a coach, as this is a player only list. However, Stephen Keshi was a rare gem.
In June this year, Nigeria suffered an irreparable loss in the death of Stephen Okechukwu Keshi at 54.
#9 Uche Okechukwu
The only other defender who made our list of greatest ever players to adorn the green and white jersey is Uche Okechukwu. The towering defender replaced Stephen Keshi both as the main man in the Super eagles defense and as team captain.
Uche Okechukwu was an absolute bully in defense for Nigeria. Strikers dreaded having a match-up against the big man. On how Okechukwu never picked up a yellow card in the 12-years he played for Nigeria, I simply cannot explain. Uche Okechukwu helped Nigeria win football Olympic gold in 1996.
At club level, Okechukwu showed how good of an export he was. He helped Brondby reach the UEFA cup final in 1991. He was also an integral member of the Fenerbahce team that shattered Manchester United’s 40-year unbeaten European record at Old Trafford.
#8 Mikel John Obi
‘Mikel’ is the only player still involved in active football that makes the cut. Mikel Obi is a young Nigerian midfielder who has achieved so much in such a short period of time.
Mikel has already played more than 75 times for Nigeria, a feat that brings him to the top 5 most capped players in Nigeria. He helped Nigeria win the Africa cup of nations trophy in 2013. He recently helped Nigeria win bronze at the just concluded Rio Olympic games in Brazil.
At club level, he has won the UEFA Champions League (once), the Europa cup (once), the English premier league (twice), and the FA cup trophy (four times). Mikel still looks like a player who has more to offer.
The current Super eagles skipper is obviously one of the most successful footballers ever to play the round leather game in Nigeria.
#7 Sunday Oliseh
When it comes to defensive midfielders who have played the game for Nigeria, very few come close to matching Sunday Ogochukwu Oliseh. During his playing days, he was renowned for his wide range of accurate passing, hard tackling, and powerful shooting ability.
Oliseh was the skipper of the super eagles to the 1998 world and captained the national team for a period spanning 3 years. He played for top clubs across Europe, including Ajax, Dortmund, and Juventus.
Sunday Oliseh, represented Nigeria on 64 occasions, scoring 4 times. His most memorable goal for Nigeria is the ‘thunderbolt’ of a strike he scored in the 1998 world cup against Spain.
#6 Emmanuel Amunike
This fleet-footed attacker is the first player on our list who has won the prestigious African footballer of the year award. Amunike is fondly remembered for his stellar performances in the Super eagles’ 1994 nations cup victory. Amunike poped-up with 2 goals to help the super eagles defeat Zambia in the 1994 nations cup final.
He helped Nigeria win men’s football gold at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic games. Amunike played for European clubs such as Sporting CP and Barcelona. His time at Barca was unfortunately cut short due to an injury.
#5 Finidi George
Finidi George is the among the best winger ever to come out of Africa. He scored 8 times for the super eagles in the 62 times he played for the team. Prior to his move from Ajax to Real Betis in 1996, Finidi George was widely referred to, by the media as the best winger in world football. He is a Champions League winner with Ajax Amsterdam.
After the 1998 world cup in France, where he once again shone like a million stars, it was rumored that Real Madrid had tabled a bid for him; that move never materialized anyway.
Finidi George remains an unforgettable name in Nigeria football, making him a football legend in the country.
#4 Segun Odegbami
Segun ‘the mathematical’ Odegbami is a football legend in Nigeria, who burst into the limelight in 1980 after helping the then Green eagles win the nations cup, although he had been a star member of the Shooting Stars squad that dominated the Nigerian premier league in the late 70s and 80s… wen Naija premier league dey hot…
Odegbami was a star and captain of the Nigeria team in the 80s. Sadly, that golden generation led by Odegbami failed to qualify for the world cup.
#3 Austin Jay-Jay Okocha
So good they named him twice, Austin Jay-Jay Okocha is arguably the best dribbler to play for the Super eagles. Jay-Jay is loved by the fans because of his entertaining style of play. I remember watching him in the Africa nations cup in 2000, which was hosted in Nigeria and I kept wondering the kind of stuff the guy was made of. He is a real star and entertainer.
Okocha became skipper of the super eagles in 2002 and went on to captain the national team for 4 years before retiring. Okocha played for European clubs such as Paris Saint-Germain, Bolton Wanderers, Hull City, and Fenerbahce. He is regarded as one of the best footballers never to win the African footballer of the year award.
Brazil legend Pele, name Okocha as one of the top 125 living football legends.
#2 Rashidi Yekini
The late Rashidi Yekini remains the best number 9 ever to play for the Super eagles of Nigeria. He was renown for getting an average of one goal per game in every game he played for Nigeria.
Yekini, a one-time African footballer of the year award winner, helped Nigeria win the nations cup in 1994. He remains Nigeria’s leading goal scorer in all competitions with 37 goals in 70 games. He played for clubs such as Vitória Setúbal of Portugal and Shooting Stars Sports Club in Nigeria.
Yekini was the first Nigerian to score a goal in the world cup.
#1 Kanu Nwankwo
Kanu Papilo Nwankwo is the most decorated Nigerian footballer ever. Kanu was the star for Nigeria as the Dream Team did the impossible by beating two South American powerhouse countries, Brazil and Argentina, to win Olympic football gold at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics.
Papilo won the Champions League with Ajax, the English premier league with Arsenal, the UEFA cup with Inter Milan. He is a two-time winner of the African footballer of the year award. Kanu Nwankwo represented Nigeria on 82 occasions and scored 13 goals for his country.
There you have it, Nigeria’s greatest footballers ever!