With a population of around 186 million, Nigeria is a country with a variety of sporting interests, but a widely celebrated one is football. Since 1949 when a select group of Nigerian footballers were recruited to form the ‘UK Tourists’, a touring team that represented Nigeria in Europe, it’s been producing some of the finest football players out of Africa. In 1953, Titus Okere joined Swindon Town FC as the first Nigerian footballer to play for an international team and, ever since, many other talented football players have emerged from the country. Here is a list of some of the best football players from Nigeria.
Sunday Oliseh is a former Nigerian football manager and football player who, during his active years, played as a defensive midfielder. Born on September 14, 1974, his football career spanned from 1989–2006 when he retired aged 32. During his professional career, he played for the teams Julius Berger, RFC Liège, Reggiana, Ajax, Juventus, and Genk among others, and the Nigerian national squad from 1993–2002. As a club manager, he managed Eupen, Verviétois, Nigeria, and currently Fortuna Sittard.
At the age of 19, his exceptional skills earned him a €1.5 million (US$1.8 million) move to Köln from Reggiana and at 22 Ajax purchased him for €2.3 million (US$2.7 million). Oliseh played for Nigeria at the FIFA World Cup of 1994 and 1998, played 54 international matches and scored two goals for Nigeria. However, he is most fondly remembered for scoring the winning goal in a group stage match against Spain in the 1998 World Cup. Oliseh has an estimated net worth of €3.4 million (US$4 million).
Popularly known as ‘Jay-Jay’, Augustine Azuka Okocha was born on August 14, 1973. He played as an attacking midfielder during his career from 1990–2008 and was known for his technique, confidence and dribbling skills, especially his use of feints.
During his career, he played for Borussia Neunkirchen, Eintracht Frankfurt, Fenerbahçe, Paris Saint-Germain, Bolton Wanderers, Qatar SC, and Hull City. For Nigeria, he played 75 international games and scored 14 goals from 1993–2006. Since retiring in 2008, he’s now a business mogul, owning several companies in his native country, and is estimated to be worth around €127 million (US$150 million).
Stephen Keshi was a former Nigerian player and manager born on January 23, 1962. Sadly, after suffering a heart attack in his home, he died en route to the hospital on June 7, 2016. During his tenure as a defender, he played 64 international games and scored nine goals for Nigeria. He captained the national team to victory in the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations, and from 2011 coached the team to victory again in 2013, thus becoming one of only two people to win the tournament as both a player and a coach.
His football career spanned from 1979 to 1998, during which he played for five countries, including Belgium, where he won the Belgian Juliper League with R.S.C. Anderlecht in 1991. He was honoured by Google on January 23, 2018, when the search engine changed its logo in Nigeria to an illustration of him on what would have been his 56th birthday.
Born on August 1, 1976, Nwankwo was a forward player who captained the Nigerian national team for 17 years, from 1994–2010. During his career from 1992–2012, he played for Iwuanyanwu Nationale, Ajax, Inter Milan, Arsenal, West Bromwich Albion, and Portsmouth.
In a career spanning two decades, Nwankwo remains one of Africa’s most successful footballers winning over 20 accolades (individual, country and club) including winning the Olympic gold medal in 1996 with Nigeria, and made the third most substitute appearances in the UK’s Premier League history, appearing from the bench 118 times. As a member of his national team, he made 87 international appearances, scoring 12 goals.
In 1999, the Independent reported that Kanu was bought for £4.5 million (US$5.15 million) by Arsenal. Apart from his football career, Nwankwo is an entrepreneur with several investments in real estate, hospitality, oil and gas, and is said to be worth over US$104 million.
Born on March 26, 1974, Taribo West is a former defence player famously known for his unique and colourful hairstyles. He started his professional career playing for Obanta United in 1989, and after a successful trial in 1993 he joined Auxerre and helped them reach the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League, until 1997 when he moved to join Internazionale for around £2 million (US$2.7 million).
West had an unstable career with some controversy that saw him move to various teams in a short period of time. Between 1994–2005, he played 42 international games with no goals for Nigeria. He finally retired in 2008 and is now a Christian pastor at the church he founded, Shelter in The Storm Miracle Ministries of All Nations.
Also known as Mikel Obi by fans, Mikel is a midfield footballer who plays for Tianjin TEDA in the Chinese Super League and the Nigeria national team. He was born on April 22, 1987, and started his career in 2002 at the age of 15. He started off playing for Plateau United, a Nigerian football club, then went on to play at Lyn and Chelsea, before heading to his current team in China.
In 2005, Mikel played for Nigeria at the FIFA World Youth Championships held in the Netherlands, and won the Silver Ball after being voted the tournament’s second-best player. By the time he turned 18, he was embroiled in one of the craziest tug-of-wars between Manchester United and Chelsea, including allegations of kidnapping, and was subsequently bought by Chelsea who paid off Manchester United for £12 million (US$16.2 million) in order to seal the transfer deal. He is estimated to have a net worth of US$50 million.
Victor Moses is a professional wing-back footballer who plays for Chelsea and the Nigeria national team. Born December 12, 1990, he began his career at Crystal Palace, before making his Premier League debut at Wigan Athletic in 2010. By the summer of 2012, he was signed to Chelsea making 84 appearances and scoring seven goals. From 2013–2016, he was on loan to Liverpool, Stoke City and West Ham United consecutively. Moses represented England youth teams at Under-16, Under-17, Under-19 and Under-21 levels, but has since opted to play for Nigeria where he’s made 29 international appearances and scored 11 goals. He has an estimated net worth of US$23 million.
Termed as the breakout Nigerian star of 2017, Onyekuru is a 20-year-old forward who plays for the Nigerian national team, as well as Anderlecht where he is on loan from Premier League club Everton. His career started in 2010 at the Aspire Academy in Qatar, where he graduated in 2015 before being signed up by their partner club, Eupen, from 2015–2017, and now Everton who he joined for £7 million (US$9.5 million) in June 2017.
Born on December 16, 1996, Wilfred Ndidi plays as a midfielder for Leicester City and the Nigeria national team. Only 21 years old, Ndidi began his career on January 31, 2015, after signing to Genk which lasted till 2017. Currently he plays for Leicester City after a £17 million transfer deal from Genk. In 2013 he joined the Nigerian U-20 team, and in 2015 got called up for the senior team, making his debut in the friendly game against D.R. Congo, and playing again a few days later against Cameroon, replacing John Obi Mikel.
Born on March 21, 1989, Anthony is a forward who plays for Hapoel Be’er Sheva in the Israeli Premier League. His youth career began in 2006 at the Vejle Football Academy. Then in 2010, his senior career commenced at Universitatea Cluj who gave him on loan to Romanian club Arieșul Turda where he played eight games and scored five goals. He went on to play for Petrolul Ploiești before returning to Universitea Cluj, and then moved on to Hapoel Ra’anana until 2015 when he switched to his current team. So far he has scored 14 goals in 32 league appearances earning him the honour of best player in Israel. He made his debut for the Nigeria national football team against Algeria in a 1–1 draw on November 10, 2017.
Born on May 23, 1988, Angelo Ogbonna is a centre back Italian footballer who plays for West Ham United and the Italian national team. In 2002 he signed to Torino where he was later on loan to Crotone in Serie C1. He left the club in 2013 to join Juventus, where he won the Scudetto in 2013–2014 and 2014–2015, as well as the 2013 Supercoppa Italiana and the 2014–2015 Coppa Italia. Although born to Nigerian parents who emigrated to Italy in 1983, he plays for the Italian national team where he made his debut with the Italian Under-21 team in a friendly game against Russia. He is currently signed to West Ham United on a four-year €11 million (US$13 million) contract.