Nigeria has produced quite a number of great football players who left their mark on the game at home and on the global stage.
Take a look at our list of the greatest.
You remember the fabled ‘thunder’ shot that tore apart a goalkeeper’s stomach? Good! That is the story we all grew up hearing as kids in the ’80s and ’90s. Let’s introduce you to Teslim ‘Thunder’ Balogun.
Born 1927, Balogun is one of Nigeria’s most celebrated footballers of all time. During his days, he led the national team to five Nigeria’s Challenge Cup wins and became the first player to score a hattrick in the competition.
Balogun is also the first Nigerian to sign a professional football contract, when he put pen to paper for English club, Peterborough United in 1955.
After his playing career, he became the first African to qualify as a football coach.
The Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos is named after him. He died July 30, 1972.
He is no doubt one of Nigeria’s golden assets in world football and is well-known as ‘Mathematical’ owing to his skills and speed on the ball.
Odegbami earned 46 caps and scored 23 goals for the Green Eagles between 1976 and 1982, guiding the national team to its first African Cup of Nations glory in 1980.
He is highly regarded, especially as being one of the most loyal footballers around having played for IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan all his career.
A figure in Africa’s football that never begs for attention, Stephen Keshi‘s name commands respect anywhere African football is mentioned.
As a player, Keshi won the WAFU Cup twice, one league and three Cup titles in Côte d’Ivoire, as well as another league title and two Cup titles with Anderlecht of Belgium.
He also led the Super Eagles to African Cup of Nations glory in 1994, a title he would win as national team manager 19 years later in 2013.
Keshi is also the first coach to lead Togo to a FIFA World Cup, though, he was relieved of his duty there before the 2006 tournament.
He sadly passed on in June 2016 on his way to a hospital in Benin City after suffering a heart attack. He was aged 54.
Mudashiru Lawal made his national team debut in 1975, and helped his club, Shooting Stars, to their first continental title in 1976 – the first Nigerian club to do so.
And just like Teslim Balogun, Lawal has a stadium named after him and is located at Ashero in Ogun State.
Mutiu Adepoju spent most of his playing career in Spain where he appeared on Real Madrid’s B team, Racing Santander and Real Sociedad.
Also known as the ‘Headmaster’, he made 48 appearances for Nigeria over 12 years, winning the 1994 AFCON and scoring one of the goals in the famous 3-2 win over Spain in the 1998 World Cup – a header.
Arguably one of the best sport exports Nigeria has produced, Nwankwo Kanu pretty much won it all as a footballer, with the FIFA World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations the only major trophies that eluded him in a stellar career.
Kanu won the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Cup (now Europa League), UEFA Super Cup, two Premier League titles, three FA Cup titles, three Dutch League titles and a Nigerian league title with Iwuanyanwu Nationale (now Heartland FC).
The lanky striker also won the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in 1993, Afro-Asia Cup of Nations in 1995 and Olympic gold in 1996.
He was also named African Footballer of The Year twice in 1996 and 1999, also winning the BBC edition of the award twice in 1997 and 1999.
One of the main men behind Nigeria’s first FIFA World Cup appearance, Peter Rufai remains arguably the most revered goalkeeper in Nigerian football history.
The shot stopper earned 65 caps for Nigeria over 15 years, winning one AFCON title and appearing in two FIFA World Cups.
His club career saw him feature in Belgium, the Netherlands and in Spain for Deportivo La Coruna before playing in Portugal for one year and retiring in 2000.
He returned to Spain in 2003 and set up a goalkeeping school.
One of the Babayaro brothers, Celestine enjoyed a top career which saw him break into Belgian giants, Anderlecht’s first team as a teenager from Plateau United, winning the Belgian league title and Super Cup in 1995.
He went on to feature in over 200 games for Chelsea after becoming the club’s record signing for a teenager at £2.25m in 1997.
The full back went on to win the UEFA Cup Winners Cup and Super Cup in 1998 as well as the FA Cup in 2000.
For Nigeria, he won the U-17 World Cup in 1993 and 1996 Olympics, and featured for the national team between 1995 and 2004.
Babayaro made 27 appearances for the Super Eagles, but his international career ended in 2004 when he was sent home from that year’s AFCON.
While he never declared he had retired, it was the last time Babayaro appeared for the national team.
The midfielder had an accomplished career, featuring for Ajax Amsterdam alongside compatriot, Nwankwo Kanu, and winning the 1995 UEFA Champions League.
Finidi also won three successive Dutch league titles with the club, the AFCON title with Nigeria in 1994 and the Olympic gold in 1996.
Austin Jay Jay Okocha
One of Ronaldinho‘s mentors, Oliver Khan‘s greatest football nemesis, Cameroon’s nightmare and the footballer with magical football skills.
Much can be said of Austin Okocha and is certainly one of Nigeria’s greatest footballers.
Oddly, Okocha never won the CAF African Player of the Year award, though, was twice named winner by the BBC in their version in 2003 and 2004.
The midfielder did win the AFCON in 1994 and Olympic gold in 1996, and was named Nigerian Footballer of the Year seven times between 1995 and 2005.
He was also the Golden Boot winner at AFCON 2004 as well as that tournament’s best player award winner.
In all, he played 73 times for Nigeria between 1993 and 2006, and played for Eintracht Frankfurt, Fernabahce, Paris Saint-Germain, Bolton Wanderers and Hull City between 1992 and 2008.
Fun fact: he acquired Turkish citizenship while playing for Fernabahce and his Turkish name is Muhammet Yavuz.
Also, he was once the most expensive African footballer after PSG signed him from Frankfurt for £14m in 1998.
Like we noted earlier, Nigeria’s produced many great talents. Leave a comment with any one you think we missed out on.
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