African Football: 5 Best Nigerian Footballers of All Time

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Nigeria is one of Africa’s most successful nations in football. They’ve won three African Cup of Nations titles and keep challenging for top honors. Over the years, the country has also produced top talent who spread their wings and played in Europe. In this article, we’ll list the best Nigerian footballers of all time.

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Jay Jay Okocha

African Football: 5 Best Nigerian Footballers of All Time
Jay Jay Okocha. Source: Wikimedia licensed by  CC-BY-SA-3.0

Born Augustine Azuka Okocha, he became one of the best Nigerian footballers of all time. He’s known by his nickname Jay Jay, given to him by his elder brother. 

His career began on the streets of Nigeria, where he played with a makeshift ball. Even then, Okocha’s ball-handling skills were something to marvel at. 

A holiday trip to Munich ended with a contract after training with his friend at Borussia Neunkirchenv. He played for the club but then joined Eintracht Frankfurt and 1. FC Saarbrücken

Okocha went on to play for several European clubs including Paris Saint Germain and Bolton Wanderers

Internationally, he played for Nigeria 73 times and won the African Cup of Nations in 1994. He won several individual awards, including the BBC African Footballer of the Year and the Nigerian Footballer of the Year. 

Okocha’s remembered for playing entertaining football. He carried the ball well and did the impossible.

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John Obi Mikel

African Football: 5 Best Nigerian Footballers of All Time
Iran and Nigeria match at the FIFA World Cup. Source: Wikimedia licensed by CC-BY-4.0

Mikel’s impact was felt at Chelsea. Obi spent 11 years at the club (2006 to 2017), joining from the Norwegian club Lyn. He won two Premier League titles and the Champions League

He was constantly compared to other greats who came before him, but he proved himself with how he played in the midfield. Composure, balance, and timely execution. 

Mikel’s journey with the Nigerian national team began with the junior sides. He was part of the U20 side that came second in the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship. 

The footballer won the silver ball. His debut for the national team came at the 2006 AFCON against Zimbabwe, and earned 91 caps. The former midfielder won the AFCON in 2013 and played at the World Cup.

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Nwankwo Kanu

Nwankwo Kanu’s skills. Video Credit: kay valdo

In 1993, Nwankwo Kanu led the U17 Nigerian national team to the FIFA World Championship. Three years later, he led them to their first-ever Olympic gold medal at the Atlanta Games. 

He made his senior debut in 1994 and played until 2011, earning 86 caps. At the club level, he played in the Netherlands for Ajax, played for Inter Milan, and then transferred to English club Arsenal

He was part of the Invincibles team that won the 2003/04 title in England. His last two clubs were Portsmouth and West Bromwich Albion

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Sunday Oliseh

Best skills of Sunday Oliseh. Video Credit: Sports Bite

Oliseh will make a list of the best Nigerian footballers of all time. He played 63 games for his country, representing them in the World Cup and the African Cup of Nations. He’s remembered for his goal against Spain at the 1998 tournament. 

Additionally, he was part of the 1994 AFCON win. Despite his heroics, he was omitted from the 2002 World Cup squad and later retired from international football

At the club level, Oliseh played for various European clubs, including Juventus, F.C. Koln, and Borussia Dortmund.

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Stephen Keshi

Keshi was not only one of the best defenders but also one of the best Nigerian footballers of all time. Keshi was quick to the ball and always competitive. 

He spent most of his club career in Belgium and even played for one of the biggest clubs, Anderlecht. He won the Championship and other domestic cups. 

Internationally, Keshi was one of the first names on the Nigerian squad. He played 64 games for the team, won the 1994 AFCON, and played at the 1994 FIFA World Cup. After his career, Keshi coached three national teams: Togo, Mali, and Nigeria. 

Nigeria continues to produce incredibly talented footballers. That said, the country is trying to reclaim its former glory, having last won the Cup of Nations in 2013. Who’s your favorite Nigerian footballer of all time?

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