The question of who are the most popular and influential Nigerian footballers is one that continues to cause a serious rift among sports lovers in Nigeria. However, football is a major uniting factor in the country, irrespective of tribe, religion or age, Nigerians of all works of life stand together behind the super eagles. This is because of the large fan base that the game has in the country. Globally, sports play a vital role in the behavioral pattern of the people; unifying countries and the world at large. The sport is unrivaled and universal.
Football is an outlet to purge out stress, a conversation starter and a unifying factor among Nigerians.
The Top Ten Most Popular Nigerian Footballers(Current List)
An average Nigerian football fan owns a jersey from their favorite team, can name at least 10 players, and some even go the extra mile of taking a pilgrimage to their team’s stadium in Europe.
WHO ARE THE TOP 10 MOST POPULAR NIGERIAN FOOTBALLERS?
The top ten most popular Nigerian footballers are
- Jay Jay Okocha – (1993-2006, 75 caps, 14 goals); Augustine Azuka “Jay-Jay” Okocha was a Nigerian professional footballer who is regarded as the country’s best player and one of the greatest in African football history. He was known for his agility, confidence and skillful display capable of entertaining even the opposition fans. He was adored by English fans particularly Bolton Wanderers fans where they regularly chanted “so good they named him twice”, in reference to his Jay Jay nickname. Jay Jay served as a mentor to Ronaldinho, one of the world’s greatest dribblers during his spell at Paris Saint Germaine. He joined the French side in 1998 for 14million pounds, making him the most expensive African player at the time. Okocha was a member of the Super Eagles team that won the 1994 African cup of Nations as well as the gold medal in Atlanta ‘96. Among his personal awards are BBC African Footballer of the Year (2003,2004), Nigerian Footballer of the Year six times between 1995 and 2005, African Cup of Nations: Golden Boot and Best Player (2004)
- Kanu Nwankwo -(1994-2010, 86 caps, 13 goals); popularly referred to as Papilo, the tall and lanky figure of Kanu has stuck in the hearts of Nigerian football fans and Arsenal Gunners. Kanu came to limelight at the 1993’s U-17 World Cup in Japan. Today this Nigerian legend is our most decorated player with a Uefa Champions League Medal, Uefa Cup Medal, FA Cup Medal (3), Premier League, African Footballer of the year (2) and an Olympic Gold. Kanu is regarded as the 13th Greatest Arsenal Footballer by the club’s fans. He will almost be remembered at Arsenal for his hat-trick away at Chelsea to produce a comeback and subsequently a win(3-2).
- Rashidi Yekini (1984-1998, 58 caps, 37 goals) ; Yekini remains Nigeria’s leading scorer with 37 goals. His record remained unbeaten. The striker was a menace to defenders, netting Nigeria’s first World Cup goal and leading the nation to AFCON glory in 1996. He finished as the tournament’s top scorer. He won African Footballer of the Year in 1993, becoming the first Nigerian to clinch the award. Yekini passed away in 2012, after suffering from prolonged illness.
- Taribo West (1994-2002, 41 caps, no goals) ; West is famously remembered for his stylish and colorful hair. He won several trophies with Auxerre in the Ligue 1 before moving onto the two Milan teams, AC Milan and Inter. He has 41 caps for the Super Eagles, appearing at two world cups and two African Cup of Nations. In his later years, he had short spells in England, Germany, and Qatar. He retired from football in 2008.
- Stephen Keshi (1981-1995, 64 caps, nine goals); Keshi remains Nigeria’s longest-serving captain. His memorable appearances include the African Cup of Nations in 1996, World Cup 1994. He went on to represent the country at 5 AFCON tournaments. Keshi managed Nigeria to the African Cup of Nations trophy in 2013 and remains one of two persons to have won it both as a player and a coach.
- Sunday Oliseh (1993-2002, 63 caps, four goals) ; Sunday Ogochukwu Oliseh was born 14th September 1974 in Delta. Oliseh remains one of Nigeria’s best defenders ever. He had a spell with top European teams such as Ajax, Borussia Dortmund, and Juventus. His most memorable appearance is Nigeria vs Spain in 1998 where he scored the winning goal. The former defensive midfielder took up a managerial career after retiring.
- Patrick Odegbami (1976-1982, 46 caps, 23 goals) ; Odegbami was born in Jos, Plateau state. Nicknamed ‘Mathematical ‘ because of his Engineering degree, he was known for the intricate style of play that commanded precision and skill. Segun was instrumental in the Eagles success at the 1980 African Cup of Nations. This was the first time Nigeria lifted the trophy and it was largely special because the tournament was hosted on home turf, Nigerian soil. He started and ended his career with Ibadan’s Shooting Stars spanning a period of 14years from 1970-1984. The 1984 final of the African Champions Cup against Zamalek was his last outing for the club. Wale Odegbami, his brother also played for the national team.
- Uche Okechukwu (1990-1998, 50 caps, goals) ; Okechukwu succeeded Stephen Keshi as the skipper of the national team. He was formidable in defense and transitioned into the leadership role seamlessly. He made his debut at the 1990 African Cup of Nations. He won the 1994 CAN and the 1996 Summer Olympics. He featured in two FIFA World Cups, retiring in 1998. He won two Danish Superliga cups and two Super Lig cups with Fenerbahce. He was also awarded Brøndy Player of the Year in 1992 in the Danish League. He was recognized in Turkey for the 13 long years he played there with a citizenship under the name Deniz Uygar.
- Daniel Amokachi (1990-1999, 44caps, 13 goals); Daniel Amokachi is a former professional footballer and former assistant manager of the Super Eagles team. The attacker is revered for his strength, this gained him the nickname “black bull”. He debuted at the 1990 African Nations Cup. He had spells with Club Brugge in Belgium where he featured in the Uefa Champions League, he moved on to Everton where he won the FA Cup and Besiktas in the Turkish League. Amokachi featured in two World Cup tournaments and won the AFCON in 1994. He scored a goal in the gold match against Argentina in the Olympics ‘96 to help us secure the medal. He has been a technical director since 2006. He has managed Nasarawa United, Nigeria (assistant coach) , Enyimba, Ifeanyi Ubah, JS Hercules.
- Finidi George (1991-2001, 62 caps, 6 goals) ; Born in 1971 in Port Harcourt, this 6ft 3in right winger made his name at Ajax, where he won 8 major titles including the 1995 Champions League. He won the Uefa Super Cup, Intercontinental Cup amongst other notable achievements. He went on to play for Real Betis.