The Athletic Daily

The greatest Nigerian footballer of all time debate

Hello, how are you doing today? I was fortunate to go out from the comfort of my home to see how things are moving out there, the world has literally been overtaken by the coronavirus pandemic, I saw empty streets, security barricades and no mini buses or tricycles (Keke) in the streets of Uyo. I just told myself, the world is coming to an end, but until then, please stay safe.

Let’s get back to sports, despite nothing happening, something is actually happening, yesterday I wrote about the big money broadcast deal struck last year between the LMC and Next TV, I also mentioned the deal will take effect from next season if we will have such a thing as next season. That’s a good move by the organisers of the league.

But today, I’ll try to give you my opinion on the ever-growing issue of who is the greatest footballer to ever play for the Super Eagles of Nigeria. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t have been an issue, but it has become a debate which has torn many football lovers in the country.

Daniel Amokachi last week gave his opinion that former Captain, John Mikel Obi is the greatest footballer to ever play for the Super Eagles. You can argue as you want, but I will not be dragged into that debate, because it was an opinion.

Sometimes, we take things too serious in this country, I am not saying we shouldn’t be serious about issues, but I am emphasizing that it was an opinion, which Amokachi and every other Nigerian is entitled to.

I am always of the opinion that football is a team game, Lionel Messi is a genius but his teammates are making him extraordinary. Cristiano Ronaldo is a football superhuman because of those around him.

Cases could be made for players who single-handedly dragged their teams to victory, but with due respect to Mikel Obi, he is not in that bracket. He is a very good player, but not a game-changer. I might be wrong, but I’ve never watched a football match John Obi Mikel was the main man and did something extraordinary for Nigeria or Chelsea, if he has, please forgive.

Also, I do not want anyone calling me anti-Mikel, I like the guy but I possibly don’t think he is the greatest Nigerian football player.

Having said that, let’s look at Nigerian players, the real stars, match winners and even entertainers who have given all of us a real course to smile and because of them, we were always looking forward to seeing the team play.

Austin Jay-Jay Okocha, a true legend and a man who relished playing for the national team. He was part of the 1996 historic squad that won gold during the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. Okocha also was a teammate with Brazil and Barcelona great, Ronaldinho Gaucho and also with former Tottenham Hotspur manager, Mauricio Pochettino at Paris Saint Germain.

He played 75 times for Nigeria, scoring 14 goals from midfield, some of them being mind-blowing free kicks. He played in Germany for Eintracht Frankfurt but made his name with Bolton Wanderers in England. So good with his dribbling skills that no one on the continent has even come close to what he was capable of.

Okocha in 2004 was named in Pele’s list of 125 footballers of all time. For me, that is the true definition of greatness. Take a bow, Jay-Jay, Captain fantastic and the tormentor of defences.

Another is Nwankwo Kanu, he was one of those players who can change the tide of a game within minutes. A true legend of who thrived with the national team and clubs he played for. His heroics during the Atlanta 94 still live fresh in our memories.

Kanu won three Eredivisie titles and the UEFA Champions League with Dutch side Ajax, before lifting the UEFA Cup with Inter Milan in 1998.

He joined Arsenal in the summer of 1999, winning two Premier League titles, becoming an invincible in the 2003/04 season and two FA Cups. Kanu scored a 15-minute hat-trick coming on as a substitute against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge to secure a 3-2 win for Arsenal.

The two-time African Football of the Year won the FA with lowly Portsmouth, won the Olympic gold medal in 1996 with Nigeria and also played for West Bromwich Albion in the English Premier League.

I am always tempted to mention Rashidi Yekini as the greatest player to ever play for the Super Eagles, but at the same time, I refused to be dragged into that debate (haha). Yekini will forever remain a Nigerian hero, he scored the nation’s first-ever World Cup goal in a 3-0 debut victory over Bulgaria at the USA ’94.

He won the African Cup of Nations in the same year with Nigeria, winning the golden boot in the process.

His club career was not as trophy-laden as most of his mates, but his goalscoring exploits with Victoria FC in Portugal won him the African Footballers of Year award in 1993, the first Nigerian to ever win the award.

He scored 37 times for Nigeria which has remained a record as the highest-scoring footballer in Nigeria’s men football history. Rashidi died in 2012 after news of his ill health surfaced in 2011. May his soul rest in peace.

Another player I rate so highly is Vincent Enyeama. The goalkeeper won the CAF Champions League in 2003 and 2004 with Enyimba, won the league title in Nigeria three times on the bounce between 2001 to 2003, won the Israeli Premier League twice with Hapoel Tel-Aviv in 2009-10 season and Maccabi Tel-Aviv in 2012-13 season.

Won 101 caps for Nigeria, played at the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan as backup to Ike Shorumu and feature a the goalless draw with the Three Lions of England; played in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and 2014 in Brazil. He captained the Super Eagles to victory at the 2013 AFCON and won several other individual awards in Nigeria and with his clubs.

Look, the point I am making here is, we had great players down the years playing for Nigeria, in my opinion, it is not in the best interest of footballers and football fans to start arguing about who is the greatest and who is not, it will lead us to nothing. The players had their highs and lows as expected of any footballer, but they did their jobs professionally. Mikel Obi might be included in my all-time eleven for the Super Eagles because he was an incredible player, but never the greatest to me. Go and argue in the comment section, please.

That is that for today. Remember to join the conversation on social media @TheAthleticNG (Twitter, Facebook & Instagram). Feel free to comment below and subscribe to our page to receive notifications on what is happening on the website.

Till tomorrow, stay at home to stay alive.

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