Top 10 Best Ever Football Players in Nigeria
Nigeria has produced so many great players over the decades, but who are the stand-out footballers to have ever come out of the football-mad nation.
In this article, we take a look at the top 10 greatest players in Nigeria’s storied football history.
10. Christian Chukwu
Fondly known as ‘The Chairman‘, Christian Chukwu is one of the all-time great defenders, leaders and pioneers in Nigerian football.
Chukwu captained the national team to its first win at the Africa Cup of Nations in 1980, emerging as the best player in the tournament.
He also played a key role in the country’s second success 14 years later, as he assisted Dutchman Clemens Westerhof as the Super Eagles won the continental title in Tunisia 1994.
Chukwu was a force in the domestic league back in the day, captaining Enugu Rangers during their formidable years of the 70s and 80s.
With Rangers, the dynamic player won the Challenge Cup four times (1975, 1976, 1981 and 1983), and added the 1977 Africa Cup Winners’ Cup title to his collection.
9. Joseph Yobo
Being a defender, Joseph Yobo may not command the same attention as some of the forward players on this list, but the former skipper remains one of the greatest players to put on the green and white of Nigeria.
Interestingly, Yobo began his career as a forward player, while he also played in midfield at times in his early years, but as he matured as a footballer, he found his true calling in the backline.
He played at right back on his World Cup debut in 2002, notably notching an assist with a brilliant cross for Julius Aghahowa in the second group match against Sweden, but it was at centre back that he blossomed as a player and leader.
With 101 International caps, Yobo belongs to the very exclusive company of Nigerian centurions. A distinguished career saw him participate at three World Cups and six AFCON tournaments, famously captaining the side to continental glory in South Africa 2013.
At club level, Yobo played in Belgium, France, Spain and Turkey, but he is most remembered for his work at Everton, where he made over 200 senior appearances.
8. Teslim Balogun
New generation football fans may not know much about Teslim Balogun, but this man was one of the great pioneers of Nigerian football.
Nicknamed Thunder because of his powerful shot, Balogun represented the Nigerian national team between 1948 and 1960, while he also played for a number of clubs on the local scene.
He famously won the Challenge Cup five times, and was the first player to score a hat-trick in the competition.
Balogun also had spells in the United Kingdom, signing for Peterborough United in 1955, while he also played for Queens Park Rangers.
He’s renowned for being the first African to qualify as a professional coach, and led the country’s football team to the 1968 Olympics.
Balogun passed on in 1972, aged 45, but his legacy lives on. The Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos is named in honour of the great man.
7. Rashidi Yekini
Arguably the greatest No. 9 in Nigerian football history, the legendary Rashidi Yekini fittingly scored the country’s first ever goal at the World Cup.
That goal against Bulgaria at USA 1994 was just one of the 37 Yekini scored in his 62 appearances for the Super Eagles.
Apart from the 1994 World Cup, Yekini also featured at France 1998, while he was top scorer and player of the tournament in Nigeria’s Nations Cup winning team in Tunisia 1994.
Yekini banged in the goals everywhere he went, netting over 100 goals for Shooting Stars and Abiola Babes in the 80s, and scoring an outstanding 105 goals in 113 appearances for Ivorian side, African Sports.
He made his mark in Europe with Portuguese club, Vitoria Setubal, while he also played in Switzerland, Greece, Spain and Saudi Arabia.
The great man unfortunately passed on in 2012, aged only 48.
6. John Mikel Obi
With two Premier League titles, three FA Cup titles, and two European triumphs with Chelsea (UEFA Champions and Europa League), John Mikel Obi is one of the most decorated footballers in Nigerian football history.
Mikel was a mainstay in the Super Eagles midfield for over a decade, notably inspiring the team to AFCON glory in 2013- the same year he was runner-up in the prestigious African Footballer of the Year award.
Before his days with the senior team, Mikel was already a star at junior level, notably finishing as the second best player (behind Lionel Messi no less!) at the FIFA World Youth Championship in the Netherlands in 2005.
Mikel was initially seen by Nigerian fans as the natural heir to Jay Jay Okocha, but he would find his own identity in the team, combining his football intelligence with his neat range of passing to become the heart of the Eagles midfield at his prime.
He didn’t have the magical footwork of the great Okocha- not many in world football do- but he excelled with his own unique skill set.
5. Vincent Enyeama
Vincent Enyeama is one of the greatest African goalkeepers of all-time.
Having gone to the 2023 World Cup as the understudy to Ike Shorunmu, Enyeama was thrust into the action in the final group match against England, and he showed tremendous composure and ability to keep a clean sheet against the Three Lions.
From then, he went from strength to strength, amassing over 100 caps with the Super Eagles in a national team career that spanned over a decade. He went to two more World Cups (2010 and 2014), and was pivotal in Nigeria’s run to the AFCON title in 2013.
Enyeama also excelled at club level, winning back-to-back CAF Champions League titles with Enyimba in 2003 and 2004, to go along with successive league titles between 2001 and 2003.
In Europe, he was superb for Hapoel Tel Aviv, helping the unfancied Israeli club to the group phase of the Champions League, and later Lille, where he established himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the world.
4. Segun Odegbami
Segun Odegbami’s national team career was relatively brief, but he made an indelible contribution to Nigerian football, inspiring the nation to her first Nations Cup success in 1980.
“Mathematical” scored three goals in the tournament, including two in the final against Algeria, as Nigeria finally claimed a long-awaited AFCON trophy.
He was the joint leading scorer at the tournament. In total, he scored 23 goals in 46 appearances for Nigeria. He was also part of the Nigerian team that claimed the silver medal at the 1978 All Africa Games.
Odegbami spent over a decade representing Shooting Stars, winning three league titles, two domestic Cup titles and the Africa Cup Winners Cup in 1976.
3. Stephen Keshi
Stephen Keshi is one of only two men to win the Africa Cup of Nations as a player and a coach- the other being Egypt’s Mahmoud El-Gohary- having won the tournament in 1994 as captain, and in 2013 as Eagles manager.
The Big Boss, as he was fondly called, also captained Nigeria to her first World Cup at USA 1994. He made 64 appearances for the Eagles, scoring 9 goals.
At club level, Keshi played for a number of Nigerian clubs, with his longest stint being with New Nigerian Bank, while he also spent a lot of time in Belgium, particularly Anderlecht, whom he represented between 1987 and 1991.
Apart from leading Nigeria to AFCON triumph in 2013, Keshi had other great managerial exploits, the most notable being qualifying lowly Togo to their first World Cup in Germany 2006.
2. Jay Jay Okocha
Blessed with magical feet and unrivalled creativity, Austin JayJay Okocha is probably the most naturally gifted footballer to have ever played for Nigeria.
Okocha did not win as many titles and awards as his talents deserved, but he did win the Nations Cup with the Eagles in 1994, and was part of the Atlanta 1996 Gold Medal team.
He came close on numerous other occasions, finishing second with the Eagles at the 2000 AFCON, and then settling for three consecutive AFCON bronze medals in 2002, 2004 and 2006.
Okocha also did not have much luck with individual awards, as he never claimed the prestigious African Footballer of the Year award.
He notably played for Frankfurt in Germany and French side, Paris St. Germain, joining the Parisiens for an African record transfer fee after the 1998 World Cup, but it was at unfashionable English side, Bolton Wanderers that he arguably had his biggest impact in Europe.
With Okocha pulling the strings in the middle, Bolton became an established Premier League team, and even made the final of the EFL Cup, which they lost to Middlesbrough.
Okocha might not have won as much as some of his contemporaries, but he will always be right up there as one of the most talented footballers to ever play the beautiful game.
Okocha is still very much involved in the game post-retirement. He is regularly involved in TV football analyses, and is an ambassador for football betting brand, betking, which according to MyBettingSites, is regarded as one of the best bookmakers in the country.
1. Nwankwo Kanu
Nwankwo Kanu is one of the most decorated players in Nigerian history.
The lanky forward had already captained Nigeria to global glory at the Japan 1993 Under-17 World Cup, but he took it to another level in 1996, when he inspired the Dream Team to victory in the football event at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics Games.
For all his success at youth level, Kanu, amazingly, never claimed any titles at senior international level. The closest he came was a heart-breaking runner-up finish at the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations, jointly hosted by Nigeria and Ghana.
He scored 12 goals in 86 appearances for Nigeria.
What he lacked in trophies with the Super Eagles, he more than made up for it at club level.
Kanu is one of the few Nigerians with a UEFA Champions League winners medal, having helped Ajax to the title in 1995, while he also won the UEFA Cup in 1998 during his brief spell at Inter Milan.
Kanu piled on the trophies at Arsenal, winning two League titles and three FA Cups with the Gunners, while he added another Cup triumph with Portsmouth in 2008, famously scoring the winning goal in the final.
For all of these exploits, he was named African Footballer of the Year in 1996 and 1999.