Goal continue their annual reports on Super Eagles stars overseas by focusing on some of those players plying their trade in England
By Ed Dove
No Nigerian player has enjoyed a bigger season than Victor Moses. The young forward began the year as a raw forward at Wigan Athletic, he ends it established at Chelsea, the darling of the nation, and one of the finest, most exciting attackers in Africa.
While his mesmerising performances at the Cup of Nations doubtless stole the show—particularly devastating displays against Ethiopia and Mali—he has matured terrifically at Chelsea. From match-winning performances against Manchester United and Shakhtar Donetsk, to tie-changing goals in the Blues’ run to the Europa League title, it’s been a year to remember.
For his club compatriot John Obi Mikel, things have been less revolutionary. The midfielder overcame criticism to lead Nigeria to the African title, putting in some top class displays on the way. Domestically, however, he has failed to build on the highs of last season, and has often found himself shunted around the Chelsea midfield.
He may be invigorated following the almost-inevitable return of former mentor Jose Mourinho, but faces competition for a starting berth from David Luiz, Ramires, Frank Lampard and potentially Josh McEachran, or even a deep-lying Oscar.
Shola Ameobi’s experience and physical presence saw him drafted into the national side, but his international debut apart, it has been a fairly disappointing year. The striker has scored a few important goals, namely against Metalist and QPR, but has been one of many strugglers in Newcastle’s unimpressive year.
Brother Sammy Ameobi has enjoyed some game time on-loan at Middesbrough, but has not yet made the impact hoped.
Over on Merseyside, Victor Anichebe has finally enjoyed a regular run in the Everton first team. With Nikica Jelavic misfiring and various others departing, the Nigerian frontman has had a fairly good shot at the first XI. He still isn’t prolific, by any means, but has all the tools to be a Premier League striker, and could become an important option for Stephen Keshi. Adept at holding the ball up and dealing with defenders, his ball control still demands work.
His former teammate Hope Akpan declared his intention to represent the Super Eagles after returning to the top flight with Reading.
Released by Everton as a teenager, the midfielder earned his stripes with Crawley in the lower leagues before the Royals took a chance on him. Injuries have stymied his progress in the first tier, but the club’s drop to the Championship, and the slightly lower level of competition, may be exactly what the youngster needs to establish himself at the Madejski.
Hope Akpan & Ed Dove
Also keep an eye out for Reading’s other Nigerian star; Welsh international Hal Robson-Kanu. The attacking midfielder has stepped up a gear or two this year and is becoming an accomplished talent.
Two England strikers with Nigerian origins have endured mixed campaigns in the EPL. Carlton Cole’s West Ham celebrated their return to the Prem with a top half finish, but the hulking frontman often found himself on the peripheries, kept there by the acquisition, and impressive form, of Andy Carroll.
Released by the club last week after seven years of service Cole might become a valuable asset for a newly promoted outfit.
Gaby Agbonlahor’s Aston Villa have also struggled, and while the forward has—at times—been criticised for failing to motivate and vitalise the squad’s youngsters, he demonstrated his class in the crucial run-in. Has the potential to become a talismanic figure for the Villains’ young squad.
The English second tier, the Championship, has been rife with Nigerian talent in recent times. This season was no exception.
Despite serious, season-curtailing injury, Sone Aluko was impressive at Hull since his return from Scotland. Steve Bruce has backed the forward to return strongly next season as the club return to the Premier League. Don’t be surprised to see Aluko among the names in contention for any potential World Cup squad!
Aluko’s erstwhile teammate Seyi Olofinjana is unlikely to be gracing the EPL next season. The veteran midfielder was sent on an ‘emergency loan’ last term, and despite helping Sheffield Wednesday maintain their place in the Championship, has been released on returning to his parent club.
The remaining Nigerians in the league were all embroiled in a tangle for survival down at the wrong end of the table.
Kelvin Etuhu’s Barnsley survived on the final day, as did Danny Shittu’s Millwall. It has been an injury-ravaged campaign for Blackburn anchorman Dickson Etuhu. The Rovers’ turmoil has affected many at the club, and I suspect that his recall to the Nigeria squad during Keshi’s early games in charge was a false dawn for his international career.
Unfortunately, for Wolves goalkeeper Carl Ikeme, the season didn’t end with such relief. Finally given his opportunity in the first team following injury to Wayne Hennessey the Nigerian stopped impressed initially. Unfortunately, his fortune was short-lived.
After letting in a soft own goal against relegation rivals, Ikeme let out his frustrations on a wall in the changing room at half time. While the wall was left unscathed, the keeper broke his hand—bringing an end to his season, and a halt to his first team opportunity.
Wolves were relegated, and the Nigerian was left distraught. Opportunities such as this may not come round again.
As bad as Ikeme’s year was, it doesn’t quite match that of former West Bromwich star Peter Odemwingie. The Nigerian began the season a hero among Albion fans, and a bright start for player and club augmented his reputation further.
But things broke down in 2013. In January he was both omitted from Nigeria’s Afcon squad, and decided that his future would be more promising (or perhaps more profitable) at relegation-bound QPR. Angling for a move, Odemwingie drove to Rangers’ Loftus Road ground and told the assembled press that his heart was set on London and that a move was imminent.
It wasn’t…and the forward was forced to return to the West Midlands as deadline day expired…his tail well and truly between his legs.
The striker’s subsequent qualification of his actions on Twitter only served to alienate him from Albion fans, a sentiment that was re-enforced through some frosty fan reaction. It is abundantly clear that Odemwingie has reached the end of the road in the West Midlands.