By Ed Dove
The Goal Nigeria Player of the Year Award will be presented to the best Nigerian footballer of 2013, regardless of whether he plays for the Super Eagles or not. However, it is impossible to ignore the achievements and performances of the national side over the last 12 months.
They have been the key story over the year that was and have provided us with the moments and memories that we will all, surely, recount to our grandchildren one day.
It is unfathomable, in my eyes at least, that the winner of this year’s award will not be one of Stephen Keshi’s glorious collective. Below, I have listed my six Super Eagles star men for 2013.
I’m not giving anything away, but don’t be surprised if my vote goes to one of the following…
Vince: Praying he wins the Goal award?
Things haven’t always been easy, but the Super Eagles stopper Vincent Enyeama is ending 2013 in the form of his life.
He has shown incredible fortitude to return to Lille, from a stint away on loan in Israel, to claim the No. 1 shirt and to deliver such regular, outstanding performances. The highlight was his Man of the Match showing against Falcao as Les Dogues defeated Monaco, but it was one grand performance out of many.
The Lille keeper hasn’t conceded a league goal since September 15.
At the Cup of Nations he was in fine fettle. The defence ahead of him may have been young and inexperienced, but you could hardly tell; Enyeama’s expert organisational skills ensured they very little got past the unit.
He was ultimately named Goalkeeper of the tournament.
Oboabona: "Commiserations, Didier!"
The world hadn’t heard of Godfrey Oboabona as 2012 became 2013. The unheralded defender was still playing in the Nigerian league and was yet to feature in a high-profile clash for the Super Eagles.
A year later, he is a national hero—the man who kept Didier Drogba, and more recently Mario Balotelli, quiet, a continental champion and a defender with a big future.
He has been the Super Eagles’ most-regular starter this season. Apart from the recent friendly against Burkina Faso, he is the only player to have started every one of Nigeria’s games.
His performances at the Cup of Nations were the highlight and, by the end of the summer, the surprise was not that he moved to Europe, but that, when he did, it wasn’t to one of the continent’s major sides.
Mikel: Could he retain Goal Nigeria's premier award?
John Obi Mikel
What a year it’s been for the influential Nigeria midfielder. At club level, he won the Europa League with Chelsea and also scored his first goal for the club—after a wait of seven years!
However, it is for the national side that he has truly shown his class and last year’s winner of the Goal Nigeria award must surely be one of the main contenders this time around.
Mikel was in imperious form as the Super Eagles emerged as African champions. His majestic performances in the heart of the midfield gave Keshi’s men an extra dimension and Mikel’s discipline and composure helped the Super Eagles see games through to the final whistle.
Goal Nigeria chief editor Lolade Adewuyi suggested that Mikel has been “A Leader on the pitch since the year began.”
His stunning goal against Uruguay, however, demonstrated that he’s much, much more than that!
Onazi: Master Propeller
I suspect a few of you might be able to guess who my tip for Player of the Year is. No…I won’t tell you, but I will just take a moment or two to extol the qualities of Ogenyi Onazi.
The young midfielder, the protégé of T.B. Joshua, emerged from nowhere to force his way into the Super Eagles midfield during the Cup of Nations. Excluding the Confederations Cup, when an injury forced him to miss the competition, he has been a mainstay ever since.
I would argue that he has been the missing link for the Super Eagles, the defensive midfielder that protects the back four and provides a platform upon which the side’s attacking players can operate. Crucially, he has provided Mikel with the confidence to express himself more within the national set-up.
Goal Nigeria’s Shina Oludare described Onazi as the “Master Propeller”, a nod towards his boundless energy and his limitless desire…I expect we are set to see a lot more of the Lazio man.
Emenike: One Foot in Brazil
During 2013 Emenike has been Nigeria’s star in the final third. He has scored goals in quantity, he has scored goals of quality, and he has scored goals of consequence.
In the Cup of Nations he contributed goals in both the quarter and semi-final, as well as two in the group stage. It was enough to earn him the Golden Boot, perhaps enough to make up for the disappointment of missing out on the final through injury.
He missed the Confederations Cup, where Nigeria’s toothless performances magnified his loss, but came back roaring after the summer.
Against Ethiopia, in Addis Ababa, his work in front of goal silenced the jubilant home support. His brace in the first leg pushed the Super Eagles firmly towards Brazil, while his second, a rasping finish after a gorgeous pirouette, was an indication of his class.
As Adewuyi pointed out, his goal in Calabar, against Malawi, was also of major importance.
Moses: Set to make a big impression at the World Cup
It is testament to Moses’s growing influence within the Nigeria set-up that his searing pace and terrific dribbling were missed so conspicuously at the Confederations Cup during the summer.
The young Liverpool forward has become a key part of Keshi’s starting XI and is often the figure that Nigeria turn to to unlock stubborn defences or to stretch an obdurate backline.
Who could ever forget his brace of penalties against Ethiopia in the Cup of Nations? When the door seemed to be closing and as nerves were at their most frayed, Moses stepped forward and stepped into immortality.
I, for one, am hugely excited to see how Moses progresses in the green of Nigeria over the coming years, starting with the World Cup in Brazil next summer.
So, who gets your vote?
Voting for the Goal Nigeria Player of the Year Award opens on December 2, 2013. Use the hashtag #GoalNigeriaPOTY in your Twitter discussions.