Ambrose, Mikel, Musa: Nigerian connections in the Uefa Champions League

This article profiles the Nigerian stars who will be showcasing their talents in the Champions League this season

By Ed Dove 

Despite having one of Africa’s finest national sides, few of Nigeria's players are starring at the elite level of European competition—thus, it will fall to these five men to fly the national colours in Europe’s elite club tournament this season.

Michael Olaitan

Background: 20-year-old who began his career at Jos-based side Mighty Jets before making the move to Greece. Played two seasons at minnows Veria before being recruited by national giants Olympiakos.

Scored in his first Greek Cup game for the club, a start that bodes well for his future career at Thrylos.

Style: Found the net 14 times in 62 games for Veria and enjoys playing as a central striker. Also capable of operating on either flank.

International Career: Made his debut for the U-20 side earlier in the summer, a 1-1 draw with Brazil.

Champions League Prospects: Having dominated the Greek league for much of recent memory, the time has come for Olympiakos to make their mark in Europe. A group containing Paris Saint-Germain, Anderlecht and Benfica represents a major challenge and an opening day tonking against the French champions didn’t help.

John Obi Mikel

Background: Arguably the most famous Nigerian player of his generation, Mikel has enjoyed seven years at Chelsea where he has been a pivotal part of several victorious teams. Can count the Premier League, the FA Cup, the UEFA Cup and the Champions League among his honours.

Style: A progressive, deep-lying playmaker with the Super Eagles, Mikel has a much more conservative role with Chelsea. Under Mourinho, he sits ahead of the defence as one of the two in the Blues’ 4-2-3-1 formation, operating much more staidly.

International Career: A talismanic figure in the Super Eagles’ recent Africa Cup of Nations victory however, Mikel has accrued over a half-century of caps for Nigeria. Will be looking forward to potentially playing in his first World Cup next summer having missed out through injury in 2010.

Champions League Prospects: Chelsea were eliminated in the group stage last term when drawn with Juventus and Shakhtar Donetsk. They went on to win the Europa League last term, but much more will be expected under Mourinho in 2013-14 who will doubtless be targeting the latter stages.

Ahmed Musa

Background: For a long time the great hope of Nigerian football, Musa has, only recently, began to realise his undoubted potential. It all came together last year when he began to perform consistently in the Russian league, guiding CSKA Moscow to the national title.

Style: A livewire down the right flank, or from a central position, Musa allies fine dribbling ability and electric pace with improved finishing. Still needs to develop his decision-making, but this will likely come with age.

International Career: An impactful substitute during the Cup of Nations Musa often appeared desperate to make an impact—he was rewarded with a goal in the demolition of Mali. Also scored a crucial goal in the 1-0 World Cup Qualifying victory over Kenya.

Champions League Prospects: It’s going to be a struggle. Neither Bayern Munich or Manchester City will fancy a trip to Moscow, but the Army Men will surely struggle to usurp either giant. A tilt at the Europa League might be a better bet.


Fanendo Adi

Background: Lagos-born striker who has traipsed through some of Europe’s backstreets. His scoring record in Slovakia led to interest from Dutch giants Ajax.

Style: A powerful forward who, at 6’4, offers a physical threat from corners. Scored 10 in 19 last season with Trencin, will be looking to transfer these ratios to Copenhagen.

International Career: Has played a handful of fixtures for the U-23, not unreasonable to target the World Cup should Shola Ameobi or Victor Anichebe not work out.

Champions League Prospects: An early 1-1 draw with Juventus will give everyone at Copenhagen confidence, but the reality is that it would take a major effort for the Lions to top any of the Italians, Real Madrid or Galatasaray. Perhaps best to treat this campaign as a further learning curve for the squad.

Efe Ambrose

Background: Took the well-trodden pathway to Europe from Nigeria, passing by Israel and former UEFA Cup competitors Ashdod before being recruited by Celtic.

A Nigerian Premier League winner with Bayelsa in 2009.

Style: Versatile defender who can operate at centre-back, full-back or even further forward, in the midfield. Usually, a responsible, dependable member of the backline, Ambrose had a disastrous time in the Champions League last year when his blunders against Juventus cost Celtic dearly.

International Career: Has been reinvented as a full-back under Keshi. Fans were initially sceptical due to his lack of pace, but Ambrose was a crucial part of the triumphant Cup of Nations team and the subsequent seven months of internationals.

Champions League Prospects: After their stunning performances in Europe’s premier club competition last term Celtic have been drawn into the group stage ‘Group of Champions’. A privilege, perhaps, but also a harsh reality.

The Buoys will need to summon the ‘Spirit of ‘67’ to progress from such a testing collection of sides. Milan, Ajax and Barcelona will not relish the away evening at Parkhead.


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