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Top 10: Nigerian players of the decade

05:53 GMT+3 24/12/2019
Efe Ambrose, John Obi Mikel, Vincent Enyeama of Nigeria
With the 2010s drawing to a close, Goal ranks Nigeria's greatest players of the decade

  • Efe Ambrose

    #10 Efe Ambrose

    Considering he pretty much spent his active time on the international scene playing out of position, it’s a wonder that Ambrose earns a spot on this list.

    A natural centre-back, it was Ambrose who most benefitted from the unavailability of strong options at right-back, filling in there both at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations and at the World Cup the subsequent year.

    While he was no rampaging presence on the flank, he did more than his fair share of attacking, and his use of the ball in the middle and attacking thirds was frequently sensible. He never looked awkward in the role, and while he sometimes struggled with his positional responsibilities, he was almost always solid.

  • Leicester City's Wilfried Ndidi against Tottenham Hotspur 2019-20

    #9 Wilfred Ndidi

    Still only 23, Ndidi gets in here despite his relative youth and the fact he only made his international debut in 2016.

    Since then, the Leicester man has been an ever-present for the Super Eagles, and has starred in two major international tournaments already.

    Seemingly a captain in the making, his tenacity in midfield and his ball-winning ability sets him apart. He is already widely considered to be in the tier just below world class for his role and position in the world, and has been consistent in the Premier League for Leicester City, despite the fact the club has gone through three managers of wildly different profile in his time at the club.

    That speaks to the air of calm and stability he gives, and while he was not a part of any tournament wins in the 2010s, helping a young Super Eagles to a podium finish at the Afcon has to count for something.

  • Stoke City's Oghenekaro Etebo

    #8 Oghenekaro Etebo

    Another who really came into the public consciousness in the second half of the decade, Etebo has nevertheless been highly influential in his time in the national side.

    The former Warri Wolves man produced perhaps the single strongest performance of the decade in an improbable 5-4 victory over Japan in the opening game of the 2016 Olympics where he scored four goals. He seemed at his best under Samson Siasia, the one coach that completely understood how best to harness his attacking proclivities. Without him in the semi-final, Nigeria succumbed to a toothless defeat to Germany.

    It is a credit to his professionalism and versatility that he has been able to switch on a more defensive mindset in the Super Eagles, starting in deeper roles during the 2018 World Cup (where he was, by consensus, one of Nigeria’s best performers) and the 2019 Afcon, where he was as instrumental as any in Nigeria’s third-place finish.

  • Kenneth Omeruo_Leganes

    #7 Kenneth Omeruo

    A peripatetic club career marks Omeruo down significantly, but for a stretch in the first half of the decade, he was being spoken of as the equal of Raphael Varane.

    It may seem presumptuous now, but back then there was some merit to it. His partnership with Godfrey Oboabona at the 2013 Afcon effectively retired a great like Joseph Yobo, and he had all the trappings of a player with whom the future of the national side was safe for many years to come.

    His inability to achieve any sort of stability at club level would see him eventually lose his national team place, but he has rebounded strongly in Spain with Leganes. He may never hit those heights again, but he was a largely dependable servant for the national team during the decade, and he does have that strong showing at the World Cup in 2014 under his belt.

  • Odion Ighalo of Nigeria celebrates a goal during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Finals, 3rd and 4th place match

    #6 Odion Ighalo

    A late bloomer in every possible sense, Ighalo really only entered the international conversation in the second half of the decade.

    However, in that time, he drew some very strong reactions, and led the line for the national team with relative distinction. The qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup saw him operate at a quite high level, even though he did not score a great deal, but he underwhelmed at the Mundial, losing his place in the starting lineup and missing a couple of gilt-edged chances in the defeat by Argentina.

    He was, however, able to redeem himself, top-scoring during both the Afcon qualifiers and the tournament proper, and exiting the international scene on a high.

    His spell in the Premier League with Watford also is due more credit than it gets, and so he is a worthy entrant here.

  • Onazi - Nigeria

    #5 Ogenyi Onazi

    In the final analysis, there are two Onazis. The Trabzonspor midfielder has clearly never been the same player since Blaise Matuidi stamped on his foot in the Round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup.

    Up until that point, Onazi had been Nigeria’s best midfielder in the competition, and his withdrawal with injury saw France start to dominate a game in which they had been largely outplayed. Les Bleus went on to victory and progress to the Quarter Finals.

    Since then, the Super Eagles have not had the benefit of the rampaging box-to-box energy that Onazi provided at his absolute best. During the 2013 Afcon, he was a sheer force of nature, the perfect yin to John Obi Mikel’s sangfroid yang.

    That he reinvented himself enough to become indispensable in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, forming an almost impassable barrier in front of the defence alongside Wilfred Ndidi, speaks to his desire and intelligence.

    Had he not completely lost his form and place in the starting 11 on the eve of the Mundial, he probably would have placed higher.

  • Victor Moses Chelsea

    #4 Victor Moses

    In the decade under review, Moses arguably did more to raise the level of the national team than any other single player.

    It is worth remembering that Stephen Keshi had built a robust but largely functional squad, capable of getting results on any given day but lacking any real star power. Moses came along and changed all that: he was the sprinkling of stardust that set the Super Eagles on the path to victory at the 2013 Afcon.

    His brace of penalties against Ethiopia was possibly the clutch moment of the decade, but even from open play he often proved the difference in tight encounters, either by pulling it out of the fire (as in the aforementioned example) or by breaking an initial spot of resistance (as in the semi-final against Mali).

    He also featured in one of the more remarkable Premier League title triumphs with Chelsea under Antonio Conte, fulfilling a workmanlike role at wing-back to very good effect, and then continued what at the time seemed like a real resurgence by starring in Nigeria’s qualification for the 2018 World Cup.

    If he is not higher on this list, it is for two reasons.

    First of all, beyond that 2013 Afcon, Moses was underwhelming on the biggest stage (the World Cup) on two separate occasions. Secondly, a lack of consistency and application meant that, in the latter years of the decade, his influence on the national side actually became corrosive.

  • Nigeria v. Argentina - Ahmed Musa

    #3 Ahmed Musa

    For a player who has for so long divided opinion, Musa did more with little than anyone else in the 2010s.

    His searing pace mixes with inconsistency for a somewhat frustrating stew, but when in full flow, there are few forwards as rapid, and that asset is enough of a game changer that no one who has managed the Super Eagles has yet seen fit to do away with him.

    His two braces total more than any other player has ever managed for Nigeria at a World Cup, and for providing those iconic moments, and also being a part of Nigeria’s Afcon triumph in 2013, he gets in here.

  • Vincent Enyeama of LOSC Lille

    #2 Vincent Enyeama

    There is little doubt that, objectively, Enyeama is Nigeria’s greatest ever goalkeeper.

    Two World Cup appearances in the decade under review – each of which featured a riveting battle of wills with none other than Lionel Messi – make him equal with Peter Rufai, but he has the distinction of getting through both while at the peak of his abilities.

    Enough of the historical comparisons though. During the 2010s, Enyeama was at a very high level, and not just by Nigerian (or even African standards).

    Already a fine shot-stopper, the then Lille goalkeeper began to show other facets to his game: speed off his line, most impressively, that practically shrunk the time opposing forwards had, but also snappy reactions from close range and improved command of his penalty area.

    He conceded only twice from open play as Nigeria won the Africa Cup of Nations in 2013, and kept four clean sheets in eight matches in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. This was even more impressive considering the quality at the heart of the Super Eagles defence was not the greatest.

    For his remarkable 11-game clean sheet run in Ligue 1, for being the first from Anglophone Africa to win the Marc-Vivien Foe award, and for being genuinely world-class in his position for at least two years, Enyeama places highly here.

  • John Obi Mikel Nigeria 2018

    #1 John Obi Mikel

    There were two guises in which Mikel presented in the decade under review, and all things considered he excelled at both.

    First of all, he shook off the disappointment of missing out on the 2010 World Cup due to injury to put in strong performances as Nigeria claimed a first Africa Cup of Nations title in 19 years. He also became only the third Nigerian to win the UEFA Champions League, triumphing with Chelsea on an improbable night in Munich.

    There followed a World Cup debut in 2014 – truth be told, he was underwhelming for much of that tournament in Brazil, and in a way that marked his transition into his second guise: that of the elder statesman and captain.

    The highlight of the latter half of the decade for Mikel was, without a doubt, his financial sacrifices to rescue Nigeria’s campaign at Rio 2016 and, in the process, fulfil a personal dream of competing at the Olympics. He then went some way toward redeeming his first World Cup appearance by posting much more impressive performances in 2018.

    For the trophies at club and international level, as well as for his leadership qualities, Mikel is Nigeria’s player of the decade.