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African All Stars

From Iheanacho to Chrisantus: What happened to Nigeria's greatest wonderkids?

10:08 PM MYT 04/10/2022
Musa Iheanacho Iwobi
What became of the Naija stars once tipped for the very top?
  • Kelechi Iheanacho & James Maddison, Leicester City

    Kelechi Iheanacho

    Now turning 26, Iheanacho is a decade removed from his first international tournament with Nigeria, when he represented the national side at the U-17 African Championship in 2013.

    He was considered among the finest players of his generation as a teenager—winning the Player of the Tournament award at the U-17 World Cup in 2013—and promptly secured a move to Manchester City.

    He’s still an active Premier League player at Leicester City, although with only five goals combined across this season and the last, he isn’t quite setting the world alight as was once expected.

  • Ahmed Musa of Nigeria

    Ahmed Musa

    The current Super Eagles skipper made his Nigeria debut at 17, and has gone on to become the most capped player in the history of the national side.

    He’s won the Africa Cup of Nations, and made his mark at the World Cup, although some have questioned whether he’s truly realised the promise he showed as a younger player.

  • Worst TOTW/Victor Anichebe

    Victor Anichebe

    The Nigerian scouser made his Everton debut just shy of his 18th birthday, bursting onto the scene as a striker who appeared to have it all.

    A month later—in May 2006—he scored his first Prem goal, and would add several more before the year was out.

    Injuries ultimately limited his progress, although he’d remain in the top flight for the next decade, representing West Bromwich Albion and Sunderland.

  • Bart Ogbeche Hyderabad ATK Mohun Bagan ISL 8 play-offs

    Bartholomew Ogbeche

    Few will remember that Ogbeche played for Paris Saint-Germain early in his career, due to his limited impact in the French capital.

    He was contracted to the Parisians for six years, although he spent some time away at Bastia and Metz on loan in that period.

    It was during his PSG days that he was thrust into the Nigeria squad as a fresh-faced 17-year-old by Adegboye Onigbinde, who handed the teenager the number nine shirt at the 2002 World Cup.

    He partnered Julius Aghahowa at the finals but didn’t get among the goals as the Super Eagles exited at the group stage, bottom of their group after scoring just once.

    Ogbeche never really took off after that, with a journeyman career taking him to the United Arab Emirates, Spain, Macedonia and England. He did have one decent individual season in 2009-10 with Cadiz where he ended top scorer with nine goals. However, this wasn’t enough to spare them from relegation from the Segunda Division.

    Peculiarly, though, the striker was fairly prolific with Cambuur and Willem II in the Eredivisie, where he has registered 34 and 13-goal contributions respectively.

    Now playing in India for Hyderabad, he is the all-time top scorer in Indian Super League history.

  • Jordon Ibe

    Jordon Ibe

    Many hoped Ibe could become Nigeria’s next big thing when he made his debut for Liverpool only days after he turned 17 years and five months.

    He made 41 league outings for the Reds before being sold to Bournemouth for a whopping £15 million, and never came close to repaying that transfer fee across four years on the south coast.

    He’d subsequently move on to Derby County—playing just once—and is now in the Turkish second tier with Adanaspor.

  • Dele Adeleye

    The centre-back was one of the unsung heroes of Nigeria’s U-20 World Cup in 2005 in the Netherlands, a competition in which he featured three times.

    While the Flying Eagles fell short in the final against Argentina, his performances at the showpiece prompted Sparta Rotterdam to make a move.

    He was a consistent figure in the side over the next four years too, making 79 appearances across all competitions. However, he never progressed into one of the top divisions and has switched between average European leagues in the last few seasons.

    Now 33, he's been a free agent since his contract with Russian club SKA-Khabarovsk ended in 2018.

  • George Ndah Premier League

    George Ndah

    Crystal Palace’s youngest ever Prem player, Ndah made his Premier League bow for the Eagles as they were smashed 5-0 by Liverpool in November 1992.

    He was just 17 years and 340 days at the time, and would go on to make a further 27 appearances in the top flight.

    Now 47, the London-born striker arguably enjoyed the best years of his career with Wolverhampton Wanderers, even bouncing back to score goals in the top flight.

    Injuries ultimately curtailed his progress—and prevented him from making his Super Eagles debut in 1999.

  • Macauley Chrisantus HSV

    Macauley Chrisantus

    Chrisantus became a household name after his performances at the U-17 World Cup in South Korea in 2007.

    The striker scored seven goals en route the Golden Eaglets’ third triumph at the showpiece, which saw him win the Silver Ball.

    Unfortunately, the striker couldn’t build on the promise shown in 2007, although there was a spell at Las Palmas where he scored 19 and assisted four in 64 games between 2012 and 2014 in the Spanish second division.

    At 32, when Chrisantus recalls the competition in Asia there may be a tinge of regret, especially as the winner of the Golden Ball, Real Madrid's Toni Kroos, has gone on to claim several collective and individual accolades since their teen years.

    The Nigerian is currently playing for Aprilia Calcio in the Italian lower leagues.

  •  Nigeria Alex Iwobi and Everton.

    Alex Iwobi

    Being Jay-Jay Okocha’s nephew, and representing Arsenal—beloved in Nigeria—there was a genuine thrill among Super Eagles supporters when Iwobi made his Gunners bow in 2015.

    He was still only 19 when he made his debut against Swansea City, having first joined the North Londoners when he was still at primary school.

    Arsenal nearly released the player twice, but he’d eventually go on to make 100 league outings before signing for Everton.

    His form under Frank Lampard in recent months has offered optimism that he can reach the heights that were once expected of him.

  • Rabiu Ibrahim

    Rabiu Ibrahim

    Dubbed the ‘new Jay-Jay Okocha’, Ibrahim was supposedly destined for greatness in his youth.

    Like Chrisantus, he starred at the U-17 Africa Cup of Nations and World Cup in 2007, and had the world at his feet.

    It was no surprise top English clubs like Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal were seemingly interested in the player listed among the top 50 exciting youngsters in the world at the time.

    The teenager was even called up by Berti Vogts for the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations, only for injury to rule him out of the showpiece in Ghana.

    He’s been successful at Trencin and Slovan Bratislava, the side he currently represents, but the Slovak Super Liga isn’t where many imagined he’d be playing during his peak years.

  • Shola Shoretire Manchester United 2021-22

    Shola Shoretire

    One player on this list who could still realise his potential, Shoretire made his debut for Manchester United less than three weeks after his 17th birthday and later won the club’s Young Player of the Year award for 2020-21.

    Now 18, he’s made just two league outings for the Red Devils since his debut, although he may add to that number soon, with Erik ten Hag reportedly having vetoed a loan move away from Old Trafford for the wonderkid.

  • Lukman Haruna of Dynamo Kyiv

    Lukman Haruna

    Another one from the 2007 Golden Eaglets side that failed to live up to his billing; Haruna’s failure to hit expected heights still rankles.

    He came through at Monaco and had a different development to many players in that 2007 side.

    Unfortunately, his nurturing during those early days didn't result in a long and successful career; Haruna’s spell at the French side turned out to be the high point.

    Since leaving the Red and Whites in 2009, the midfielder has played in Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan.

    The 31-year-old has been without a club since leaving Armenian Premier League side Ararat Yerevan.

  • Joel Asoro Sunderland 21082016

    Joel Asoro

    The attacker made his debut for Sunderland at 17 years, three months and 25 years, playing just once in the 2016-17 season as the Black Cats tumbled out of the top tier.

    He represented both the Wearsiders and Swansea City in the Championship before going on to represent Groningen and Genoa.

    He’s currently back in Sweden---the land of his birth—and despite having represented the European nation at U-21 level, he remains eligible for Nigeria.

  • Pius Ikedia of Nigeria

    Pius Ikedia

    The wideman’s blistering pace was his major strength and he was one of the youngest in Onigbinde’s 23-man squad in 2002.

    Unfortunately, the then-Ajax man never seemed to add other qualities to his arsenal, and often frustrated with his general understanding of the game.

    He fizzled out of relevance after his spell with the Dutch giants, which proved to be the highlight of his career.

  • Bukayo Saka 2022-23

    Bukayo Saka

    When Saka made his Arsenal debut before he was even 17 years and four months, there was much excitement among Super Eagles fans that he’d ultimately go on to represent the West African giants.

    Ultimately, he opted for England, and has gone on to become the most successful player on this list, making over a century of league outings for the Gunners.

    He’s also set to represent the Three Lions—and Nigeria—at the World Cup later this year.

  • Ethan Nwaneri Arsenal 2022-23

    Ethan Nwaneri

    Arsenal starlet Nwaneri became the youngest ever Premier League player when he made his Gunners debut in their 3-0 thumping of Brentford earlier this season.

    At 15 years and 181 days, Nwaneri is comfortably the youngest player to feature in the top flight, and the latest in the long line of Nigerian wonderkids who stepped foot in the world’s greatest league.

    What became of Nwaneri’s predecessors after they—like him—burst onto the scene at a young age?