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Where does Ighalo rank among Nigeria’s greatest Premier League strikers?

4:22 AM GMT+8 23/03/2020
Odion Ighalo Manchester United
The Manchester United striker has hit the ground running at Manchester United, and has enjoyed a career comparable to some of Nigeria's PL greats

More than perhaps any other African nation, there is a proud history of Nigerian strikers in the Premier League.

The newest off that line is Odion Ighalo, whose impact since joining Manchester United in January has been just as improbable as the Red Devils’ decision to bring him on loan from Shanghai Shenhua in the Chinese Super League.

His involvement in the league has been sparing, but in the cup competitions, the former Nigeria international has demonstrated impressive predatory instinct, scoring four times in four appearances, while providing one assist.

There is also the wider context: the 30-year-old is Nigeria’s sole credible striking ambassador in the Premier League at the moment, and has been for the better part of the last five years, spanning his time at Watford as well, for whom he scored 17 goals over two seasons. As such, it is worth considering his place among the country’s forward exports to English shores down the years.

In the 90s, Efan Ekoku notably turned out for Norwich and Wimbledon in the English top flight. The Manchester-born forward, a lithe, powerful runner with a good leap, became the first player to score more than three goals in the Premier League when he slammed four past Everton in 1993, and was a part of Nigeria’s squad to the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations and World Cup.

The arrival of Kanu to English shores in 1999 led to a surge in following for North London giants Arsenal, who signed him from Inter Milan. He quickly rose to cult hero status at Highbury, most notably after spearing Chelsea with a memorable hat-trick to complete a dramatic comeback from 2-0 down.

While a very different type of forward – a second striker rather than a leading man – the former Ajax and Inter Milan man pitched in with 17 goals in all competitions for Arsenal in the 1999/00 season, and developed a reputation for making an impact off the bench.

With the Gunners, he was a part of a historic unbeaten season in 2003/04 before departing for West Bromwich Albion.

He then enjoyed a second wind at Portsmouth in the 2006/07 season, scoring a brace on his debut and finishing with 12 goals for Pompey. The following season, he claimed the third FA Cup trophy in his time in England, scoring in the semi-final and final to help the club to its first FA Cup triumph in 69 years.

If he was not an out-and-out goalscorer, however, he had a compatriot and contemporary who was, and who incidentally had passed through Portsmouth just a few years prior.

Yakubu Aiyegbeni remains vastly underrated for his ability and output in the Premier League. His exploits in the Champions League with Maccabi Haifa convinced Harry Redknapp’s promotion-chasing side to take a punt on the burly, barrel-chested forward that came to be known as the Yak.

His first season of Premier League football saw him notch 16 goals for Pompey, 11 of which came in the final stretch of the 2004/04 season.

He followed that up with 13 more the following season, and earned a move to Middlesbrough, where he spent two seasons and led the club to the final of the 2005 UEFA Cup.

In 2007, he joined Everton for a club record fee at the time. He quickly set about repaying the club’s fate, scoring on his debut against Bolton and finishing with 21 goals in all competitions for the Toffees.

A further spell at Blackburn in 2011/12 yielded 18 goals, but the Rovers were relegated at the end of the season and Yakubu elected to leave the club.

In all, he scored 96 goals in his time in the Premier League.

In 2006, following the retirement of the legendary Alan Shearer, Newcastle entered the market in search of a replacement. They settled on Obafemi Martins, a 21-year-old striker who was turning heads at Italian side Inter.

His first season was a productive one – Martins hit double figures for the Toon – but following the arrival of Mark Viduka the following summer, the Nigeria international found himself relegated to the bench often, and then ruled out altogether following a couple of injuries.

Following the club’s relegation, he departed for Wolfsburg; it was brief, but the memory of his thunderous strike against Tottenham Hotspur lingers.

Osaze Odemwingie was another who had a brief but memorable impact in the Premier League, arriving in 2010 and scoring 30 times for West Bromwich over three seasons. The terms of his eventual exit from The Hawthorns have since lent his spell there a less-than-flattering air, but he won multiple Premier League Player of the Month awards and, at one time, flirted with interest from Juventus.

Ighalo is the continuation of a trend, although it is fair to acknowledge that, Kanu aside, none of Nigeria’s Premier League strikers has operated at the highest level of club.

While the stature of Manchester United puts him ahead of the likes of Ekoku and Martins, there is quite a way to go before he is spoken of in the same breath, for impact as well as output, as Yakubu. It is the 37-year-old who remains, objectively, the cream of the crop.