African Football HQ: Why do Nigerians struggle in the Champions League?

AFHQ Mikel
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Super Eagles stars have something of an underwhelming record in the UCL; are they Africa's biggest underachievers?

Are Nigeria Africa’s great underperformers when it comes to the Champions League?

This is one of the items on the agenda in this week’s African Football HQ unplugged podcast, as Ed Dove and Malek Shafei discuss the performance of Super Eagles stars in the history of the tournament.

Indeed, it’s been something of a mixed track record.

To date, Nigerian internationals have won three UCL titles collectively—one title for three individual players.

The winners are Nwankwo Kanu and Finidi George, both of whom clinched the title with Ajax, and John Obi Mikel, who was a winner with Chelsea in 2012.

Compare this return, for example, to Cameroon, who have produced UCL winners on six separate occasions—Samuel Eto’o (three times), Geremi (twice) and Joel Matip (once).

How do we explain that Cameroon have won twice as many UCL golds as Nigeria?

Even Ghana—Nigeria’s eternal rivals—have produced more winners than the Super Eagles, with four players—Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari, Samuel Kuffour and Abedi Pele—all getting their hands on winning medals.

Perhaps most concerning for Nigeria, is that they have equalled the honours haul of Ivory Coast and Mali (three winners), countries who don’t have the kind of continental legacies as the Super Eagles.

What do we attribute this to?

Perhaps we may point to a lack of ambition on the part of some of the Super Eagles players, who didn’t play for clubs of the calibre they might have done.

Joseph Yobo, Vincent Enyeama and Jay-Jay Okocha, for example, were never going to win the UCL with Everton, LOSC Lille and Bolton Wanderers respectively, but could they have achieved more if they’d pushed to play at some of Europe’s biggest clubs?

Could the same be said about the likes of Yakubu, Segun Odegbami and Rashidi Yekini?

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Elsewhere, we might point to bad timing.

Taribo West, Emmanuel Amuneke and Odion Ighalo, for example, all played for UCL-winning teams, but they did so at times when their clubs were enjoying fallow periods and a step down from Europe’s biggest clubs.

To date, three winners is a poor return for a nation that has produced such excellent talent and some of Africa’s greatest players; with few Nigerians still standing in this year’s UCL, don’t expect the country’s fortunes to change any time soon.