FIFA World Cup countdown: Top 10 Nigerian footballers of all time

As part of the countdown to the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Sports Mole takes a look at the top 10 players in the history of Nigeria.

While the likes of Senegal, Ivory Coast and Ghana have all made impressions at recent World Cup tournaments, it was Nigeria that guided the way.

As their fellow African nations floundered, the Super Eagles were ranked fifth in the world as they reached the last 16 of USA '94 and they went on to repeat that achievement four years later in France.

Surprisingly, the men in green have only won the Africa Cup of Nations on three occasions, although they do head into this summer's World Cup in Brazil as the current champions of their continent.

Here, to continue our countdown to the 2014 tournament, Sports Mole looks at the top 10 players in the history of Nigerian football.


10. Vincent Enyeama (2002-present, 89 caps, no goals)

Lille goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama in action for Nigeria on February 6, 2013.© Getty Images

There arguably won't be a more in-form goalkeeper heading to Brazil than Enyeama. An ever-present for Lille, the 31-year-old became the first ever goalkeeper to win Ligue 1's African Footballer of the Year award. He is also the maiden Nigerian to claim the accolade.

Many feel that the recognition was deserved, having conceded just 25 goals in 37 outings between the posts. Speaking recently, the gloveman said: "It's amazing, a great honour and I deeply appreciate it. I must first give glory to God, my teammates, family and our beautiful fans for their remarkable support. It's a reward for team effort and having great people in front of me. Together we've endured a tough but interesting season."

His international career got underway fully at the 2002 World Cup where he kept a clean sheet against England in the group stages, while in 2010, although Nigeria were beaten 1-0 by Argentina, his performance to deny Lionel Messi on numerous occasions was lauded. Only Joseph Yobo has represented the African nation on more occasions that Enyeama, who captained Nigeria to the Africa Cup of Nations trophy last year.


9. Patrick Odegbami (1976-1982, 46 caps, 23 goals)

Nicknamed Mathematical because he had graduated through college, the major regret surrounding Odegbami's international career is surely that he only represented Nigeria for six years.

That's not to say that it wasn't a successful stint, though. In 1980, he was the joint leading goalscorer alongside Morocco's Khalid Labied as Nigeria won the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in their history. Unsurprisingly, he was also included within the Team of the Tournament.

Where his club career was concerned, Odegbami spent all of his playing time in his homeland with Shooting Stars.


8. Sunday Oliseh (1993-2002, 63 caps, four goals)

Midfielder Sunday Oliseh celebrates scoring at the World Cup on June 13, 1998.© Getty Images

You don't play for clubs of the ilk of Juventus, Ajax and Borussia Dortmund unless you possess a large amount of ability. Oliseh's main asset was his passing, which more often than not was extremely accurate.

While he can count titles in Holland and Germany among his honours list, it will be the gold medal that he won while on international duty that is likely to take pride of place. He was instrumental as Nigeria knocked out Brazil at the semi-final stage of Atlanta '96, before beating Hernan Crespo's Argentina in the final.

In 1994, he also lifted the Africa Cup of Nations, as well as receiving plaudits for the man-marking job that he carried out on Diego Maradona at that year's World Cup. Then, at France '98, he scored memorable goal from distance against Spain.


7. Stephen Keshi (1981-1995, 64 caps, nine goals)

Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi stands on the touchline on March 23, 2013.© Getty Images

Nigeria's longest ever serving skipper, Keshi is revered among Nigerian supporters. He featured at four Africa Cup of Nations tournaments - collecting a winners' medal in 1984 - and the 1994 World Cup in the USA.

Today, the fate of the Nigerian football team remains in his hands, but in a different capacity. Following stints in charge of Mali and Togo, the Nigerian Football Association appointed Keshi as their head coach. He made an almost instant impact, leading the Super Eagles to the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.

During his playing career, the centre-back also opened up the path for his fellow countrymen to move to Europe when he switched to Belgian side Lokeren in 1986, before he represented Anderlecht and Strasbourg.


6. Taribo West (1994-2002, 41 caps, no goals)

Former Derby County defender Taribo West in action for Nigeria on June 02, 2002.© Getty Images

A defender famed for his many ridiculous hairstyles, West was a part of the 1996 gold medal-winning Nigeria side in Atalanta. He also featured prominently at the World Cups in 1998 and 2002. His impact on Nigerian football is so big that in his homeland there is a club named Taribo West FC.

Having moved to France with Auxerre in 1993, West went on to represent both Milan clubs, before heading to the Premier League for what would turn out to be a largely forgettable short stint with Derby County.

He would later go on to play for a host of other clubs around the globe - including Plymouth Argyle - before bringing the curtain down on a hectic career in 2008.


5. Finidi George (1991-2002, 62 caps, six goals)

Winger Finidi George in action for Nigeria against Denmark on June 28, 1998.© Getty Images

Wingers are famed for being inconsistent performers at the best of times, but it's not an accusation that can be aimed at George. He arrived at Ajax in 1993, where his goals helped the Amsterdammers to win three Eredivisie titles and the Champions League once.

When he made the move to Real Betis in 1996, he was regarded to be one of the best wingers in world football. His performances in Spain were believed to have captured the attention of Real Madrid at one stage, but the move fell through. George then spent a season that ended in relegation from the Premier League with Ipswich Town, but overall, it was a largely successful club career.

His time at international level was also a positive one. On debut against Burkina Faso he set up three goals in a 7-1 win, as well as scoring against Greece at the 1994 World Cup.


4. Uche Okechukwu (1990-2002, 46 caps, two goals)

Nigerian defender Uche Okechukwu makes a clearance against Greece on June 30, 1994.© Getty Images

Following the retirement of Keshi, the captaincy was handed to Okechukwu, who took on the responsibility with minimal fuss. Like many on this list, he won a gold medal in 1996 and was also included in the squad that won the Africa Cup of Nations in 1994.

The centre-back featured heavily as an unfancied Brondby reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup in 1991, while he also lifted the Danish League title on two occasions.

The majority of his career, though, was spent in Turkey with Fenerbahce. He helped the Istanbul-based outfit to win the Turkish League twice in 1996 and 2001. Also, Okechukwu was in the starting lineup the night that Fenerbahce ended Manchester United's 40-year unbeaten European home record at Old Trafford in 1996.


3. Rashidi Yekini (1984-1998, 58 caps, 37 goals)

Rashidi Yekini celebrates scoring for Nigeria at the World Cup on June 21, 1994.© Getty Images

Yekini will forever be a Nigerian hero, largely because he scored his nation's first ever World Cup goal during a 3-0 victory over Bulgaria at USA '94. What's more, earlier that year at the Africa Cup of Nations, he was the tournament's leading goalscorer with five strikes as Nigeria won the title.

His most memorable stint at club level was spent in Portugal with Vitoria FC, where his prolific streak helped him to be voted the African Footballer of the Year in 1993 - the first player from his nation to win the award.

Sadly, in 2011, rumours started to surface surrounding his ill health and in May 2012 it was confirmed that Nigeria's leading goalscorer of all time had passed away, although the cause of death was never officially confirmed.


2. Jay-Jay Okocha (1993-2006, 75 caps, 14 goals)

Former Bolton Wanderers midfielder Jay Jay Okocha in action for Nigeria on February 11, 2004.© Getty Images

So good they named him twice! In terms of dribbling ability, there hasn't been a more effective African footballer ever. Throughout his career, Okocha had a real knack of luring in a defender, before going on to beat them with a drop of the shoulder or a trick.

Having impressed with the likes of Eintracht Frankfurt, Fenerbahce and Paris Saint-Germain, it was with Bolton Wanderers in the Premier League where his quality majorly shone through. During his first season he helped to keep the club in the division, before captaining them to the League Cup final in 2004, where they were defeated by Middlesbrough.

The 2005 African Footballer of the Year was one of the mainstays of Nigeria's golden generation during the 1990s, which went a long way to him being included on Pele's list of the top 125 living footballers of all time in 2004.


1. Nwankwo Kanu (1994-2010, 86 caps, 13 goals)

Former Arsenal striker Nwankwo Kanu in action for Nigeria on January 31, 2006.© Getty Images

Pipping Okocha into first spot is Kanu, who is Nigeria's most decorated footballer. In the early part of his career he won three Eredivisie titles and the Champions League with Dutch side Ajax, before going on to lift the UEFA Cup with Inter Milan in 1998.

He then switched to Arsenal in the summer of 1999, where he would win a brace of Premier League titles and FA Cups. Arguably his most memorable contribution came in an away match at Chelsea, during which he scored a 15-minute hat-trick to secure a 3-2 win.

The two-time African Football of the Year, who also played for West Bromwich Albion and Portsmouth, won the Olympic gold medal in 1996 with Nigeria.


Nigeria will face Argentina, Bosnia and Iran in the group stages of this summer's World Cup, and you can follow every match live with Sports Mole.

Continuing our 50-day countdown to the tournament, we will be looking at the greatest players in Portugal's history tomorrow. You can also see all of the World Cup top 10 lists so far by clicking here.

Who is the greatest Nigerian footballer of all time?

Nwankwo Kanu
Jay-Jay Okocha
Rashidi Yekini
Uche Okechukwu
Finidi George
Taribo West
Stephen Keshi
Sunday Oliseh
Patrick Odegbami
Vincent Enyeama
Other
Nwankwo Kanu
15.8%
Jay-Jay Okocha
25.3%
Rashidi Yekini
5.2%
Uche Okechukwu
1.0%
Finidi George
1.4%
Taribo West
1.7%
Stephen Keshi
1.8%
Sunday Oliseh
1.4%
Patrick Odegbami
0.9%
Vincent Enyeama
2.7%
Other
43.0%
Argentina's forward Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring a goal against Paraguay during a Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup South American qualifier football match at Defensores del Chaco stadium in Asuncion, Paraguay, on September 10, 2013
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