The Best Nigerian Footballers of All Time

Let’s face it: the last few years have not been great for the Nigerian national football team.

They failed to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar, while their run to the last 16 of the Africa Cup of Nations in 2022 was their worst performance at the tournament since 1982 – and that’s not to mention that they didn’t even qualify for it in 2012, 2015 and 2017.

But perhaps the times are changing. The Super Eagles have qualified for AFCON 2023 with a game to spare, while players like Victor Osimhen and Samuel Chukwueze are leading Nigeria into a bolder, more dynamic future.

Whether they or any of their current international teammates make it onto the list of all-time great Nigerian players remains to be seen…

#1 – Ahmed Musa

The question of who are the best Nigerian footballers in history is subjective, but the objective answer is defined by those that have won the most caps and scored the most goals for the Super Eagles.

So leading the way is Ahmed Musa, who at the time of writing has 108 caps with the power to add – he’s played more games for Nigeria than anybody else.

The Sivasspor forward also sits tied-eighth in the all-time leading goalscorers list too, so his legacy is secured.

#2 – Rashidi Yekini

Although not a household name across the globe, Rashidi Yekini scored 37 goals in 62 games for Nigeria – a strike rate of 0.60 goals per game, which is outstanding at the international level.

A former African Footballer of the Year winner, Yekini also holds the distinction of scoring Nigeria’s first ever World Cup goal. He, unfortunately, passed away in 2012, but the legacy he left on the national team will live on.

#3 – Jay-Jay Okocha

There’s a case to be made that Jay-Jay Okocha is the most naturally-gifted Nigerian footballer of all time, the player so good they named him twice.

A veritable walking bag of tricks and skills, Okocha lit up the English Premier League, German Bundesliga, and Ligue 1 with his unique brand of the beautiful game.

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A seven-time Nigerian Footballer of the Year, Okocha also formed part of the Olympic gold medal-winning national team of 1996.

#4 – Nwankwo Kanu

Few players have done more to introduce Nigerian football to a global audience than Nwankwo Kanu.

When he moved to Arsenal, the popularity of English football in Nigeria completely took off. Soon, Nigerians were wearing replica shirts in their droves, while this period also helped to popularise a rise in betting sites across Africa that offered odds for the Premier League – many of those are still in operation to this day.

Scoring more than 50 goals for Arsenal, West Brom, and Portsmouth, Kanu won two Premier League titles, three FA Cups, and even the Champions League with Ajax.

#5 – Stephen Keshi

A stack of players could have filled this last place, from Sunday Oliseh and Vincent Enyeama to John Obi-Mikel and Joseph Yobo.

But when we talk about the best Nigerian footballers, few springs to mind more readily than Stephen Keshi, the brilliant defender who captained the Super Eagles to AFCON glory in 1994.

Something of a trailblazer, Keshi was one of the first Nigerians to play their club football overseas, with stints in France and Belgium bringing two domestic titles and a run to the final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup.

A respected head coach who guided Nigeria to the AFCON title in 2013, few have done more for football in the country than Keshi.

Which of the current crop of Super Eagles will add their names to this list in the future?