In the football landscape of 2023, Nigeria has firmly established itself as a global powerhouse, proudly showcasing a remarkable cohort of male footballers who have etched their names into the annals of the sport's storied history this year.
These athletes, with their electrifying footwork on the hallowed turf and an unwavering dedication to their national and club teams, have endeared themselves to fans, both domestically and across the seas.
With an eye on commemorating the exceptional feats of the best male footballers in Nigeria in 2023, NotJustOk has undertaken the task of celebrating their accomplishments. These individuals, whose virtuoso performances with the ball have illuminated the beautiful game and served as a wellspring of inspiration for a burgeoning generation of talent,
Without further ado, here is the distinguished roster of Nigeria's elite players, meticulously ranked through the discerning votes of football connoisseurs and sports journalists not only in Nigeria but also from corners around the globe.
20. Ogenekaro Etebo
Position - Midfield
Club: Free Agent
The 27-year-old is currently without a football club after having a disappointing season with Greek side Aris Football Club. He failed to score a goal in his 28 appearances during the 2022–23 season. These statistics saw him get the fewest votes in our ranking of the best Nigerian footballers in 2023.
19. Leon Balogun
Leon Balogun has also had a strong partnership with William Troost Ekong in the heart of the Super Eagles defence, popularly known as the Oyinbo Wall. The 35-year-old, who currently plays his football with Rangers, joined the Scottish side on a free transfer from QPR.
He has not been at the same level since he moved to Rangers, having just made one appearance so far this season (2023/24).
18. William Troost-Ekong
Club: POAK Thessaloniki
The formidable central defender is presently showcasing his skills on the field for PAOK Salonika, a prominent team in the UEFA Europa Conference League. His journey with the club commenced in the summer transfer window of 2023, and so far, he has made an impact by participating in 12 matches. Noteworthy is his impressive average of 44 passes per match, coupled with an outstanding pass completion rate of 81%.
With such commendable performances, Troost-Ekong stands as a strong contender to secure a spot on the upcoming flight with the Super Eagles as they embark on their journey to Cote D'Ivoire for the Nations Cup. Should he maintain this stellar form, he could play a pivotal role in the team's aspirations for success in the tournament.
17. Semi Ajayi
Club: West Brom
Renowned for his expertise as a central defender, the 30-year-old footballer initiated his professional journey with Charlton Athletic in England. Ajayi has since embarked on a notable career trajectory, making impactful moves to clubs such as Cardiff City and Rotherham United. Currently, he is a key player for West Brom in the Championship, showcasing his skills at a high level.
Consistently delivering strong performances, Ajayi has been in stellar form for both his club and the national team. As the anticipation builds for AFCON 2023, supporters of the Super Eagles hold high hopes that he will maintain his impressive form and contribute significantly to the team's success in the tournament.
16. Emmanuel Dennis
The forward player has fallen short of the lofty expectations set by football enthusiasts during his stint with Watford. Despite playing in the Premier League last season, he struggled to find the back of the net, managing just two goals throughout the campaign.
At 25 years old, his prospects of securing a spot in the Super Eagles team for AFCON 2023 are currently precarious, as his performance at Basaksehir FK in the Turkish league has yet to gain momentum. With his form struggling to take off, the likelihood of him breaking into the national squad hangs on a slender thread, adding an element of uncertainty to his chances ahead of the prestigious tournament.
15. Chidozie Awaziem
The journey of the Super Eagles defender began on home turf with El-Kanemi Warriors in Nigeria, but his aspirations took him to Porto's esteemed football academy in 2014. His debut for the national team came in 2017, marking the commencement of his international career.
In 2021, Awaziem made a permanent move to Boavista from Porto but found himself on loan for both the 2021/22 and 2022/23 seasons. The first stint took him to Turkey with Alanyaspor, and the subsequent season saw him contributing to Hajduk Split's success in clinching the Croatian Cup while securing a runner-up spot in the league.
Now, at 26 years old, Awaziem has returned to Boavista and has become an indispensable presence on the team. Having started every game in the ongoing 2023/24 season, he continues to prove his worth as a reliable force in the heart of the defence for Boavista.
14. Frank Onyeka
Embarking on his football journey at FC Ebedei in Nigeria, Onyeka's skills eventually led him to the Danish club FC Midtjylland. His noteworthy performances in the Danish Superliga established him as a midfielder renowned for his exceptional work rate, ball-winning prowess, and distribution skills.
Despite these credentials, the 25-year-old currently finds himself donning the colours of Brentford City in the Premier League. However, his transition has not been seamless, as he struggled to make a significant impact during the last season (2022/23). Failing to secure a regular spot on the Bees' first team, Onyeka's contribution fell short of adding substantial value to the club's winning ratio in football games.
As preparations for the African Cup of Nations in Cote d'Ivoire loom, it becomes imperative for the midfielder to enhance his on-field performance if he aspires to be a part of the Nigerian team. A resurgence in form and an increased ability to make meaningful contributions on the pitch will be crucial for Onyeka to stake his claim to represent Nigeria on the continental stage.
13. Moses Simon
Position: Left winger
The dynamic forward is currently making waves in Ligue 1, having made a pivotal move during the 2020 summer transfer window, signing a lucrative four-year contract with his current club. At 28 years old, he excels primarily as a left winger, showcasing versatility by seamlessly slotting into any position within the forward line.
His time with Nantes has been marked by consistently impressive performances, notably contributing to the team's goal tally. As the anticipation for the 2023 African Cup of Nations, hosted in Cote d'Ivoire, builds among Nigerians, there's a collective hope that the forward will receive an invitation to the national team.
12. Paul Onuachu
Club: Southampton ( Trabzonspor, loan)
Paul Onuachu's transition to Southampton has seen him struggle to mirror the stellar performances he showcased during his time at Genk. The 29-year-old made a noteworthy move from the title-chasing Genk to the relegation-threatened Premier League side, signing a three-and-a-half-year contract. Unfortunately, he failed to replicate the goal-scoring prowess that defined his tenure in Belgium, leaving Southampton supporters longing for his Genk form.
To rediscover his scoring touch, Onuachu embarked on a season-long loan to Trabzonspor in September 2023. The decision appeared to be a fruitful one, as he made an impactful debut for the Turkish club, finding the back of the net in a convincing 3–0 victory against Besiktas. This positive start at Trabzonspor suggests a potential resurgence in form for the striker, offering a glimpse of hope for both the player and his fans.
11. Gift Orban
The year 2023 has been somewhat average for Nigeria's forward players who made a deadline-day move to Genk during the January 2023 transfer window. Notably, Gift Orban has found the back of the net six times across various competitions, marking his goal-scoring contribution as of the latest reporting.
While the current season may not have mirrored the prolific scoring form of the previous season, where Orban impressively netted 22 goals, there's optimism that the forward has the potential to increase his goal tally. As the season progresses, fans and analysts will be keenly observing whether he can replicate or even surpass his remarkable goal-scoring exploits from the previous campaign.
10. Ola Aina
Club: Nottingham Forest
The right-back, Ola Aina, has swiftly become a standout presence in the English Premier League since his move to Nottingham Forest in the summer of 2023. His impact, however, was foreshadowed by a brilliant season in the Italian Serie A during 2022/23. In that campaign, Aina featured in a commendable number of matches, including 8 as a substitute.
Known for his prowess on the ball, Aina showcased his skills by averaging 24 passes per match, with an impressive pass completion rate of 77%. Additionally, he contributed offensively with 1 assist. The 27-year-old's well-rounded performances have established him as a key force on the field.
As the football calendar progresses, Aina will be aiming to maintain this exceptional form and prioritize his fitness, with an eye on the upcoming African Cup of Nations (Afcon) in 2023. Staying at the top of his game will not only be crucial for Nottingham Forest but also for his aspirations of representing his national team at the continental tournament.
9. Kelechi Ihenacho
Club: Leicester City
Super Eagles and Leicester City forward, Kelechi Iheanacho, experienced a dip in goal-scoring form during the 2022/23 season, netting only eight goals across all competitions. This performance marked a departure from his more prolific output in previous seasons.
However, the 27-year-old has undergone a significant resurgence in the current season (2023/24). Displaying an impressive turnaround, Iheanacho is actively contributing to Leicester City's efforts to secure promotion back to the Premier League. His heightened performance levels suggest a return to the goal-scoring prowess that fans and football enthusiasts have come to associate with him, bringing renewed optimism for both the player and the club.
7. Terem Moffi
Club: OG Nice
OG Nice forward, Terem Moffi, occupies a pivotal position similar to Wilfred Ndidi, as both players are seen as potential game-changers for the Super Eagles in their quest to win AFCON 2023. The 24-year-old's goal-scoring prowess has not gone unnoticed, capturing the attention of football enthusiasts and establishing him as a rising star in both Nigerian and international football.
Moffi's impact has been particularly felt at Nice since his move to the Ligue 1 club. In the previous season (2022/23), he demonstrated his scoring ability by netting an impressive 22 goals for both club and country. Remarkably, he has carried forward this goal-scoring momentum into the current season (2023/24), solidifying his reputation as a consistent and formidable force in the forward line. As AFCON 2023 approaches, Moffi's form and proficiency in finding the back of the net make him a player to watch and a potential key contributor to Nigeria's success in the tournament.
7. Wilfred Ndidi
Position: Defensive midfielder
Club: Leicester City
Despite experiencing the disappointment of relegation with Leicester City at the end of the 2022/23 Premier League season, Wilfred Ndidi has maintained his exceptional form in the Championship during the current season. The 27-year-old midfielder is a pivotal player for the Foxes as they strive to secure promotion back to the Premier League.
Ndidi's performances on both the domestic and international fronts have underscored his importance as a key figure for the Super Eagles of Nigeria. His contributions in the heart of the midfield have not only showcased his skills but also demonstrated his leadership and influence on the pitch.
Looking ahead, Ndidi's focus will be on maintaining his impressive form and ensuring his fitness as the African Cup of Nations approaches. With the tournament set to be hosted in Cote D'Ivoire, the Super Eagles will rely on Ndidi's prowess and experience to make a significant impact as they compete for continental glory.
6. Ademola Lookman
Club: Leicester City
Ademola Lookman, the dynamic forward player for Atalanta, has seamlessly integrated into the Serie A club since completing his move from Leipzig on a four-year contract for a reported fee of €15 million. His impact has been particularly notable, with a standout performance at the beginning of the year 2023.
In January, Lookman showcased his goal-scoring prowess in spectacular fashion, scoring braces in three consecutive matches. This impressive run included an 8–2 Serie A victory over Salernitana, a 5–2 Coppa Italia triumph against Spezia, and a thrilling 3–3 Serie A draw with Juventus. Such remarkable contributions have solidified his status as a key player for Atalanta.
As Lookman continues to prove his worth in Serie A, there is optimism that he will carry this exceptional form into the upcoming Nations Cup. Super Eagles supporters will be eagerly anticipating his contributions, hopeful that he can replicate his outstanding performances for Atalanta while donning the national team colors in the prestigious tournament.
5. Alex Iwobi
The accomplished 27-year-old player, formerly associated with Everton and Arsenal, earns a spot as the fifth player on our list due to his outstanding performances for both his club and the national team. Notably, he played a pivotal role in Everton's survival during two consecutive seasons (2021/22 and 2022/23), contributing significantly to the team's successful battle against relegation.
In recognition of his talents, the player made a significant move during the 2023 summer transfer window, reuniting with his former manager, Marco Silva, at Fulham. However, despite the high expectations surrounding his arrival, he has yet to find the back of the net or record an assist since joining the London-based club. Fans and pundits alike will be keenly watching as the season progresses to see if the player can make a notable impact and showcase the skills that made him a key asset in previous seasons.
4. Samuel Chukwueze
Position: Right winger
Club: AC Milan
The year 2023 is poised to become eternally memorable for Samuel Chukwueze, courtesy of his outstanding performances with La Liga side Villarreal. His excellence on the field earned him the prestigious title of the 2022–2023 LaLiga Santander African MVP Award, a recognition bestowed upon him by votes from esteemed African football journalists.
Chukwueze's contributions to the Yellow Submarine during the season were nothing short of spectacular. He showcased his attacking prowess by scoring 13 goals and providing 11 assists across all competitions, featuring in 37 out of 38 La Liga Santander matches for Villarreal.
Despite this stellar form, the talented winger embarked on a new chapter during the 2023 summer transfer window, securing a move to Serie A giants AC Milan. However, his transition to the Italian league has been met with initial challenges, as he has yet to hit the ground running with his new club. Fans and observers will be keenly following Chukwueze's journey, hoping that he finds his form and makes a significant impact as the Serie A season unfolds.
3. Taiwo Awoniyi
Club: Nottingham Forest
The 26-year-old sensation has taken the English Premier League by storm with his remarkable performances for Nottingham Forest, becoming the focal point of discussions among football enthusiasts. His incredible run commenced with Forest and played a pivotal role in their successful bid to avoid relegation in the previous season (2022/23).
In a feat that places him alongside one of Africa's football icons, Mohamed Salah of Liverpool, the Nigerian international, Awoniyi, has matched the record of the Egyptian King by scoring in seven consecutive league games for Nottingham Forest. His outstanding goal-scoring run almost reached unprecedented heights as he aimed to become the first African player to score in eight consecutive Premier League games, an achievement he pursued in a match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the current season (2023/24).
The striker's exceptional form has not only made headlines but has also positioned him as a potential target for some of the best clubs in Europe. If Awoniyi continues to dazzle with his goal-scoring exploits, his performances will likely attract the attention of top-tier European clubs seeking a player of his calibre.
2. Victor Boniface
Club: Bayer Leverkusen
Victor Boniface, the talented Nigerian forward plying his trade with Bayer Leverkusen, has rightfully secured the position as the second-best player in Nigeria for the year 2023. His remarkable accomplishments during the 2022/23 season showcased his prowess on the field, with an impressive tally of 22 goals and 12 assists across 55 matches in various competitions.
A historic moment for Boniface occurred as he became the first Nigerian player to clinch the highest goal award in the UEFA Europa League, underscoring his impact on the European stage. His stellar performances in Belgium also earned him the distinction of being the second-best player of African origin in the country.
In a notable transfer move, the 22-year-old forward joined Bayer Leverkusen from Union Saint-Gilloise, becoming only the second Nigerian player in history to don the colours of the Bundesliga club. Boniface's achievements did not go unnoticed in Germany, as he was named the Bundesliga's Player of the Month for August 2023, outshining formidable contenders such as Bayern Munich's Harry Kane and Wolfsburg's Jonas Wind. The recognition further solidifies Boniface's status as a rising star with immense potential on the European football scene.
1. Victor Osimhen
Victor Osimhen has etched his name in history as the inaugural African recipient of the Golden Boot in the league, marking a milestone achievement in his illustrious career. His remarkable goal-scoring prowess was further demonstrated during the 2023 AFCON qualifiers, where he claimed the title of top scorer with an impressive tally of 10 goals.
The Nigerian striker's stellar performances for Napoli garnered widespread recognition, earning him nominations for prestigious awards such as the FIFA Best Award and the Ballon d'Or. Additionally, Osimhen stands as a frontrunner for the Africa Player of the Year award for 2023, a testament to his exceptional contributions on the field.
Having surpassed the 20-goal mark for Nigeria, Osimhen sets his sights on a historic milestone—aiming to become the highest goalscorer in the history of Nigerian football. The current record, held by Rashidi Yekini with a total of 37 goals, stands as a benchmark that Osimhen is determined to surpass, solidifying his legacy as one of Nigeria's footballing greats.