The roles of Nigerian footballers over time can never be undermined; However, we have a vast catalogue of players that contributed immensely to the game's development; we have people whose sacrifice to the game would never be forgotten.
Why are the Nigerian Footballers on this List Influential?
This list comprises Nigerian footballers that have one way or the other achieved and accomplished important feats as individuals and as a player in a team at the club or national level. Players on this list have also helped change the concept of football for different generations as a whole; some have also made significant sacrifices that would always be documented in the history books.
Most Influential Nigerian Footballers In The 2000s
11. Ahmed Musa
Most might wonder why the current captain of the Super Eagles of Nigeria makes the list; the fact is that aside from Ahmed Musa's commendable activities on the pitch, he has also been a philanthropist and has contributed immensely to the development of the sport as a whole.
Ahmed Musa is the Nigerian footballer with the highest capped appearance for the Super Eagles, with 107 appearances. He was also the first player to score over 18 goals in a single season in the Nigerian Professional Football league with 18 goals for Kano Pillars in the 2010 season. He was also the youngest player to achieve this feat at the age of 18.
The current captain of the Super Eagles is still the highest goal scorer for Nigeria at the FIFA World Cup with 4 goals; 2 goals in the 2014 world cup tournament in Brazil and 2 at the same event in Russia in 2018. He is also the only Nigerian player to score more than a goal in a single game at the FIFA world cup as well. To date, Ahmed Musa remains the only Nigerian to score in more than one world cup fixture.
10. Vincent Enyeama
Aside from being one of the players with the highest caps for the super eagles of Nigeria with a total of 101 caps, Vincent Enyeama was an influential figure for the team and people who enjoyed football. He is viewed as one of Africa's greatest goalkeepers in history and the 2000s Era of football. He was influential for the team and helped the Super Eagles to third-place finishes in the 2004, 2006, 2010 editions of the Africa Cup of Nations tournaments, and then went on to captain the team to victory in the 2013 edition.
In the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations, the former Super Eagles goalkeeper made three saves in the quarter-final penalty shootout against Tunisia. He was also key in the 2010 AFCON competition as he also made a penalty save from Zambia's Thomas Nyrienda. He then went on to score the winning penalty in that fixture himself.
He was also part of the squad for the 2010 FIFA world cup in South Africa and Brazil's 2014 FIFA World Cup. His second appearance at the 2010 World Cup saw him pick up the Man of the Match award after a spectacular performance against Argentina, where he made key saves even though Nigeria had lost that game by 1-0.
9. John Mikel Obi
Viewed as one of the most decorated Nigerian players in club football in Europe, the former Chelsea legend holds the number nine position. John Mikel Obi made a total of 97 caps for the Super Eagles. He skyrocketed to the spotlight after winning the silver ball as the second-best player in the FIFA youth championship behind Lionel Messi in 2005.
Mikel had made a controversial move to Chelsea when his deal with Manchester United was almost completed in June 2006; Mikel himself later revealed it in an interview. He had said:
I thought about it for a long time, and it was the biggest decision of my life.
You know what made my mind up? Chelsea had signed three other players from Nigeria along with me. They were staying with me at the house in London to keep me company.
These guys… their lives depended on the decision I was making. If I went to United, they were gone. If I went to Chelsea, they were going to have a career.
No matter how long it lasted, that was important to me. Just to give them a chance, you know?Mikel Obi to The Player's Tribune
Mikel had been an integral part of the Late Stephen Keshi's led Super Eagles team that had won the AFCON in 2013. He was also named in the CAF Team of the tournament the same Year; Mikel had also finished as a runner-up in the CAF African Footballer of The Year in 2013.
Mikel was also named the Man of the match after a stellar display in the first match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup fixture against Iran; he also helped the team to the first knockout stage of the tournament that same year. This was the first time Nigeria had qualified for the knockout stage at the world cup since 1998.
He captained the Super Eagles side at the 2016 Summer Olympics, where the team had gone ahead to win the bronze medal. Mikel recorded a goal that helped Nigeria defeat Denmark to qualify for the Semi-finals against Germany in the competition. They had been knocked out by Germany but were resilient till they defeated Honduras to win the bronze medal at the tournament.
Who are the Most Influential Nigerian Footballers in the 1990s
8. Late Stephen Keshi
The inspirational figure for the Super Eagles team, both as a coach and as a player, holds the number 8 position on our list. He was a legendary figure in the Nigerian football scene as he became one of the very few Africans to win the African Cup Of Nations (AFCON) both as a player and a coach. He won the AFCON in 1994 as a player of the Super Eagles of Nigeria, and he went ahead to win it as a coach in 2013. He was the Super Eagles side captain that won the AFCON in 1994; Stephen Keshi scored a total of 9 goals as a central defender in his 66 appearances for the Super Eagles.
7. Sunday Oliseh
Regarded as one of the best defensive midfielders of his Era, the Super Eagles Legend Sunday Oliseh holds the number seven position on this list. He was an integral member of the Atlanta 1996 Olympic gold medal-winning team. He is fondly remembered to date for his stunning goal at the 1998 FIFA World Cup match against Spain, where the Super Eagles had defied all odds and had beaten Spain 3-2. Oliseh had 61 appearances for the Super Eagles before he retired from international football in June 2002.
He was appointed coach of the super eagles from 2015-2016, and he had an impressive stat of 12 wins in 14 games.
6. Nwankwo Kanu
Although he has not won the African Cup Of Nations, Nwankwo Kanu remains an inspirational figure in the history of Nigerian football. The two times African player of the year is also viewed as one of the most successful Nigerian players in club football history. He was an influential figure for the Atlanta 1996 Olympic gold medal-winning dream team. He also won the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 1993.
Aside from this, he was also known for his charitable works after being a survivor of a congenital heart defect. He was prompted to set up his foundation, Kanu Heart Foundation, in 2000 to help children that require special needs.
5. Austin Jay Jay Okocha
The two-time BBC African player of the year in 2003 and 2004 holds the number 5 position on the list. Austin Jay Jay Okocha made his way into the hearts of fans in all his 73 appearances for the Nigerian national team between 1993 and 2006.
He successfully scored a total of 14 goals in all appearances and is regarded as one of the legendary players to grace the game of football. He became popular with the Nigerian supporters on his second appearance in the world cup qualifiers. He converted a direct free kick to equalize against Algeria before helping the team to a 4–1 win, eventually securing qualification to their first World Cup.
He was an integral player for the victorious 1994 African Cup of Nations squad and the 1994 World Cup squad, who made it to the second round.
Who are the Most Influential Nigerian Footballers In The 1900s
4. Teslim Thunder Balogun
The legendary player holds a position on the list of our most influential Nigerian footballers; he was a key player for the Super Eagles and still went ahead to be a coach upon retirement. He became the first African qualified professional football coach. He was a player known for his direct and killer shots, which earned him the name 'Thunder.'
3. Samuel Okwaraji
The legendary player who had lost his life in the final 10 minutes to the end of the 1990 FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Angola in Lagos had been an inspiration to many. He scored one of the fastest goals ever in the history of the African Cup Of Nations against Cameroon in 1988. Despite his short spell for the Super Eagles of Nigeria before passing at the age of 25 years, Samuel Okwaraji would always be remembered for the creative player that he was.
2. Segun Odegbami
He was popularly known as the 'Mathematical' for his witty style of play and precision. Segun Odegbami holds the number two position among the most influential Nigerian footballers. Odegbami won 46 caps for the Super Eagles of Nigeria and scored a total of 22 games in these competitions. He also led Nigeria to their first Africa Cup of Nations title in 1980 that was also hosted in Nigeria. His last game was the 1984 African Champions Cup final defeat to Zamalek of Egypt.
1. Rashidi Yekini
The all-time highest goal scorer in the history of Nigerian football, late Rashidi Yekini holds the number one position on the list of most influential Nigerian footballers. He scored 37 goals in just 62 appearances for the Nigerian football team. He scored Nigeria's first-ever goal at the FIFA world cup tournament in the team's 1994 appearance at the tournament in the 3-0 victory over Bulgaria.