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Best Nigerian Footballers of 2021

Tue 18 January 2022 | 14:30

Who are the best Nigerian footballers of 2021? We have prepared a list of ten top Nigerian footballers for you who are actually known as the best Nigerian footballers of 2021 with some of them playing in the English Premier League which by itself is a proof to their professionalism.

The footballers we are going to introduce to you are actually the most famous Nigerian football players in 2021, but don’t expect them to be among

Nigerian football player legends

or the best players in Nigeria Premier League. That’s a different story.

To be frank, Nigerian football player legends like Victor Moses, Jay-Jay Okocha, and Rashidi Yekini, and the best players in Nigeria Premier League - we mean the current ones or the ones having recently played in the Nigerian Premier League - like Ahmed Musa, Godwin Obaje, and Odion  Ighalo are not on the list of best Nigerian footballers of 2021, and truly so since Nigerian football player legends, as it suggests, should be among older Nigerian footballers and the

best players in Nigeria Premier League

are not that professional to be among the best Nigerian footballers of 2021.

A List of the Best Nigerian Footballers of 2021

Let’s see who the best or, in other words, the most famous Nigerian football players in 2021 have been.

Maduka Okoye (Goalkeeper)

The only goalkeeper on the list of best Nigerian footballers of 2021 who has also been called up to the Nigerian national team for 2021 Africa Cup of Nations and will probably be called up to the same team for 2022 World Cup,

Maduka Okoye

has been a part of the Premier League club, Watford, since the start of 2022. Before that, he served the top Dutch club, Sparta Rotterdam, for two years between 2020 and 2022, and it might be interesting for you to know that although part of the Watford squad, he’s been sent on loan to the Dutch club again for the 2021-22 season.

As an under-aged footballer, Okoye has also served Bayer Leverkusen U17 and Fortuna Dusseldorf U19 teams. In total - we mean both as an under-aged and senior player, Okoye has made a total of 96 appearances to this date (January 2022), conceded 139 goals - 1.4 goals in every appearance - and collected 23 clean sheets - one clean sheet in every 4.1 appearances. He has also received 7 yellow cards and one red card. In 2020-21 season, when Okoye was still serving Sparta, he was called the Dutch club Player of the Year for his top performances during the season that actually had him collect 10 clean sheets in his 28 appearances.

Being 1.97m in height, Okoye is indeed a tall goalkeeper, and as his friend and teammate, William Troost-Ekong, said about him once in an interview, he’s also a strong and reliable goalkeeper who, despite his big stature, is also agile often going for the ball in the box and with a big confidence that makes him fit for the English top-flight league.

Alex Iwobi (Winger)

A product of Arsenal and undoubtedly one of

Nigeria best football players

, Alex Iwobi is the 25-year-old Nigerian footballer who’s been serving the top Premier League club, Everton, since 2019. He has also served his mother club, Arsenal, from 2015 to 2019 where he managed to make a total of 149 appearances - 37 appearances per season averagely - and score 15 goals for them across all competitions. Iwobi was part of the Nigerian national team in 2018 FIFA World Cup and 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, and he’s also been included in the Nigerian national team for the 2021 edition of Africa Cup of Nations.

Although

Iwobi

is not a top scorer at club level - he has scored 21 goals in 229 appearances to this date, his goalscoring stats with the Nigerian national team are better: He has scored a total of 9 goals in 48 appearances that he has made for Nigeria since 2015 which translates to almost one goal in every 5 appearances. Raised in England since the age of 4, Iwobi is presumed to be more English than Nigerian in playstyle, as it’s really so, meaning that he’s a technical player with a good intelligence and insight of the game rather than depending on physicality and strength. They say his vision and distribution is also good which means he could also play in more central roles, though he’s often deployed on the wings due to his physicality, close controls and progressive runs which, as the stats say, in the last case he’s even better than the top footballers, Paul Pogba and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Umar Sadiq (Forward)

One of the promising Nigerian footballers in 2021, if not calling him a young talent,

Umar Sadiq

is a 24-year-old footballer who has the experience of playing for some top Italian clubs like Roma and Bologna and is the current player of the La Liga 2 club, Almeria. It didn’t matter where Sadiq was, he always proved to be a prolific goalscorer whenever he was allowed on the pitch. That you can see from his goalscoring stats at different clubs: 23 goals in 52 appearances for the Serbian club, Partizan, 31 goals in 64 appearances for Almeria, of course, up to this date which may increase in the future, and 2 goals in 6 appearances for AS Roma. As you see, although he has not reached the threshold of one goal in every two appearances, he’s not far from it.

Sadiq’s appearances for the Nigerian national team are not much - only 2, however, he was part of the Nigerian U23 national team in 2016 Summer Olympics where he managed to score 4 goals in 6 appearances for his team helping them to win the bronze medal of Olympics football. About Sadiq’s playstyle, we should say that according to the fact that he’s a tall player - he’s 1.92m, he’s often considered as an aerial threat, but as they say, he’s more than that which means he has also his own strengths on the ground, too.

That includes his ability to manipulate the ball on the ground even in tight spaces and hold control over it through a combination of technique and strength, his top dribbling skills which enable him to get past the defenders and find the space he needs for shooting, and finally sending accurate through balls to his teammates to create goalscoring chances for them. In one word, Sadiq has the potential to become one of Nigeria best football players ever. We should just wait and see.

Simy Nwankwo (Forward)

One of the tallest footballers on the list of

best Nigerian footballers of 2021

- he’s 1.98m tall, Simy Nwankwo is a 29-year-old forward for two top-tier Portuguese clubs and two Italian Serie B clubs to this date. He has scored a total number of 117 goals in his 338 appearances for these clubs which translates to almost one goal in every three appearances. Call him a prolific goalscorer? You decide! But it might be interesting for you to know that with 66 goals scored for the Italian club, Crotone, Nwankwo is actually the club’s top scorer ever. He’s also the first African footballer to have become the top scorer of an Italian league in a single season - actually in Serie B 2019-20 season and with the 20 goals he scored for Crotone.

Besides, Nwankwo, alongside the top African footballer, Samuel Eto'o, are currently the only African footballers who have scored 20 or more goals in a single season of the top-tier Italian league, Serie A, with the former having scored 20 goals in 2020-21 season and the latter 35 goals in 2010-11 season of the top Italian league.

It might also be interesting for you to know that despite registering the two records mentioned above,

Nwankwo

has not won even a single trophy either club, international or individual up to this date - we wish he will in the future. About his playstyle, we should say that although not a pacey player, the 29-year-old African forward is a fully technical player - what is often overlooked about him. When he has the ball he knows what he wants to do with it and he does it. In other words, he’s quite confident when it comes to technical play, and what you might have probably guessed from his goalscoring records is that Nwankwo is a clinical finisher with a knack for goalscoring as it’s really so. He does it either through chipping, volley or a direct shot, no matter how hard he’s pressed or how tightly he’s marked.

Moses Simon (Forward)

Having played only for European clubs since the start of his career in 2014, Moses Simon is a 26-year-old Nigerian forward and winger who has also served the

Nigerian national team

since 2015. He has not scored that many goals to be called a prolific goalscorer, however, he’s not been also that bad at goalscoring with the 48 goals he has scored in his 228 club appearances to this date (January 2022) which translates to around one goal in every five appearances. And his goalscoring record with the Nigerian national team is a little bit worse with the 6 goals he has scored in his 45 appearances for them meaning that he has scored a little bit more than one goal (exactly 1.04) in his every eight international appearances.

Naturally a pacey player,

Moses Simon

often makes the most out of this strength point of his. He’s capable of dashing up and down the flanks multiple times during the play helping his teammates in offensive build-ups or defensive play. He also makes explosive runs behind the opposition defenders and into the box waiting for a teammate’s ball to convert. Actually, some of the goals he has scored for the Slovak club, Trencin, and the Belgian club, Gent, have been scored in this manner. One of the top qualities Simon possess is his controlling long balls while on sprint and without slowing down which makes him a perfect pick for counter-attacks. He’s also capable of changing directions at high speeds which is again a quality of him quite useful in attacks and even counter-attacks.

Taiwo Awoniyi (Forward)

Just like Moses Simon, Taiwo Awoniyi has also served only European clubs since the start of his career in 2015. He was actually a player of Liverpool from 2015 to 2021 but never made an appearance for them since he was on loan to other European clubs during these six years with the last of them being the Bundesliga club, Union Berlin, whom he has joined on a permanent contract since the start of 2021-22 season. You cannot call Awoniyi a prolific goalscorer since he has averagely scored one goal in every 3.5 appearances which actually comes from the 43 goals he has scored in his 152 appearances across all competitions to this date (January 2022), however, in playstyle, he’s often compared to Nigeria’s all-time top scorer, Rashidi Yekini.

They say although Taiwo Awoniyi is still young, he behaves like an experienced forward. One sign of such displayed experience is when he positions himself beyond the last defender in the offside zone giving him the false feeling of comfort that he’s caught up in the offside trap. Of course, the feeling is not always false! He, sometimes, is there in the offside zone but for the times he’s not, he will be quite free for a clean shot in a one-on-one situation with the goalkeeper. Other than behaving like an experienced forward, Awoniyi is often known for his hard work. It doesn’t matter if he scores or not; he has the mental strength to lead his team both mentally and morally.

Kelechi Iheanacho (Forward)

Yet another forward on the list of

best Nigerian footballers of 2021

, Kelechi Iheanacho is a 25-year-old Nigerian footballer who has served only two Premier League clubs since the start of his career in 2015: Manchester City from 2015 to 2017 and Leicester City from 2017 to this date (2022). He’s not a prolific goalscorer like some of the forwards behind him on the list, however, he differs from them in one respect and that is he’s at least a moderately decorated footballer considering his age with some club trophies and individual awards to his name including a FIFA U-17 World Cup Golden Ball in 2013 and a Premier League Player of the Month award in March 2021.

We said

Iheanacho

is not a prolific goalscorer; yes! That is true, at least to this date that he has scored a total of 64 goals in 214 club appearances - one goal in every 3.3 appearances, however, it might be interesting for you to know that Iheanacho is among the top footballers like Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, and Michael Owen who have scored 10 goals in the Premier League before the age of 20 - the number hardly goes beyond 15. Iheanacho’s goalscoring records with the Nigerian national team - both senior and under-aged - are not bad.

He scored a total of 8 goals in his 7 appearances for the Nigerian U17 team helping them win FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2013 with the 6 goals he scored for them in the competition, and for the senior Nigerian national team Iheanacho has scored a total of 12 goals in 40 appearances - near one goal in every 3 appearances - to this date (January 2022). In the current Africa Cup of Nations edition (2021), Iheanacho scored a goal against Egypt in the group stage which resulted in his side’s 1-0 win.

As for Iheanacho’s playstyle, we should say that his top performances as an under-aged player which actually earned him the Golden Ball of FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2013 also attracted the attention of Manchester City’s scouts. At that time, he played as an attacking midfielder, but as his perfect positioning sense was discovered at the English club, he was also used as a striker; the role he has kept to this date. They say whatever Iheanacho lacks in other departments he compensates with his goalscoring and that may be quite evident from a quote by FIFA: “he had a direct hand in exactly half of the 26 goals the Golden Eaglets [Nigeria] scored in the UAE [reference to FIFA U-17 World Cup held in UAE]”.

Paul Onuachu (Forward)

The tallest footballer on the list of best Nigerian footballers of 2021 - he’s about 2.01m tall,

Paul Onuachu

is a 27-year-old Nigerian forward who has served only three European clubs, namely Midtjylland, Vejle, and Genk, since the start of his career in 2012. You can call him a prolific goalscorer based on his goalscoring stats to this date: 135 goals in 275 appearances which translates to almost one goal in every two appearances. He also became the Belgian Pro League top scorer in 2020-21 season with the 33 goals he scored in his 38 appearances - just five more goals and he had scored exactly one goal in every appearance - and he actually got that record as he was only 63% of the times a part of the starting XI and played only 70% of the minutes in each of his appearances. Just imagine he played the full minutes and he, surely, scored more goals reaching that threshold of one goal in each appearance.

Onuachu’s goalscoring stats with the Nigerian national team are not that good considering that he has scored only 3 goals in his 16 appearances for them to this date, however, it might be interesting for you to know that Onuachu holds the record for the fastest goal scored ever for Nigeria by scoring a goal against Egypt in a friendly in March 2019 in just 10 seconds. In playstyle, Onuachu resembles other big-stature footballers: He often uses his big stature to keep the possession of the ball, however, despite his stature, he’s an agile player, too; what that is less likely with the footballers of his stature.

And the same stature - we mean specifically his height - is actually what has made him the best target for long balls and crosses inside the box due to it, he towers almost everyone in the area getting better chances of heading the ball and putting it at the back of the net, though he registered only a success rate of 55.5% in aerial duels in 2020-21 season that he became the Belgian Pro League top scorer.

Victor Osimhen (Forward)

Maybe he’s not far better than the footballers already mentioned in this post, however, Victor Osimhen has turned to be one of the most

famous Nigerian football players

since 2020 that he moved to the Italian club, Napoli, for a club record fee of €70 million. And just consider that he’s only 23 years old which means if he makes another move later, there should be no doubt that it would be for a higher price than this. We cannot call him really a prolific goalscorer based on his club records to this date: 57 goals in 134 appearances which translates to an average of 2.1 goals in every five appearances, however, he’s at least a prolific goalscorer with the Nigerian national team with the 10 goals he has scored for them in 18 appearances - indeed up to this date. He also managed to score 3 goals in 4 appearances and 14 goals in 7 appearances for the Nigerian U23 and U17 national teams, respectively, while he played as an under-aged player.

In playstyle,

Osimhen

is often considered as a pacey forward who is also good in aerial battles due to his height - he’s 1.86m tall. He’s also a strong player despite his slender stature and can hold off opposition defenders through his strength up until the time his attacking teammates have made their through runs. And one noticeable quality of the 23-year-old African forward is his insight or better said anticipation of the game which enables him to read the game before the opposition defenders positioning himself where he should be and make the best out of attacking opportunities. That quality also enables him to read the back-passes before they actually happen and therefore successfully intercepting them to create new offensive opportunities.

Wilfred Ndidi (Defender)

What we can say about this only defender and midfielder on the list of

best Nigerian footballers of 2021

is that he has attracted enough attention to be among the most famous Nigerian football players in 2021, too. He has been playing for the Premier League club, Leicester City, since 2017 and before that he served the Belgian club, Genk, for two years between 2015 and 2017. Defenders are not often expected to score goals let alone scoring the best goal in a season, however, that’s not the case with Wilfred Ndidi as he actually scored a long-range goal in a playoff match against

Club Brugge

in 2015-16 season that was voted later as the Belgian Premier League Goal of the Season. That’s the mark of a top defender, however, Ndidi still keeps to the norms of a defender of not scoring many goals which is quite natural.

Ndidi

plays press-up play as a defender and that is actually what is required of him and indeed other defenders at Leicester City, however, there is more to the 25-year-old Nigerian defender than that: He not only presses the opposition giving their forwards no time with the ball but also is quite talented at winning back the ball if he loses it. And when he gets back the ball, he lays it off to a well-positioned teammate who can start an attack in the first chance. He has also a look to empty spaces behind the opposition’s defense line to send the ball in if he sees it fit. This latter quality of him actually led his side to score a third goal against Liverpool in the Premier League and against Manchester United in 2020-21 FA Cup where Leicester City beat their opponents 3-1 in both matches.

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source: SportMob

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