The English Premier League is widely regarded as the most highly competitive football league across the globe. While this statement remains hugely debatable, depending on the side, you’re on. There’s still an element of truth in it.
Despite its high intensity and level of competitiveness, African players have enjoyed numerous successes over the past decades. Since the competition morphed into the English Premier League in 1992, it has featured Nigerian players in every year of its existence.
Among notable Nigerian footballers to play in the EPL include Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Shola Ameobi, Victor Anichebe, Obafemi Martins and many more. However, since it’s practically impossible to include everyone on the list, we have come up with our top five Nigerian footballers to have plied their trade in the EPL.
5. Austin Okocha
Jay Jay Okocha is a figure that consistently divides opinion whenever his name is mentioned in the top players’ list. However, J.J Okocha is too good to be ignored. Talk about his mesmerising pieces of skills, crazy dribbles and the ability to keep the spectators at the edge of their seats for ninety minutes.
Having spent four years in France with PSG, Okocha joined Bolton Wanderers in the summer of 2002 on a free transfer. In his first year, he led his team out of the relegation zone, thanks to the seven goals he notched in his debut season in the EPL. Also, he has one of his strikes voted as the Premier League goal of the season.
The following year, he was nominated as the club captain following Guoni Bergsson’s retirement as a professional footballer. That same year, he led his team into the FA Cup final, which they eventually lost to Middlesbrough.
Overall, Jay Jay Okocha made 124 appearances for Bolton Wanderers, scoring 31 goals in the process. He would feature again in the EPL after a single season in Qatar, this time around opting for Hull City. Unfortunately, he was plagued with injuries and failed to contribute much to his team’s campaign. He featured in 18 competitive games with 0 goals to his name.
4. Daniel ‘The Bull’ Amokachi
Amokachi, popularly known as “The Bull”, was signed by Everton for 3 million pounds after the 1994 world cup. He’s fondly remembered for bringing himself on as a sub, proceeding to score two goals in that semifinal FA Cup win over Tottenham in 1999; his coach wasn’t too pleased with his actions despite single-handedly winning the match. He also appeared in the FA Cup final triumph but just as a late sub. He didn’t make the best impact in the Everton shirt as hoped, in the end losing his place to Rideout and Duncan Ferguson, before moving to Besiktas, where he played 43 times and scored 10 goals.
3. Celestine Babayaro
This ex Nigerian International was signed for Chelsea by then manager Ruud Gullit at the age of 19 back in April 1997. He was signed from Anderlecht for 2.25million pounds, who sold him to Chelsea, a club that had a track record for developing youngsters at the time.
He won trophies such as FA CUP and Charity Shield with Chelsea in 2001 and 2002 respectively.
When Jose Mourinho arrived, he lost his place to Wayne Bridge who was signed due to Roman Abramovich’s Revolution. He later joined Newcastle United in 2005 after playing 200 times for Chelsea where he scored five goals.
2. John Mikel Obi
John Michael Obinna is popularly known as Mikel Obi. He joined the London giants “Chelsea” after a tug of war that happened with Manchester United. During the clash, FIFA intervened and acted as a pacifier between the two rivals. The matter was resolved, and Chelsea was asked to pay 12 million pounds in compensation to Manchester United and 4million pounds to his parent club, FC Lyn Oslo of Norway.
Mikel Obi made his Chelsea debut in the Champions League against Bulgarian side, Levski Sofia, and scored his first goal in English football in the 6-1 thumping of Macclesfield Town in January 2007 (FA Cup). He has played in many cup finals, such as the League Cup, FA Cup and the Champions League. He is known to be the most decorated Nigerian Player to play in the EPL during his eleven years with Chelsea. He won 1 league cup, 4 FA cups and 1 Champions League medal alongside winning 2 EPL titles. In total, he made 160 appearances for Chelsea scoring two goals.
1. Kanu Nwankwo
Undoubtedly one of the most successful African players in history. Kanu, popularly known as “Papillo” joined Arsenal Football Club in the summer of 1999 after Manchester United’s treble-winning season, in which they were crowned the Premier League champions, as well as Champions League and FA Cup winners in 1999. Like Obafemi Martins, Kanu also joined the EPL having represented Inter Milan, albeit with little success. He made 50 appearances in his first season, scoring 17 goals. His 15-minute whirlwind hat-trick against Arsenal’s fiercest rival, Chelsea instantly turned him a fan favourite. In all, Kanu represented Arsenal a remarkable 119 times with 37 goals to his name. He helped Arsenal to secure 2 League titles and 2 FA cups in 5 years.
The towering striker went on to represent both West Bromwich Albion and Portsmouth, scoring 9 and 20 goals respectively, making him the best Nigerian footballer to ever play in the English Premier League.
Do you think our list is unfair? Let’s have your say!