Ace Football takes a look at the five greatest Nigerian defenders to ever grace the game.
For every goal machine, a team needs a great defender. Players in this position are essential. They keep the scoreline down, decide matches, and ensure there are no unexpected surprises at the back.
The very best ones are excellent leaders, not afraid to do the dirty work, strong in the air, and role models.
So who, out of all the great Nigerian defenders in history, would you rate as the best? Here at Ace Football, we take a jab at this question by profiling our top five picks here.
5. Benedict Iroha
The ex-San Jose Clash and Watford full-back was part of the Super Eagles side that won the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations. He also featured in the 1994 and 1998 World Cups respectively.
Aside from his exploits for the country, Benedict Iroha enjoyed an 11-year club career until 2000. The Aba-born star started out at Bendel Insurance and Iwuanyanwu Nationale, now known as Heartland FC Owerri. He helped the latter win the Nigeria Premier League in 1990. A spell in the Ivory Coast followed; before he ventured out of Africa for stints in Europe and the United States.
Iroha supplied the first MLS assist by setting up Eric Wynalda for the league’s first-ever goal in its inaugural match between San Jose Clash and DC United in 1996.
4. Taribo West
Famed for his unusual hairstyles, Taribo West was one of a kind. He had all the typical traits of the center-back through his hard-tackling style of play, commitment, and ball-winning abilities. He even competed in four of Europe’s top five leagues.
West began his European career with a bang by winning three trophies in a four-year stay at Auxerre. He later formed part of Inter Milan’s 1998 UEFA Cup-winning side. A brief spell with AC Milan followed before he embarked on stints in England, Germany, Serbia, Qatar, and Iran until his retirement in 2008.
The former Nigerian defender was part of the national team that won Gold in the 1996 Olympic Games. He won 42 caps with the Super Eagles, featuring in two World Cups (1998 and 2002) and two AFCON tournaments (2000 and 2002).
3. Christian Chukwu
Ranking third in our list of best Nigerian defenders is Christian Chukwu, the man who skippered the national team to its maiden AFCON title on home soil in 1980.
Chukwu’s indomitable will to lead, resilience, and ability to motivate the team earned him the nickname ‘Chairman’. His leadership skills were admirable both on and off the pitch. They made him a natural fit to become a coach, a profession he undertook after hanging up his boots.
The former Enugu Rangers captain later coached Nigeria to the semi-finals of the 2004 AFCON tournament.
2. Joseph Yobo
Joseph Yobo is the second-most capped Nigeria player of all-time alongside Vincent Enyeama on 101 appearances, featuring in three World Cups and six AFCON tournaments – including the triumphant 2013 edition.
The former defender is also one of the most successful Nigerian players in Europe. As a product of the Standard Liege academy, Yobo first played in Belgium before joining Marseille and Everton. It was with the Toffees where he made his mark. He became an ever-present in the English Premier League side on route to 259 appearances.
Yobo was one of just seven footballers to play every minute of the 2006/2007 Premier League campaign. He also won two Turkish Cups and the Super Lig with Fenerbahce. After a brief spell on loan at Norwich City, he retired in 2015 and now works as an assistant coach for the national team.
1. Stephen Keshi
Topping our list of best Nigerian defenders is the late Stephen Keshi.
So what makes Keshi stand apart? Well, for one, he led Nigeria to AFCON glory as both a player and manager. He also played club football in five countries, most notably Belgium. He helped Anderlecht win six trophies, including two Belgian league titles, and reach the final of the 1989/90 European Cup Winners’ Cup.
Nigeria’s longest-serving captain won 64 caps and famously coached the Super Eagles to AFCON glory in 2013, winning the African Coach of the Year award in the process.
Unfortunately, Keshi passed away three years later in June 2016 from a heart attack.