In a list featuring legends such as Okocha and Oliseh, Ace Football takes a look at the five greatest Nigerian midfielders to ever grace the game.
Midfielders tend to be the fittest and most skillful players on the pitch. The role is the most demanding role on the pitch, requiring an all-round ability to help the team achieve their aims.
Vision, passing, tackling, a never-say-never attitude, a high level of fitness, and an excellent technical ability are just some requirements that every man in the middle should ace.
Nigeria have had no problems in this department. We’ve seen several brilliant midfield maestros wowing us over the years, but who would be your no.1 pick? Ace Football takes a look at the greatest Nigerian midfielders.
5. Mutiu Adepoju
While not the flashiest of talents, Mutiu Adepoju’s aerial prowess and eye for goal made him stand out. In fact, he is part of an elite group of players to have scored in both the World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations.
The ‘Headmaster’ spent the bulk of his career in Spain at clubs such as Real Madrid B, Racing Santander, and Real Sociedad. He made 175 appearances in LaLiga, supplying 22 goals and an assist.
On the international scene, Adepoju won 54 caps. The Ibadan-born star was part of the Super Eagles side that won AFCON in 1994. He featured in the African tournament three times overall, as well as the World Cup.
4. Aloysius Atuegbu
Known as ‘Blockbuster’ back in the day, Aloysius Atuegbu was one of a kind. He was technically gifted, a free-kick specialist, and had a ferocious shooting ability to cap it off.
The former attacking midfielder was a stalwart in the Super Eagles attack, winning over 50 caps while helping the national team win a first AFCON title on home soil in 1980.
He played for Mighty Jets of Jos, Enugu Rangers, Coal City club, and Ranchers Bees during his club career.
Unfortunately, Atuegbu passed away in May 2008 aged 55.
3. Sunday Oliseh
Sunday Oliseh possessed all the typical traits of a world-class defensive midfielder. He had the physicality and stamina required for the role. But he took things a step further by prioritizing more on retention and passing the ball than just winning it back.
Oliseh’s talent earned him moves to renowned European clubs such as Ajax, Juventus, and Borussia Dortmund. He won five major honors, including the Eredivisie and Bundesliga titles.
The former Nigeria captain claimed 63 caps at international level. His performances helped the national team win AFCON in 1994 and an Olympic goal medal in 1996. He also featured in two World Cups, famously scoring a long-range match-winning goal in the 3-2 win over Spain in the 1998 edition.
The International Football Federation of History and Statistics (IFFHS) has acknowledged him as one of Africa’s 50 greatest players of the 20th century.
2. John Obi Mikel
John Obi Mikel rose to prominence by starring in Nigeria’s second-place finish at the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship. He finished as the tournament’s second-best player, behind Lionel Messi.
Mikel later embarked on a trophy-laden career at Chelsea. He won nine major honors in England, including two Premier League titles and the Champions League. He has also played for Tianjin TEDA, Middlesbrough, Trabzonspor, Stoke City, and Kuwait SC.
The Nigerian midfielder even played a key role behind the Super Eagles’ 2013 AFCON triumph and captained the national team to a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympic Games before his retirement from international football in 2019.
Ultimately, Mikel’s career hasn’t quite panned out the way many fans hoped. But it’s still been a memorable one, one that would make any player proud.
1. Jay-Jay Okocha
Topping our list of the greatest Nigerian midfielders is Jay-Jay Okocha.
With uncanny dribbling and technical ability, Okocha was a special talent. His vast array of tricks, skill-obsessed playing style, and moves made him a joy to watch. Even stars like Mesut Ozil were in awe.
While Okocha impressed at Eintracht Frankfurt, Fenerbahce and Paris Saint-Germain, he truly made his mark at Bolton Wanderers. He thrived in the English Premier League. His quality shined at every venue, helping the club stay in the top-flight and reach the EFL Cup final in 2004.
The seven-time Nigerian Footballer of the Year claimed 73 caps during his international career. He won AFCON in 1994 and the Afro-Asian Cup of Nations a year later.
Brazilian icon Pele even named Okocha in his list of the top 125 living footballers of all time in 2004.