10 top Nigerian U-20 players making waves in European leagues
The back-to-back victory by the Golden Eaglets of Nigeria in the FIFA U-17 World Cup is an indication that the country has a large pool of talents within that age grade. Here are top 10 most promising Nigerian young footballers now giving a good account of themselves in various leagues across Europe.
Kelechi Iheanacho: Playing alongside such star players as Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure, Davis Silva and others in the Manchester City team speaks volume of Iheanacho’s talent.
With the few playing time he is getting at the club, the player adjudged as the Most Valuable Player at the Under-17 Youth Championship held at the United Arab Emirate in 2013 has scored five goals with breathtaking assists that have seen Man City fans singing praises of the young Nigerian. He is always comfortable with the ball anywhere behind the main striker, on the flanks or even when he leads himself. Kelechi is no doubt one of the gifted talents to have ever come out of the Nigerian shore in recent time.
2. Sadiq Umar – He announced himself to the big stage when he scored a beautiful goal in the Serie A for AS Roma. Reading William Vainqueur’s cross to perfection, the young Nigerian took out five defenders to plant home an emphatic header past Mattia Perin in goal for Genoa.
The 18-year-old Umar has gotten first team game time for a top club like AS Roma and even scored two goals in his three appearances. He is proving his goal scoring exploits at SC Spezia (where he scored a record breaking 26 goals in 27 games in the Italian youth league), which made Roma came for him, are no fluke. A tall and lanky forward, Umar has been likened to the legendary Nwankwo Kanu.
3. Isaac Success –Playing regular top-flight football for Granada and featuring week in week out for a 1st division team in Spain against super stars like Ronaldo and Messi and some of the best defenders in the world is indeed a remarkable achievement for the young Nigerian.
Isaac has scored three goals and is the livewire of Granada FC. He is comfortable playing as the main striker but is also effective playing wide a little. A strong, skillful and speedy striker likened to a young Samuel Eto’o. Isaac is a gem in the making and it is only a matter of time before he rises above struggling Granada FC of Spain.
4. Alex Iwobi: He plays with a top English Premier League team like Arsenal filled with world-class players. For the 19-year-old Nigerian international to be considered for a place on the bench in the Gunners conveys his quality.
Iwobi has made the Arsenal team roster eight times this season and started against Sunderland in the FA Cup where he received a standing ovation from the Highbury faithful.
He made an even bigger impression in the game against Stoke, where he came on for Theo Walcott in the last 20 minutes. Highly rated by Wenger, the Frenchman has refused to loan him out. Iwobi has the ability to play from a variety of wide positions as well as in the middle behind a striker and is capable of reading the game better. Iwobi is the nephew of the great Jay Jay Okocha.
5. Moses Simon – He is an electrifying winger with smooth ball control, immense pace and exquisite dribbling skills. He almost signed for Ajax Amsterdam in 2013 scoring for them in pre-season games before eventually signing for AS Trencin in 2014 where he was snapped up by Belgian Elite division club, Gent.
In only his first season for Gent, Simon scored seven goals and had numerous assists on their way to finishing second, which qualified them for the Champions League. At 20, the potential is frightening, as some EPL’s top clubs like Liverpool and Tottenham, are said to be showing interest.
6. Wilifred Ndidi – The 19-year-old was one of the first players among the 2015 U-20 class to sign for a club abroad, when he was snapped up by Racing Genk.
He wasted little time before he broke into the first team and has 18 appearances for the modest Belgian club, posting a great performance despite being moved from his traditional centre back to defensive midfield.
Ndidi recently scored his first professional goal for Genk from his defensive midfield position against Zulte-Waregem. He was one of the few players who stood out for the Nigerian U-20 during a dismal outing at the World Cup in New Zealand. A budding talent, Ndidi, is comfortable as a centre back, anywhere along the back four or even as a defensive midfielder.
7. Taiwo Awoniyi: Injury to Isaac Success at the 2013 U-17 World Cup at UAE gave Awoniyi an opportunity to prove his worth. He took it with both hands scoring four goals as Nigeria went on to win the cup.
Awoniyi has not looked back since becoming the top striker for the U-20 team scoring breathtaking goals in the African U-20 tournament in Senegal and even going on to replicate his goal scoring exploits for the U-23s.
A tall gangling striker in the likes of late Rashidi Yekini, Awoniyi is blessed with an eye for goal, good sense of positioning and exceptional hold up play. He eventually got his reward after being snapped up by Liverpool of England from where he has been loaned to Frankfurt of Germany to gain experience. It’s only a matter of time before his talent returns him to the English top flight football.
8. Kelechi Nwakali – The word wonder kid has been thrown around loosely most times. The MVP and Golden Ball winner at Chile 2015 U-17 World Cup, Nwakali was without any doubt the engine room and the driving force behind the victorious Golden Eaglets.
A brutal enforcer and instigator of attacks with silky and sublime ball touches, Nwakali shone like a million star in Chile with three goals and three assists. He has been likened to Arsenal’s great, Patrick Viera and four times African footballer of the year award winner, Yaya Toure. He is close to joining Arsenal.
9. Victor Osimhen – He announced himself to the world in a fantastic way after breaking all previous goal scoring records and emerging the highest goal scorer ever in the history of the U-17 World Cup championship with 11 goals in Chile. More importantly was the manner Osimhen took his goals at the tournament.
He is being touted to take after the goal father, Rashidi Yekini, due to his playing style. Osimhen topped his achievement by mixing up with the big boys and giving a good account of himself in the national U-23 Olympic team. He seems set to sign a contract with Wolfsburg in Germany.
10. Ifeanyi Matthews – Another star player of the 2013 U-17 Golden Eaglets squad. While Iheancho, Success and Awoniyi hogged the headlines, Matthews, alongside Abiodun Idowu were the unheralded stars doing their jobs quietly but effectively in the middle.
Matthews shone at the African U-20 tourney in Senegal scoring two breathtaking goals as well as setting up three assists.
His form dropped a little due to a foot injury at the World Cup and he did not make the cut for Siasia’s team, but he is back holding his own with the home-based Eagles. At the CHAN in Rwanda, he emerged as one of the stars. Matthews is a versatile player, combining well as attacking or defensive midfielder.
• The writer, Olamide Olajiga, Deputy Manager, PR and Reputation Management, writes from Lagos.