Nigerian Footballers That We’ve Forgotten

 

In this report, JOHNNY EDWARD takes a look at some of the country’s brightest football prospects considered as the future of Nigerian football who went into oblivion sooner than expected

Ibrahim Rabiu (Slovan Bratislava)

Once hyped as the next Austin Okocha, Rabiu, a natural number 10, is arguably one of the most travelled Nigerian footballers, rather than being the most accomplished, as predicted by some keen followers of the game, close to two decades ago.

At just 16, Rabiu was a special player for Nigeria at the 2007 U-17 World Cup in South Korea, scoring in the first match against France as the Golden Eaglets triumphed for a third time.

His performance at the tournament saw him being listed in The Times Football’s Top 50 Rising Stars.

Still 16, he was included in the Super Eagles squad for the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations along with his U-17 teammate Haruna Lukman, but a groin injury prevented him from participating in the tournament.

In 2009, Rabiu helped the Flying Eagles win bronze at the African U-20 AFCON in Rwanda, netting against Ivory Coast and South Africa, with the Nigerian side securing a place in that year’s U-20 World Cup in Egypt, where he appeared in three matches, scoring against Germany in the 3-2 round of 16 loss.

In 2010, his U-20 coach Samson Siasia singled out Rabiu as one of only two players who could solve the Eagles’ midfield problems.

But the diminutive midfielder had to wait for another five years before earning his first senior cap on June 13, 2015, playing for 32 minutes in a 2-0 win over Chad in Kaduna in the 2017 AFCON qualifiers.

At club level, Rabiu joined Portuguese side Sporting CP shortly after the U-17 World Cup but never featured for the first team and his journey started with a loan deal to Real Massama, where he made only one appearance before joining Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven in 2011. But he had his contract terminated because of limited first-team action.

His travails continued, playing in Scotland for two years with Celtic and Kilmarnock. He managed one appearance for the Glasgow giants and 16 for the East Ayrshire side respectively, before he was released.

Currently with Slovakian side Slovan Bratislava, the 28-year-old featured in the Europa League this season, but he has fallen in the pecking order amongst the country’s brightest talents.

Sunday Mba (Unattached)

Sunday Mba, remember him? He is the home-based lad who was Nigeria’s hero at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, grabbing the winner in the final against Burkina Faso.

It still baffles the country’s ardent football faithful how the mercurial midfielder, once at the centre of a highly celebrated ownership clash between local giants Enugu Rangers and Warri Wolves, faded into oblivion less than two years after his AFCON heroics.

Mba scored two goals in four games as Nigeria won the continent’s football showpiece event in South Africa seven years ago.

He played all three games at the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil, as the Super Eagles crashed out from the group stage.

He missed out on the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.  At club level, Mba switched to French club CA Bastia in January 2014 after featuring for Enugu Rangers and Warri Wolves in the Nigeria Professional Football League.

He scored seven goals in 22 appearances in France, before he moved to Yeni Malatyaspor, where he was laid off by the Turkish side in 2017.
Macauley Chrisantus (Hetten)

Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool and even Real Madrid were all reportedly interested in signing Chrisantus after his impressive showing, firing Nigeria to the top prize at the 2007 U-17 FIFA World Cup.

The lanky striker was only denied pocketing both the Golden Shoe and Golden Ball by Toni Kroos, the current Real Madrid midfielder.

But ever since joining Hamburg, it’s been a downward movement for the lanky striker.

“I know very soon I will have the world calling my name again,” Chrisantus once said, in reply to his dwindling form.

But he has failed to match his words with on-field performances and has gone on a travelling adventure that has seen him feature for clubs in Germany, Belgium, Finland, Israel, Serbia, Scotland, India and Indonesia.

He is currently on the books of Hetten in Saudi Arabia.

Kingsley Udoh (Al-Najaf)

From being touted as the ‘New Taribo’ at 16, to playing for an Iraqi team, Al-Najaf FC at 28, perhaps no prodigy has suffered a more spectacular fall from grace than Kingsley Udoh. Capped by Nigeria at the U-17, U-20 and U-23 levels, stardom beckoned when the defender was on the verge of a move to Atletico Madrid, but the deal fell through.

However, Udoh failed to prove his worth and found himself in the Nigeria Professional Football League playing for Akwa United, Sunshine Stars and Kano Pillars before he faded into, only to team up with Al-Najaf in the Iraqi league.

Sani Emmanuel (Unattached)

A lightning-quick striker with amazing skills and decent goalscoring record for Nigeria’s U-17 and U-20 teams, Sani Emmanuel never made it to the senior level despite the huge promise he showed early in his career.

He was regarded as one of the future stars of the country after his five goals fired the Golden Eaglets to runners-up spot at the U-17 World Cup on home soil 11 years ago.

He joined Italian club Lazio from My People FC in 2012 after strings of good performances at the U-20 World Cup the previous year.

He was shipped out on loan to Salernitana and FC Biel-Bienne after his professionalism was questioned due to his weight problem, before he was unceremoniously released.

Emmanuel also had stints at Beitar Jerusalem and Oskarshamns AIK in the Swedish second division. At 26, he is currently without a club, having been released at the end of last season.

His career eventually hit the rocks after he copped a long-term Achilles injury that saw him quit the game unceremoniously.

Bright Dike (Unattached)

Two goals in his first three and only games for the Eagles earned the then Portland Timbers striker Bright Dike the nickname-New Sensation.

Big, strong and a menace to opposing defenders, he was seen as the solution to coach Stephen Keshi’s striking problems after his debut for the Eagles in a 3-1 win over Venezuela in Miami on November 14, 2012.

The 25-year-old didn’t score in that game, but his physicality and combative style, as well as an eye for goal didn’t go unnoticed.

But injuries had a devastating effect on his fledging career.

His first international goal came against Catalonia in January 2013, but it wasn’t enough to earn him a place in the Eagles’ 2013 AFCON squad. Five weeks later, he suffered a torn knee ligament in a pre-season match against Seattle Sounders, ruling him out of action for six months.

He returned from the long-term injury to score his second goal in as many starts for the Eagles in their 2-2 friendly draw against Italy in November 2013. But he suffered another setback as he was ruled out of Nigeria’s 2014 World Cup squad after surgery on an Achilles tendon injury in February 2014.

Thereafter, the late Stephen Keshi and subsequent national team selectors never looked his way.

At club level, Dike struggled to revive his career, but only managed bit roles for Toronto FC, San Antonio Scorpions, Amkar Perm and Malaysian side, Pahang FA, who he last played for in 2017.

Ejike Uzoenyi (Zvijezda)

His record is amazing: two NPFL titles and Federation Cup winner with Enyimba, two PSL wins with South African giants Mamelodi Sundowns and Bidvest Wits, as well as the Nedbank Cup and the CAF Champions League with the former and a 2013 AFCON winners medal.

Add his personal honour, an MVP award at the 2014 African Nations Championship, where Nigeria emerged third, and you would agree Uzoenyi had the abilities to become one of the global stars of the game.

But truth is, the 33-year has struggled to impress since making his first move away from the domestic scene, despite his prodigious talent. And apart from his CHAN MVP award, he only managed a handful of games for the club titles he won abroad.

After moving from Enugu Rangers to Rennes, the midfielder managed just one appearance in Ligue 1 before stints with PSL sides   Sundowns, Bidvest Wits, and Ajax Cape Town.

He joined his latest club Zvijezda 09 in the Bosnian Premier League in January, aged 31.

With the Eagles, Uzoenyi managed one substitute outing, coming on for Brown Ideye in the 72nd minute as the Nigerians hammered Mali 4-1 in the semi-final, on their way to a third AFCON triumph in South Africa in 2013.

However, Uzoenyi’s quality has never been in doubt by the Nigerian football faithful.

And the choice of the mesmerising left-footed winger as CHAN 2014 MVP didn’t come as a surprise either, as he scooped three Man of the Match awards at the tournament and also scored three goals dismantling opposing defences with ease.

The petite winger’s trickery and his goals saw him shine against Mozambique and South Africa, where he was only denied a hat trick by the crossbar. Then he produced another virtuoso display with a master-class showing against Morocco.

Musa Muhammed (HNK Gorica)

Held in high esteem after leading the Golden Eaglets to their fifth world title in UAE, Turkish side Istanbul Basaksehir snapped Muhammed up but the right-back failed to replicate his performance at the cadet World Cup. He managed just three league games in three seasons for the Turkish club before loan spells with Zeljeznicar in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Lokomotiv Plovdiv of Bulgaria. He moved permanently to HNK Gorica in 2018 but has failed to reignite the magic that once made him the darling of the home fans.

Muhammed made his Eagles debut against Mali in 2016 at 19. Coach Gernot Rohr was full of praises for the defender after his team’s 1-0 victory over Tanzania in Uyo in a 2017 AFCON qualifier.

But the Franco-German has constantly omitted the left-back as his rating continues to decline.

Chidebere Nwakali (Kalmar)

Chidebere Nwakali failed to make the grade at Manchester City after an outstanding tournament at the 2013 U-17 World Cup in UAE.

Nwakali played every single minute of the Golden Eaglets games during the tournament and was colossal for Manu Garba’s side, who went on to lift the title for the fourth time.

At just aged 23, Nwakali has since parted ways with Girona, IK Start, Sogndal, Aberdeen FC and Rakow Czestochowa. He signed with Kalmar FF last year.

Nnamdi Oduamadi {Unattached)

Former AC Milan striker Oduamadi got heads rolling with a hat trick against Tahiti at the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil.

That was basically the height he attained as he afterwards  failed to seal a place in the national team.

He joined Milan from Genoa, first on loan in the 2010/11 season, playing just one game.

The San Siro giants then acquired his full services the next season, but Oduamadi, now 29, failed to play a single game  in seven years at the club.

Loan spells within and outside Italy for first team football didn’t help his cause at Milan, forcing him to quit in 2018.

He last played club football for Tirana in the Albanian topflight in 2019.

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Source: Sunday PUNCH

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