A total of 42 Nigerian footballers have featured in the English Premier League which is more than any other African country in the history of the competition since it berthed during the 1992/93 season.
Efan Ekoku was the first to grace the EPL when he represented Norwich City in April 1993 while Wilfred Ndidi, Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho, Isaac Success and Odion Ighalo are the five Nigerians playing in the current campaign.
Ahead of the restart of the English top-flight on Wednesday, June 17 from the coronavirus-enforced break, your soar-away number one sports daily in Nigeria, Complete Sports’ By OLUYEMI OGUNSEYIN takes a look at the top ten Nigerian footballers in the EPL…
1. Nwankwo KANU (Arsenal, West Brom & Portsmouth -/273 appearances/54 goals/29 assists)
Arguably Nigeria’s greatest footballing export, Kanu would enjoy great success on the continent prior to his arrival in English Premier League at Arsenal, winning the Champions League with Ajax and the UEFA Cup at Inter Milan before heading to join Arsene Wenger in north London.
The two-time African Footballer of the Year would enjoy a trophy-laden spell at the club, winning two Premier League titles and two FA Cups, the first of those as part of a domestic double in 2002.
He would prove a valuable member of the Arsenal squad for six seasons, memorably scoring a brilliant hat-trick against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge before later joining West Bromwich Albion and Portsmouth, scoring the winning goals in both the semi-final and final as the latter won the FA Cup in 2008.
The Nigerians currently playing in the EPL will aim to emulate the success of two-time title winner, Kanu who brought a combination of skill and athleticism to the English top-flight.
Second to only Shola Ameobi for appearances among Nigerian players, Kanu has supplied more assists than any of his fellow compatriots, setting up 29 goals in his 273 matches.
The 43-year-old’s Premier League medal collection is matched only by John Obi Mikel who played 249 times in midfield for Chelsea over a 10-year period. Kanu won 113 of the EPL games he played and lost 85.
2. John Mikel OBI (Chelsea – 249 appearances/1 goal/10 assists)
Subject of a controversial transfer to Chelsea despite Manchester United believing they had captured the in-demand teenager, John Mikel Obi would go on to spend over a decade in west London and win several major honours.
The midfield enforcer had to wait for his opportunity under Jose Mourinho following his arrival at Stamford Bridge in 2006 but soon won the trust of the Portuguese tactician, going on to establish himself as a key figure in the Chelsea squad.
Despite the fact that Mikel scored only one goal and contributed ten assists in the English Premier League after making 249 appearances for Chelsea who he left in January 2017, the ex-Ngeria international made his mark in England.
Mikel remains the Nigerian player with the most trophies in England after making 372 appearances in all competitions for the Blues and winning two Premier League titles, three FA Cups, the Champions League and Europa League amongst his extensive silverware collection.
The former Super Eagles skipper also had a high percentage of wins in the Premier League having emerged victorious on 149 occasions while picking up defeat only 41 times with Chelsea.
Another highlight for the 33-year-old in his career should be when he scored his first-ever Premier League goal in a 2–0 win against Fulham on 21 September 2013, the only one he had in the competition.
3. Victor MOSES (Wigan, Chelsea, Liverpool, Stoke City & West Ham – 220 appearances/20 goals/18 assists)
A name familiar to many Premier League fans, Victor Moses has been a regular in the elite division of English football for a number of years, having played for no less than six Premier League clubs in his career.
He came through the ranks of the Crystal Palace youth setup and made 58 appearances for the team and scored 11 goals. The club soon entered administration and during the uncertainty, Moses moved to Wigan Athletic for £2.5m.
Moses stayed with Wigan for four seasons and made 74 appearances for the club and scored nine goals. In 2012, Chelsea signed the winger but during his time with the Blues, he was more of a normadic footballer, having gone on loan a lot.
Over the next three seasons, he found himself loaned out to different Premier League clubs including Liverpool, Stoke City and West Ham United before returning to Chelsea where he has won four trophies – EPL, 2 Europa League and FA Cup.
His best season, however, came in the 2016/17 campaign under Italian tactician, Antonio Conte in which the Nigerian forward was a super regular as Chelsea won the Premier League title while playing as a wing-back.
The following season, the 29-year-old was also hugely instrumental to the West London outfit going ahead to pick up the FA Cup after beating Manchester United by a lone goal. Moses had 103 EPL wins and 65 losses.
4. Celestine BABAYARO (Chelsea & Newcastle -179 appearances/5 goals/13 assists/54 clean-sheets)
One of the geatest left full-backs that Nigeria ever produced, Celestine Babayaro went ahead to represent two clubs, Chelsea and Newcastle United in the English Premier League.
The youngest debutant in the history of the Champions League, Babayaro would emerge at Anderlecht and spend three seasons with the club before heading to Chelsea in a £2.25m deal in 1997, a record fee for a teenager at that time.
Babayaro who impressed when helping Nigeria to win gold at the 1996 Olympic games made 132 EPL appearances during an eight-year spell at Stamford Bridge, winning the FA Cup and UEFA Super Cup and endearing himself to the club’s fans with his acrobatic goal celebrations.
The defender would later move to Newcastle United and make 47 appearances for the club over three seasons while he also earned 27 caps for the Nigerian national side.
Babayaro also found the back of the net five times and contributed 13 assists in 179 appearances in the top division of English football for both Chelsea and Newcastle.
However, in 2007, the retired Super Eagles player who is now 41-years-old due to mounting injury problems reached an agreement with Newcastle to be released from his contract.
5. Yakubu AIYEGBENI (Portsmouth, Middlesbrough Everton & Blackburn – 252 appearances/95 goals/26 assists)
The highest-scoring Nigerian player in the history of the Premier League and behind only Didier Drogba and Emmanuel Adebayor amongst African players, Yakubu Aiyegbeni was a predatory finisher at his very best and a regular source of goals for several top-flight sides.
The burly forward would help fire Portsmouth to promotion before thriving at the top level, scoring prolifically for Harry Redknapp’s side before a £7.5m move to Middlesbroug
His time in the north east would see him help the club to the UEFA Cup final in 2006 and scoring 31 times for the club over a two season spell.
Everton would be his next destination as he arrived in a club-record deal, becoming the first player since Peter Beardsley in 1992 to score 20+ goals in all competitions during his debut season.
An Achilles injury would see the forward moved on after four seasons, however, joining Blackburn Rovers via a loan spell at Leicester City and scoring an impressive 17 Premier League goals during a season in which Rovers were relegated.
He would finish his career with 95 Premier League goals in 252 appearances, a goal tally greater than the likes of Dennis Bergkamp and Cristiano Ronaldo. A reliable goalscorer, he twice scored four goals in an EPL match during his nine top-flight seasons.
6. Austin ‘Jay-Jay’ Okocha (Bolton Wanderers) 124 appearances/14 goals/11 assists)
Austin ‘Jay-Jay’ Okocha was one of the most skilful players to grace the Premier League with his dribbles, flicks and tricks for Bolton Wanderers helping to earn him the Player of the Month award in November 2003.
Due to his skill, he was described as being ‘so good that they named him twice’ (a line immortalised in a terrace chant while Okocha played for Bolton). The midfield schemer played the game his own way, bringing flair, exuberance and sublime skill.
A quick and skillful playmaker who is considered as the best Nigerian and one of the best African players of all time, Okocha was known for his confidence with the ball, technique, creativity, and dribbling skills, as well as his use of feints in particular, the step-overs.
The midfielder arrived on a free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain and became a huge fan’s favorite under Sam Allardyce, his mix of creativity and trickery winning the hearts of the Trotters faithful.
He would help guide the club away from relegation troubles during his debut season before being handed the club captaincy, helping Bolton to the League Cup final in 2004 and producing a series of magical moments.
Now 46 years of age, Okocha would make 124 league appearances for Bolton, scoring 14 goals alongside 11 assists and till date, the former Super Eagles ‘magician’ remains a cult-figure amongst the club’s supporters.
7. Joseph YOBO (Everton & Norwich). – 228 appearances/8 goals/2 assists/67 clean-sheets)
Former Super Eagles captain, Joseph Yobo certainly ranks as one of the top ten Nigerian footballers to ever grace the English Premier League, having starred for the pair of Everton and Norwich City.
Yobo was the first signing made by David Moyes in his Everton career. He played every minute of Everton’s games in the 2006-07 season and had an outstanding defensive partnership with team-mate, Joleon Lescott.
During Phil Neville’s absence, Yobo captained the Toffees and as a result, the retired defender became the first African player to wear the armband for the club.
He made a total number of 220 appearances for the Merseyside-based club in the English top-flight and scored eight goals during his time there before leaving for Fenerbahce.
Yobo who is now 40-years-old made a brief return to the Premier League, although, the centre-back was able to make only eight appearances on loan at Norwich City in 2014.
8. Osaze ODEMWINGIE (West Brom, Cardiff & Stoke City – 129 appearances/36 goals/13 assists)
Only three Nigerian players have won the Premier League Player of the Month award but only one player won it thrice and that is none other than striker, Osaze Odemwingie.
Odemwingie’s good stint in the Premier League was short but impactful due to the fact that he was an immediate success for West Bromwich Albion in the 2010/2011 season.
The Nigerian forward in his debut season scored 15 goals in the English top-flight as he carried the Baggies on his shoulders with some brilliant individual performances.
The next season he scored 11 goals and was good again for the Hawthorns before his influence waned in the third season. He went on to play for Cardiff City and Stoke City where he didn’t make much impact.
But he makes this list off his fine two years when posed a problem for Premier League defenders, especially tormenting the Arsenal backline with his pace, dribbling and strength.
9. Efan EKOKU (Norwich & Milton Keynes Dons) 160 appearances/52 goals/10 assists)
Efan Ekoku was the first Nigerian player to grace the Premier League when he represented Norwich City in the 1992/93 season, having made his competitive debut in April 1993.
The striker spent seven years in the elite division, representing both Norwich City and Wimbledon now known as Milton Keynes Dons, regularly proving to be a reliable option in attack.
Ekoku who is now 53-years-old made his final Premier League appearance in 1999 which means that he may not be a household name to many younger viewers of the competition.
In his 158 appearances, Ekoku found the back of the net on 52 occasions, including three goals in his first ten games to help Norwich to a third-placed finish in 1993.
10. Shola AMEOBI (Newcastle & Crystal Palace – 298 appearances/43 goals/20 assists)
Out of all the 42 Nigerians to have played in the elite division of English football, Shola Ameobi has made the highest appearances in the Premier League after representing both Newcastle United and Crystal Palace.
Often used as a substitute throughout his playing career, Ameobi made 299 Premier League appearances, starting 156 of those matches. He netted 43 goals across his 15-year spell in the English top-flight.
Ameobi is widely regarded as an icon amongst Newcastle fans. The towering forward spent 14 years with the club, featuring in both the Premier League and the Championship.
After leaving Newcastle, he spent one season in Turkey before the now 38-year-old made a return to England with Crystal Palace for one final season in the Premier League.