By Arinze Ude.
With or without the consent of the European football governing body, UEFA, the English Premier League is the best and most exciting football league on planet earth.
People from all over the world are glued to their television sets to get a glimpse of the EPL action week in, week out.
Since the start of the EPL in 1992, about 25 or thereabout Nigerian Internationals have played in England’s elite football league and this is the list of the top ten Nigerian players to fly the green white green on the EPL soil (My opinion of course).
KANU ‘PAPILLO’ NWANKWO
Although Kanu made most of his EPL appearances as a substitute, he is the reason the league became a popular one here in Nigeria. He moved to Arsenal from FC Internazionale of Italy for 4.1 million pounds after a scare about his heart. He went on to play for West Bromwich Albion and Portsmouth. He made a total of 315 appearances (118 as a substitute, an EPL record) scoring 57 goals. He won 2 Premier League titles, 3 FA Cup trophies, and 1 Community Shield, African and BBC Footballer of the year during his stint in England.
JOHN MIKEL OBI
John Michael Nchekwube Obinna popularly known as Mikel Obi joined London giants Chelsea after a tug of war with Manchester United that saw FIFA intervene and act as a pacifier between the two rivals. The matter was resolved and Chelsea were asked to pay 12million pounds in compensation to Manchester United and 4million pounds to his parent club, FC Lyn Oslo of Norway.
He made his EPL debut as a substitute and scored his first goal in English football in 6-1 thumping of Macclesfield Town in January 2007 (FA Cup). He’s gone on to play in the League Cup, FA Cup, and Champions League finals for the club. He’s the most decorated Nigerian to play in the EPL; he has won a Premier league title, 4 FA Cups, 1 League Cup and 1 Champions League medal during his 5 years at Chelsea. He’s also made 160 appearances for the club scoring 2goals.
YAKUBU ‘YAK’ AIYEGBENI
After a tremendous display in the 2002/2003 Champions League campaign in which he scored 7 goals in 8 matches, he earned a loan deal to Portsmouth FC, who were fighting for promotion in the Championship. He helped them to the EPL before signing permanently.
He is the third highest goal scorer in the history of the Nigerian national team. He made his debut in English football as a 57th minute substitute for Vincent Pericard in 1-all draw against Brighton & Hove Albion on 18th June 2004 and scored his first goal against Grimsby in his first start.
He played 37 times in Portsmouth’s debut season in the EPL scoring 16 times; he scored his debut EPL goal in the 1-1 draw against Manchester City (his second match).
He went on to represent Middlesborough, Everton, Leicester City and Blackburn Rovers. He scored 29, 26, 25, 17 EPL goals for Pompey, Middlesborough, Everton and Blackburn Rovers respectively. He has a total of 97goals in 213 appearances; averaging 0.45goal per game.
He joined Chinese side, Guangzhou R&F this summer after Blackburn Rovers’ demotion to the Championship.
AUSTIN “JAY JAY“ OKOCHA
A cult hero at the Reebok stadium, he joined Bolton Wanderers after the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan on a Bosman free transfer from French side, Paris Saint Germain.
In his debut season, he was limited to few appearances due to injuries but he still steered his team away from the hands of relegation with 7 goals. This endeared him to the hearts of Bolton fans, which made them unveil a T-shirt in his honour with the inscription “Jay Jay, so good they named him twice”. His goal against West Ham United was voted EPL team goal of the season. He was made captain of the team in 2003 and led Bolton to their first Cup final in 9 years (League Cup final v Middlesborough) in 2004 which they lost to a Bolo Zenden’s first half penalty.
In 2006, he was stripped of the captaincy and subsequently, joined a Qatari club that summer. He played 124 times in the league, scoring 16 goals.
The Super Eagles captain and most capped player, with 87 caps, joined the EPL train in July 2002 after signing for Everton FC from Marseille in a million pound loan deal. The deal was made permanent a year later with Everton paying Marseille an additional 4million pounds for his services.
He went on to become one of the most consistent players in the Everton squad, and was one of only 7 players in the entire league to play every minute of every match throughout 2006/2007 season.
As of 15 April 2007, he is the record appearance holder for an overseas player and became the first African to captain the side in the absence of Phil Neville, against Larissa of Greece in the UEFA Cup on 25th October 2007.
In 2009/2010 season, he fell down the pecking order after the club signed John Heitinga and Phil Jagielka from Athletico Madrid and Sheffield United respectively, his poor form didn’t help either and he was farmed out on loan to Turkish giants, Fenerbahce; He made the deal permanent. He played 220 times in the league for Everton, scoring 8 goals.
OSAZE PETER ODEMWIGIE
Born to a Nigerian doctor and Uzbekistani mother, he joined West Bromwich Albion on 20th August 2010 for an undisclosed fee on a two year contract.
He scored on his debut, 81st minute winning against Sunderland. He also scored in the memorable 3-2 win against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium; a brace against Newcastle United in a 3-1 win surpassing Robert Earnshaw’s record as the club’s top scorer in the EPL with 15 goals. On 30th April, he became the first WBA player to score in 4 consecutive matches after scoring against Tottenham Hotspur. He won two Player of the Month awards during the course of the season; the sixth man to receive the accolade twice in one season in the award’s history.
He scored his first hat trick in EPL in 5 – 1 annihilation of Wolverhampton Wanderers on 12 February 2012, which made him win the Player of the Month award for the month of February; his third in his short stint in England. He has chipped in 25 goals in 60 EPL games, an average of 0.416 goal per game.
Efangwu Goziem Ekoku, English-born ex Nigerian international played in the EPL with Norwich City and Wimbledon.
He joined the EPL bandwagon after signing for Norwich City in a 500,000 pound deal from Harry Redknapp’s Bournemouth side, where he scored 7 times in 14 games. Norwich was in the thick of the title race, he scored 3 goals in 10 matches; Manchester United later won the title that year while Norwich finished third.
He scored four times as Norwich beat Everton 5 – 1 at Goodison Park; becoming the first player to score more than 3goals in one match in the EPL.
He moved to Wimbledon in 1994 replacing John Fashanu. He was the club’s top scorer that year with 9 goals while they finished in 9th position. He went on to score 7 and 11 goals in 94/95 and 95/96 seasons respectively. He took them to the League and FA Cups finals in 1996 which they lost on both occasions.
He left the club in 1999 for Swiss club, Grasshoppers.
He was inducted into Norwich City Hall of Fame in 2012, obtained his FA/UEFA coaching badges and serves as a co-commentator for TWI overseas coverage of the EPL.
The ex-Nigerian International Player was signed by Ruud Gullit as a 19 year-old back in April 1997 from Anderlecht for 2.25million pounds for Chelsea, a club record for a teenager at the time.
He won the FA Cup and Charity Shield with Chelsea in 2001 and 2002 respectively. The arrival of Jose Mourinho saw him lose his place to Wayne Bridge who was signed as part of Roman Abhramovic’s revolution. He joined Newcastle United in 2005 after playing 200 times for Chelsea. He made 179 EPL appearances scoring 5 goals.
DANIEL ‘THE BULL’ AMOKACHI
He signed for Everton for 3 million pounds after the 1994 World Cup. He is famous for bringing himself on as a sub then proceeding to score two goals in the Semi Final FA Cup win over Tottenham in 1999; although he won the match, his coach wasn’t too pleased with his actions. He also appeared in the FA Cup final triumph but only as a late sub. He didn’t make the best impact in an Everton shirt and lost his place to Rideout and Duncan Ferguson. He played 43 times and scored 10 goals.
Nicknamed “The Gazelle” during his time at the Amsterdam Arena, joined Ipswich Town during the twilight of his career in 2001 from Mallorca for 3.1 million pounds. Ipswich town had defied all odds and finished third in their debut season in the EPL, all thanks to the goals of Marcus Stewart, Martijn Reuser and James Scowcroft.
Finidi scored twice on his debut in a 3-1 win over Derby County at Portman Road but they were relegated at the end of the season and he returned back to Spain in 2003.