Can The Next Nigerian Superstar Please Stand Up?

Aubameyang, Sadio Mane, Yaya Toure, Adebayor, Mo Salah, Nabi Keita, Slimani, Wilfred Bony, Bolasie, Eric Bailey…These names have come up over the last decade for just about the same reason: each of them have secured record-breaking transfers to different clubs. They’ve also been some of Africa’s biggest football names in that period. In short, they’ve been THE African Superstars. The least amount paid for any of these guys was 24 Million pounds and that was for Adebayor… as far back as 2009! Imagine what that cost would have been in today’s market.

Some headlines hit you, some just make you wonder. Just yesterday, news broke through that Congolese forward, Bakambu, finally made the switch to Chinese side Beijing Guoan, for a record fee of 65 million pounds…that’s right…65 MILLION POUNDS. His record for former club Villareal is largely responsible for this feat (45 goals in just over a hundred appearances). He’s proven in Europe so the move away from Spain was always going to be costly. This deal only highlights the trend of African stars breaking out every season (Bakambu included).

Just earlier in the year, Gabon’s Aubameyang became Arsenal’s most expensive signing…ever (who would have seen that coming?). Nowadays, you see African superstars at almost every top club; Salah (Egypt) and Mane (Senegal) at Liverpool, Bailey (Ivory Coast) at Man United, Aubameyang (Gabon) at Arsenal, Aboubakar (Cameroon) at Besiktas, and even Riyad Mahrez (Algeria) at Leicester (and probably at a bigger club in the future). I’m proud of these guys but I’m always bugged by one pressing question: Where are the Nigerian Superstars?

In the 2000s, the biggest names out of Nigeria were Okocha, Kanu, Yakubu, Obafemi Martins, John Utaka, and Joseph Yobo (to state a good few…you can add others). Each of these guys had their moments at the top but only Kanu and Okocha really enjoyed long periods at the highest level. Before Mikel, Kanu was the most successful Nigerian (in terms of accolades and medals). Okocha was so good ‘they named him twice’. After those two, no one else has come close to being the African superstar from Nigeria…and that’s worrying. I’m keen to understand why. In the last 10 years, the biggest name on the Nigerian team sheet has been Mikel Obi…and that’s by virtue of his long association with Chelsea.

So why don’t we have our own Yaya Toure, or Mo Salah, or Sadio Mane, or even our own Bakambu? Could it be down to a lack of ambition? Or our players are not as good as we think they are? Are they not working hard enough? Today, our hope lies with Kelechi Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi. Victor Moses is still a force but he can’t be the superstar we’re looking for anymore. Ahmed Musa has faded away so badly (and quickly) and I just can’t see anyone else pushing to be a big name in football. It’s worrying because Nigeria needs someone to step up and no one’s doing that.

I rate Iheanacho very highly. When a player moves from Man City for 25 Million pounds and his buy-back clause at Leicester is double that amount, you know you’re dealing with a real talent. I would love Iwobi to have a fantastic career at Arsenal but he’s running out of chances to impress. Unless he starts stepping up his goals & assists stats, he could lose it all together.  The World Cup kicks off in June, and it presents a chance for every Nigerian player to prove they can step up to become superstars. My hope is that we get more than a few.


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