A look at the best Nigerian player in every position from the performances in 2019.
It’s the end of another year and time to talk about Nigerian players and the impact they made for club and country.
In this Pulse List 2019 piece, we look at best XI of Nigerian players, ie, the best Nigerian players in each position.
Performance for club and country are the criteria for this list. With Super Eagles’ participation at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), the tournament is going to play a huge part in who makes this XI.
Daniel Akpeyi (Goalkeeper)
Daniel Akpeyi makes this list out of availability, not for performance. It was for this reason he was the first choice goalkeeper of the Super Eagles at AFCON 2019 where he made five appearances for Nigeria.
Francis Uzoho who had been the first-choice goalkeeper for a year had not seen lots of action in Cyprus following some complications after his move from Deportivo de La Coruña while Ikechukwueze Ezenwa was not playing due to the instability of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL).
That left Super Eagles boss Gernot Rohr with only Akpeyi. He wasn’t good or bad in Egypt but the last-minute freekick he conceded in the semifinals against Algeria almost cost him his Super Eagles career.
He bounced back with some impressive performances for Kaizer Chiefs which brought him back to the national team after Uzoho sustained a long-term injury.
So in 2019, Akpeyi is the goalkeeper with the most impact in the Super Eagles and is currently Nigeria’s best shot-stopper following his impressive performances for Chiefs in South Africa.
Chidozie Awaziem (Right-back)
Awaziem was without a game for Porto in the 2018/2019 season before he joined Turkish club Rizespor where he made an instant impact. From his debut, Rizespor suffered just five losses in 18 games as the Nigerian played a huge part in improving their defence.
He took his form into AFCON 2019 where he impressed despite playing in an unnatural position, right back. Awaziem played six of Super Eagles games in Egypt as Nigeria finished third at the tournament.
He earned a move to Leganes where he has been trusted with eight starts from 10 games.
Kenneth Omeruo (Centre-back)
Omeruo was Nigeria’s best central defender in the first part of 2019 when he was playing well consistently for Leganes.
He stuck to mind while on loan from Chelsea and was rewarded with a permanent contract after. His dominant performance gave him a first-choice role in central defence at the Super Eagles at AFCON 2019, breaking up the popular Oyibo-wall pairing of Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong.
He also impressed early on in the tournament, putting in solid performances in Nigeria’s opening two games including the 1-0 win over Guinea where he scored the winner.
He couldn’t keep up with that level as the tournament progressed and has not been his old self so far this season with Leganes.
Still, Omeruo did well enough to make this XI.
William Troost-Ekong (Centre-back)
Troost-Ekong entered the year on the back of his consistent performance for Udinese as he quickly got used to life the Serie A.
He played in all seven games as Nigeria finished third at AFCON 2019 and has continued to be ever-present in the heart of the national team’s defence.
This season, he continues to be an important player for Udinese although he hasn’t been able to stop the Black and Whites from struggling.
Ola Aina (Left-back)
Aina enjoyed a fine season in Serie A with Torino where he played mostly as a wing-back from the left. Life in the Serie A has made Aina more confidence to show what he is capable of.
He hardly put in the wrong foot at AFCON 2019 where he played five matches. He has continued to be an important player for the Super Eagles since then.
Although he is yet to hit the heights of last season let alone to surpass it, Aina is still learning and growing at Torino.
Wilfred Ndidi (Defensive midfield)
Ndidi had an incredible year. While Leicester City struggled last season, Ndidi remained incredible at his job, finishing the 2018/2019 season with the most tackles and an interception in the Premier League.
His first-rate work rate and defensive abilities in the middle of the park have complimented this season by Leicester City’s fine form in the Premier League where they are only second to Liverpool
He wasn’t that effective for the Super Eagles at AFCON 2019 but that wasn’t his doing as the team wasn’t set up to play to his strength. Still, the 23-year-old put in work and played in all seven games for Nigeria at AFCON 2019.
Oghenekaro Etebo (Central midfield)
There wasn’t supposed to be a vote for Stoke City’s 2018/2019 Player of the Season. But there was and it went to Etebo. Duly deserved and unarguably so. At some point, it did look at Etebo was playing at another level above every of teammates.
Although he wasn’t exceptional for the Super Eagles at AFCON 2019, he did play his part as Nigeria finished third.
This season, he has been anywhere as good as he was last season and a certain Joe Aribo has taken his place in the national team.
He narrowly beats Aribo to this spot just because of his contribution to Super Eagles’ AFCON 2019 campaign.
Samuel Chukwueze (Winger)
After making his debut for Villarreal in 2018, Chukwueze continues his ascendancy in 2019 with some eye-catching performances for the Yellow Submarines. Skilful and fast with a nibble left foot, Chukwueze was a problem for a host of defenders in the La Liga. He tormented Marcelo in a game against Real Madrid in January and tore the Barcelona defence apart in a league game in April.
These performances were rewarded with Villarreal’s Revelation of the Season and nomination for the Kopa Trophy, which is the Ballon d’Or award for the best U21 player.
He headed into AFCON 2019 with lots of expectations and he didn’t disappoint with some impressive performances for the Super Eagles in Egypt and a goal in the quarterfinal win against South Africa.
Alex Iwobi (Winger)
Iwobi continues to divide opinions and rightly so. Despite his talents, his career has continued to be besieged with inconsistency. Yet, in sparse moments, his brilliance has shown.
He scored for Arsenal in the Europa League final where he came on to bring momentum to Arsenal.
Iwobi also played an important part in Super Eagles’ run to the semi-finals of AFCON 2019, scoring Nigeria’s winner in the Round of 16 against Cameroon.
Victor Osimhen (Striker)
What a year Osimhen has had. He started off the year with him Belgium where he ended up as Charleroi’s Player of the Season. The striker had gone to Charleroi to get his career back on track after stalling at Wolfsburg.
He performed beyond expectations and was given a permanent contract before Lille swooped in for his signature.
In France, he has taken to life in Ligue 1 like a duck to water and become Lille's first-choice striker. Since joining in August, the 20-year-old has scored 12 goals for them.
He played only once at AFCON 2019 but he has since netted four goals in four for the Super Eagles after becoming the first-choice striker.
Odion Ighalo (Striker)
Ighalo isn’t here for any club feat. He didn’t stay fit enough to play much for Shanghai Shenhua although he did manage to score 10 in 17 league games for the Chinese side this season.
It was with the national team that Ighalo made a massive impact this year, finishing the first quarter as the highest goalscorer at AFCON 2019 qualifiers.
At the tournament, he scored the winner in Nigeria’s opening game and scored another four in the tournament to finish as the highest goalscorer.