The 2015/16 season Barclays Premier League season kicks off in England this Saturday and the excitement amongst football fans is understandable.
Other major leagues in Europe will start later in August though some not-so prestigious ones have kicked off, with the jury out on some Nigerian players from whom big things are expected.
Completesportsnigeria.com’s IZUCHUKWU OKOSI looks at the Nigerian stars who will be most under pressure to deliver this season.
1. MIKEL OBI
Chelsea midfielder Mikel Obi is the second longest serving player at Stamford Bridge but comes under huge criticisms including from Nigerian fans of the English club.
These fans claim the former youth international who was the second best player at the 2005 FIFA U20 World Cup in Holland behind Barcelona and Argentina’s Lionel Messi is not progressive in his game.
Mikel’s sideways and back passes get on the nerves of most Chelsea fans who feel Nemanja Matic should continue to get on the starting XI ahead of the Super Eagles star.
Despite the verdict of fans, Mikel has however escaped the axe of high profile managers every transfer window at Chelsea since he arrived at Stamford Bridge nine years ago. That confidence and belief in him count for something.
Matic is now the undisputed number one defensive midfielder at Chelsea but Mikel Obi will be desperate to impress Jose Mourinho with commanding performances when given the chance to play -either as a starter or a substitute this season.
If Mikel gets stuck in and starts playing the ball out of his team’s half of the pitch, then Matic have a new regular partner in central midfield.
Mikel has won several laurels for club and also country and will be expected to prove his experience this season.
The Nigerian will also be expected to play a huge role in the Super Eagles qualification campaign for the 2017 AFCON and 2018 World Cup.
2. VICTOR MOSES
Victor Moses is another Super Eagles star at Chelsea with a point to prove in the 2015/2016 season.
The forward was on loan last season at Stoke City but despite interest from some EPL clubs like Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City who reportedly wanted him as part of the deal to sell Asmir Begovic to Chelsea, manager Jose Mourinho insisted on not letting the Nigerian leave on loan this season.
Moses will have a tough task to dislodge the likes of Juan Cuadrado, Willian and Oscar from the starting line up next season.
But on the evidence of his performances in pre-season, most notably the International Champions Cup game against PSG, in which Moses scored a fine goal and was voted Man-of-the Match though he was substituted before the game ended, the pacey winger could become a key player for the EPL champions.
Furthermore Super Eagles coach Sunday Oliseh revealed he had “a fruitful meeting” with Moses recently in London which is an indication that he will feature in Oliseh’s plans for the Nigerian national team, beginning with the 2017 AFCON qualifier against Tanzania in September.
3. ANTHONY UJAH
The Weder Bremen striker is one of the few African players with a point to prove in the German Bundesliga this season.
Ujah left FC Cologne for Bremen in controversial circumstances when he celebrated a goal with his former club’s mascot.
Beyond proving that he is one of Africa’s finest talents in Germany this season, Ujah also has an eye on a return to the Super Eagles and will hope to show Sunday Oliseh what the team was missing under Stephen Keshi.
Keshi, the former Eagles ‘big boss’, had Ujah in his 2013 Confederations Cup team in Brazil but a disappointing outing in South America virtually put paid to his international football then.
Now, Ujah is in good form and has shown glimpses of what to expect next season with eye-catching performances in pre-season games for Weder Bremen.
If Ujah continues in this good form, it will be a surprise if he is not handed a recall to the Super Eagles by Sunday Oliseh.
4. BROWN IDEYE
Brown Ideye who joined West Bromwich Albion in the summer of 2014 is another Super Eagles star who will be keen to produce the goods on a regular basis next season.
Ideye was West Brom’s record signing but struggled to justify the £10m fee as he found goals hard to come by.
In the 2015/2016 season, the former Bayelsa United, Ocean Boys, Neuchatel Xamax, Sochaux and Dynamo Kiev striker who almost left for the Middle East in January but persuaded to stay by manager Tony Pulis will be under huge pressure to deliver, after all, he is the club’ record signing at £10m.
Ideye was part of the Super Eagles triumphant squad in the 2013 African Cup of Nations but has not managed to get a look-in after the FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil same year.
Being the star at West Brom is one objective but also a comeback to the Super Eagles will be on the mind of the former U20 World Cup star.
Anything less than hitting at least the 15-goal mark in the new season and playing for Nigeria prominently again will amount to a disappointing campaign for the skilful forward.
5. KENNETH OMERUO
Kenneth Omeruo is a Chelsea player but has been farmed out on loan this summer to Turkish top flight side Kasimpasa.
Omeruo has had similar loan spells at Dutch Eredevisie side, ADO Dan Haag, and also Middlesbrough in the English Championship last season.
The Super Eagles central defender has been expectant of being handed a first team place at Chelsea but seems not to enjoy the confidence of manager Jose Mourinho.
A good 2015/2016 season which includes regular games and goals, and devoid of injuries and controversies will alert Mourinho and even other clubs of his readiness to play for the big clubs.
6. LUKMAN HARUNA
Former Golden Eaglets skipper Lukman Haruna is currently on loan at Russian Premier League side, Anzhi Makhachkala, from Ukraine’s Dynamo Kiev this season.
The 2007 U-17 World Cup winning captain was not in the Super Eagles fold under the reins of Stephen Keshi but his loan move to Russia this July will present an opportunity for the former AS Monaco midfielder to stake a claim in the Super Eagles.
The defensive midfield is a position Haruna can compete with the likes of Ogenyi Onazi, John Ogu, Ramon Azeez and even John Mikel Obi as the attacking midfield battle could be restricted to players like Rabiu Ibrahim, Nosa Igiebor, Kelechi Iheanacho, Michael Olaitan and Abduljelil Ajagun.
Onazi will not be available for the upcoming 2017 AFCON qualifier against Tanzania after his indiscretion in the country’s first qualifying game against Chad which led to him being red-carded.
A regular first team place in the Russian side could be what Haruna needs to bounce back into national team reckoning.
7. JOHN OGU
The Hapoel Be’er Sheva of Israel midfielder has not been a regular feature for the Super Eagles.
Ogu was recently in the Super Eagles squad for the AFCON qualifier against Chad but before then seemed not to be trusted enough by former coach, Stephen Keshi, who rarely invited him for Super Eagles duties.
With a new coach in charge of the Eagles, Ogu could be hopeful of getting a look-in.
Keshi seemed to have certain players he trusted whilst he was in charge of the Eagles and Ogu will be hard pressed to cement his place in the ‘new’ Eagles.
A good opportunity to do that for the midfielder will come in his club’s few league games of the season before the Eagles list for the Tanzania is released.
Ogu has already played two Europa League qualifying games this summer against FC Thun on 16 and 23 July 2015 losing 3-2 on aggregate, but if he is invited for the AFCON qualifier against Tanzania, he will do well to get a good rating if fielded.