By Sulaiman Alao:
Nigeria footballers have come far in the round leather game, with some of them having played for some of the biggest clubs in the world. Since the Late Teslim ‘Thunder” Balogun blazed the trail of Nigerian football exports when he starred for English club Peterborough in the 1950s, numerous other Nigerian stars have gone on to emulate the one reputed to pack canon-like shots during his playing days for Nigeria which ultimately fetched him the nickname "Thunder".
Richard Owubokiri once featured for Brazilian side Vitoria and later Benfica in Portugal; John Chidozie starred for Tottenham Hotspur in England; the late Stephen Keshi played for Anderlecht in Belgium, the late Rashidi Yekini appeared for Olympiakos in Greece; Uche Okechukwu did well for Brondby in Denmark and Fenerbahce in Turkey; Emmanuel Amuneke laced his boots for Barcelona in Spain;
Nwankwo Kanu got famous with Arsenal in England; Finidi George excelled with Ajax Amsterdam; Joseph Yobo was solid with Everton in England; Taribo West had stints with Inter Milan and AC Milan in Italy; Celestine Babayaro was first with Chelsea; Austin Okocha for PSG in France; Sunday Oliseh did well with Juventus in Italy and Borussia Dortmund in Germany; Osaze Odemwingie was superb with Lokomotiv Moscow then in Russia, and Yusuf Ayila did well at Dynamo Kyiv in Ukraine. The list is really inexhaustible.
The current generation of Nigerian footballers have not only equaled the feats of their predecessors but have even gone further by making inroads into other previously less uncharted leagues which are too numerous to mention. However, one of the top clubs no Nigerian player had ever starred for is Manchester United. What about Remi Moses you may ask? He was a former United and England U-21 midfielder in the 80s, born and bred in England though of Nigerian descent. A succession of injuries forced him to retire at 28 and denied him getting capped as a full England international.
Now, that is why the recent transfer speculations that new United coach Jose Mourinho is looking to bring John Mikel Obi to Old Trafford to help beef up the Red Devils' ailing midfield has got most Nigerian football fans really excited. And though I am neither a Chelsea or United fan, I am excited too because of the prospect such a move could be for Mikel's career. With the former Lyn Oslo star currently out of reckoning under coach Antonio Conte and yet to kick a ball for Chelsea since the start of the new season, this could well signal the end of Mikel’s long-standing romance with the Stamford Bridge club and Nigerian fans won’t feel disappointed as Mikel had made history and won virtually everything with the Blues.
If the speculations go on to prove true during the January transfer window, United will finally be landing the player they lost to Chelsea in a transfer tussle ten years ago and it will be the second time Mourinho would be signing the midfielder. Mourinho and Mikel are no strangers and at 29, the Nigerian international packs loads of experience and is the type of player the Special One needs to give £89m Paul Pogba freedom to roam in the United team.
Victor Moses had a loan stint playing for Liverpool before becoming a first team revelation with Chelsea this season while Kelechi Iheanacho is shining for Manchester City. With Ahmed Musa at Leicester City and the duo of Odion Ighalo and Isaac Success at Watford, Nigerian players have starred for virtually all the top clubs in England except Manchester United.
It will be good if Mikel (or any other Nigerian player) can break the United jinx. And doing that perhaps, could open previously closed doors of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich to Nigerian internationals in the nearest future. But that is if the Super Eagles skipper is ready to choose going to Old Trafford ahead of a big money move to China or anywhere else!