The reward was always going to be breathtaking in the enormity of its prestige: be signed by either an English or Scottish Premier League club; display your football skills at the biggest club stage on earth to a global audience; earn handsomely and become a legend at home and abroad.
A lofty dream; but one that is not unattainable. After all, Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu, John Obi Mikel, Obafemi Martins and Yakubu to mention a few – all Nigerians – all reached the promise land that is the English Premier League, leaving their mark, making their dough and making sure that they went, saw and conquered. Not to forget the exploits of the effervescent Efe Ambrose who found remarkable success in the Scottish Premier League.
However, along with those success stories are some Nigerian players who managed to find themselves in Great Britain only for their football expedition to end in great disappointment.
A recent article on www.90min.com which revealed 1-cap Super Eagles striker Ade Akinbiyi being one of Leicester City's worst signings in the Premier League era got me thinking about notable Nigerian footballers who set foot on British pitch with nothing but heartache to show for their efforts.
I present below 5 of these:
1) Ahmed Musa: Arguably the highest profile Nigerian player to be a monumental flop in the English Premier League. By the time Musa signed for Leicester City 8 July 2016, he was a 1 goal in 3 games winger who was already a World Cup star, Afcon winner and multiple league winner in the Russian Premier league hence he boasts of a mouth-wateringly fantastic CV.
Coupled with the fact that he is a speedster – a highly prized asset for any English premier league player – Musa was destined for the stars.
No greater indication need be sought of how bad things would eventually get Musa than the fact that by December 2017, he had been banished to the club’s Under 23 team before eventually being loaned out the next month. Musa only managed 2 goals in 21 games in a wretched stay in England, one neither him nor any Super Eagles fan would look back with any fondness.
It remains my position that Ahmed Musa wasn’t given enough time to prove himself. I believe the way he was deployed earlier on did not bring out the best in him.
2) Julius Aghahowa: Another big name Super Eagles player whose entry into the English Premier League coincided with his exit out of the Nigeria national team (I thought it was meant to the other way around).
Aghahowa signed for Wigan Athletic in January 2007 with a lot expected of him. By the time he stepped on English soil, the Nigeria International was a regular UEFA Champions League participant with Shakhtar Donetsk. He was a 1 goal per 3 games centre forward with speed, dribbling abilities and purposeful play as key attributes.
Having played 20 games in the English Premier League, the fans would never come to see Aghahowa perform his signature summersault moves as the triggers for the summersaults (goals) never came; not a single goal to his name. Having had enough, he was hurled to Turkey in 2008 after spending a barren season and a half in England.
I think the Aghahowa that graced the English Premier League was not the Aghahowa of 2000 – 2002. His best days were ebbing away and this was evident for club and country by 2007.
3) Sadiq Umar: The 2016 Olympic Ace’s career was going through something of a purple patch immediately preceding his acquisition by Rangers in the Scottish Premier League in July 2018 – he had scored 5 goals in 12 games for NAC Breda on loan in Holland.
Having missed out on a place in the Super Eagles squad for the 2018 World Cup, this self-acclaimed future Super Eagles Number 9 would have been positive of his chances of using strong performances in the Scotland to claim his shirt and place for Nigeria.
It was not be.
Steven Gerrard (coach of Rangers) saw nothing good about Umar’s style of play. Having benched him for most part, he was excluded from match-day squads altogether before been shown the door inevitably. Sadiq would later claim that he was even excluded from using the club gym at some point.
I think Rangers made a huge mistake by not giving Sadiq Umar the chance to prove himself. The 23 year old now scores like ‘pure water’ in the Serbian league (and cup competitions) where he scores 1 goal per 2 games! Rangers’ loss!
4) Emmanuel Emenike: On 31 January 2016, Emenike signed for West Ham United on loan until the end of the season with an option to make it permanent. The move was never made permanent. He did score a brace in an FA cup competition in February but those would be the only highs in a stay that was filled more or less with lows characterised by underwhelming league performances.
Emenike joined West Ham at a time when his career was on a downward trajectory. He had done well in Spartak Moscow in the Russian Premier League with 21 goals in 42 matches between 2011-13. However, in more games for Fenerbache, he scored less goals – 19 goals in 69 games to be precise, between 2013 and 2017.
The version of Emenike that went to England was a faded forces who had lost his scoring edge (pity – Emenike remains one of my most favourite Super Eagles striker).
5) Juwon Oshaniwa: Perhaps many had expected Oshaniwa to flop in Scotland and so it turned so, no surprise here right? Well wrong.
To be objective, by the time Juwon Oshniwa signed for Heart of Midlothian in the Scottish Premier League on August 2015, he had already distinguished himself in the biggest stage of all (Fifa World Cup a year earlier) against some highly illustrious oppositions in the way of Messi, Dzeko, Aguero, Benzema and Pogba. He was playing in the modest Isreal Premier League which the hugely successful Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Vincent Enyeama had gone through.
He was an Afcon winner, and in the eyes of many, an up and coming left fullback of repute. Whilst playing in Israel, he was at some point on the radar of might Celtic, hence a lot was expected of him when he signed for Hearts.
It wouldn't have a fairy tale finish.
It started well enough in the first season when the left full back managed 24 appearances. However, he, fell out with the club hierarchy and was to lose his place in the team in the second season and was ultimately released in 2017 (a year before his contract expired). Oshaniwa has been in football wilderness ever since.