With Wilfred Ndidi, Sunday Oliseh and Seyi Olifijana all making the news recently for various reasons, there is no better time to consider who the best defensive midfielder for the Super Eagles in the last 30 years.
This month, Oliseh came out to say he would never coach the Super Eagles again only to issue a statement shortly afterwards to suggest that his comment has been taken out of context. Ndidi came out to praise his club coach Brendan Rodgers whilst Olofijana lent his support behind the work of the coach of the Super Eagles Brendan Rodgers,
Now, which of them - and others - could be considered Nigeria's best midfielder in the past 30 years?
1) Sunday Oliseh: the guy is truly legendary for those of us who saw him play and mythical for those who didn’t. His ball control, ownership of that position, poise and panache with which he dictated from deep, key match winning influences in big games, unapologetic yet polished approach to tackles and overall influence as a Super Eagle are variables yet to be surpassed by any player during his time and ever since.
2) John Obi Mikel: ability to bring wealth of experience to bear and navigate the centre midfield when partnered with more brutal and hard tackling defensive midfielder is something that the Super Eagles will struggle to replicate long after Mikel Obi’s retirement. He always needed an Onazi, Ndidi or Azubuike to do the dirty work so he can concentrate helping the Super Eagles maintain a motif that brings balance, purpose and an element of unpredictability to play which were moreso evident in Afcon 2013 and the Confederations Cup of the same year. Simply irreplaceable.
3) Wilfred Ndidi: for an accurate appraisal and comparison of Ndidi to be made with the 2 above, it will be best to do this after his retirement as the Leicester City man’s game is still evolving. For now, it is hard to see any other better, rugged tackler of the ball than Ndidi for the Super Eagles in the last 32 years. Putting his club accomplishments to one side, the way he took to national team football in the heat of the world cup qualifiers in 2017 speaks to more of what is to come. His ability to cover vast acres of Real Estate to deter incursions into delicate territory with no-nonsense interceptions, tackles and retrievals are of supreme quality – making the unthinkable become indisputable that Nigeria indeed does have a player that can be described world class in his department.
4) Eddy Onazi: it was a shame how so much potential faded so soon at such an alarming rate. Onazi was the forerunner of Wilfred Ndidi as they both interpret the defensive midfield position in much the same way. Both have the lungs of a panther and the grasp of a hawk to harass and dispossess any unsuspected opponent of the ball. His tenacity and ability to complement a more serene centre midfield partner is a recipe for a successful pairing and solid midfield.
5) Yusuf Ayila: when you need a player to do the basics and carry these out as effectively as they are compelling then look no further. He hardly disappointed in Super Eagles colours and interpreted the role in the way of needed tactless, simple passes, forward movements and presence where required. Simple at best, reliable at worst.
6) Seyi Olofijana: could be easily forgiven to have gone under the radar of many which would erroneously lead to a conclusion that this erudite defensive midfielder was often underwhelming. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whereas he wasn’t one to ‘drive’ a winning strategy like say an Oliseh or a Mikel, he did have the potential to support and implement his own contributions to achieving victory as part of a more talented collection of players.
7) Others: John Ogu never really imposed himself enough on that position. Mikel Agu does do well when called upon with composure, good ball control and distribution and decent tackles but time is running out for him to make lasting Super Eagles impact. The late Thompson Oliha played with poise and complemented his midfield pairings whilst I have not taken time to research the efforts of those that played before 1988.