From the top five leagues in Europe to other lesser-known divisions across the world, we look at the top 10 Nigerian players from the 2019/2020 season.
10. Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City/England)
An unexpected name on this list, but Kelechi Iheanacho redeemed himself with his performances for Leicester City since December 2019.
Kelechi Iheanacho’s move to Leicester City has not gone according to plan since the Foxes splashed £25 million on him in the summer of 2017. But despite hopes over his potential, the Nigerian failed to make an impact in his first two seasons at Leicester City. It was going to be the same thing in the 2019/2020 season until a home game against Everton in early December when he came on to make an impact. With the Foxes behind 1-0 at home, the Nigerian came off the bench to grab an assist and the winner in brilliant fashion.
Another assist and goal in his next Premier League game and Iheanacho had begun to carve a future for himself at the club. He impressed in Leicester City’s run to the semifinal of the League Cup and scored some important league goals.
While Leicester City struggled after Project Restart, the 23-year-old was their best player in the games he played. Goals against Everton (again), Crystal Palace and his lively performance against Manchester United showed he belongs at Leicester City’s level. A year ago, nobody thought that and even if he still doesn’t have the full trust of Brenden Rodgers, there will be a slew of Premier League sides asking about him this transfer window.
9. Frank Onyeka (FC Midtjylland/Denmark
The 2019/2020 season saw the emergence of Frank Onyeka, a player who had been at FC Midtjylland since 2016. After playing a bit-part role in his first two seasons, Onyeka showed himself to be a top talent with his performances for FC Midtjylland in the 2019/2020 season.
A player with a range of abilities, the 22-year-old played everywhere in midfield for FC Midtjylland. As a defensive midfield, he covered a lot of grounds and performed his defensive duties very well.
When asked to play further up in midfield, the Nigerian impressed again, with a 71% dribble success and a majority of his 84% pass accuracy coming in the opposition’s half.
He dropped huge performances for FC Midtjylland who finished the season with the league title and was rewarded with the club’s Player of the Year award.
8. Semi Ajayi (West Brom)
While calling him the best Nigerian defender of the 2019/2020 season might start a debate, Semi Ajayi was, without doubt, the most consistent Nigerian defender of that football year. He impressed in the 2018/2019 season at Rotherham who went further down the division before he joined West Brom.
He turned out to be a bargain signing for the Hawthorns with consistent performances all through the season that ended with a promotion to the Premier League.
Ajayi enjoyed a fine partnership at the back with Kyle Bartley. An imposing centre back, the Nigerian showed composure and solidity at the back.
Despite his lanky frame, the Nigerian showed a great turn of pace and was also dominant in the air.
He also chipped in five goals in the league to finish as the joint-sixth scorer at West Brom and some of these goals came in pivotal moments for Slaven Bilic’s side including the second goal in their 2-0 win over Luton in February.
Ajayi’s goal in that game came when West Brom was under pressure as Luton pressed for an equaliser. He doubled the lead to secure a win for West Brom after a seven-game winless run.
7. Moses Simon (Nantes/France)
After seeing his career stall for a couple of years, Moses Simon moved to France for a new challenge with a loan stint at Nantes.
He flourished there during the 2019/2020 season to become the club’s most important player. As earlier written, a large part of what made Simon thrive at Nantes was the freedom he got in attack.
Either playing from the left wing or as a striker leading the line, Moses got the trust of coach Christian Gourcuff and the Nigerian didn’t disappoint a bit.
He finished as the club’s highest goalscorer and one of the top creators and was duly voted Nantes Player of the Season.
He has since been rewarded with a permanent contract to remain at the club.
6. Anthony Nwakaeme (Trabzonspor/Turkey)
Anthony Nwakaeme got on brilliant form for Trabzonspor in the 2019/2020 season and enjoyed his best season in Turkey with 11 goals in the league and 14 in all competitions.
Nwakaeme proved to be an important player for Trabzonspor often playing from the left side of the attack. Aside from his goals, the Nigerian was a fine creator for his side with his ball-carrying skill and abilities to drive past opponents.
He led the way as the team’s best dribbler and came second in creating chances for his side.
His brilliance helped Trabzonspor to post a challenge for the Turkish Super Lig although it wasn’t enough to get them all the way. They did manage to win the Ziraat Turkish Cup to end a 10-year trophy drought.
5. Simeon Nwankwo (Crotone/Italy)
In Serie B, the second-tier of football in Italy, Simy Nwankwo scored goals for fun. With 20 league goals, Nwankwo finished as the top scorer in the division as Crotone secured promotion to the Serie A.
The 28-year-old led the line well for Crotone and offered so much for them upfront. The different types of goals he scored was also impressive; from headers to sitters the Nigerian striker showed his different abilities up front.
4. Cyriel Dessers (Heracles Almelo/The Netherlands)
The 2019/2020 season was a good football year for Nigerian strikers. Another frontman who performed well last season was Cryiel Dessers, the newly invited Super Eagles player who was born in Belgium.
At Heracles in the Eredivisie, Dessers scored 15 league goals and was the joint-top scorer in the Dutch league before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A powerful striker, with a lot of mobility, the 25-year-old also uses both feet very well which makes him unpredictable.
He also assisted his teammates five times in the league to show how creative he can be. He has since joined Belgian club Genk.
3. Umar Sadiq (FK Partizan/ Serbia)
A year ago, after an underwhelming stint at Rangers, Umar Sadiq was looking like another bright talent who had failed to live up to his potential. But the story has changed after an impressive 2019/2020 season with Serbian club FK Partizan.
Sadiq was a problem for opposition defence in the 2019/2020 season in Serbia. A tall and powerful striker, Sadiq also has the ability to be exquisite with the ball on his feet. This combination makes him an interesting player.
For the 2019/2020 season, Sadiq is Nigeria’s highest goal contributor in Europe with a hand in 33 goals-17 goals and 16 assists from 38 appearances in all competitions.
2. Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City/England)
Wilfred Ndidi has been the most consistent Nigerian player in the last three years. Since the 2018/2019 season, Ndidi has made more tackles and interceptions combined more than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues.
This season, he didn’t stop and used his elite ball-winning abilities to help Leicester City who for most of the 2019/2020 season punched above their weights with a battle for a top-four finish.
Although goal scoring is not his strength, he did manage one in the Premier League which came against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
1. Victor Osimhen (Lille/France)
Victor Osimhen is, without doubt, the best Nigerian football at the moment and one of the brightest young players in world football. After sealing a move to Lille in France from Belgian club Sporting Charleroi, the Nigerian striker took the Ligue 1 like a duck to water.
A strong and physical striker, Osimhen has a burst of pace and fine positioning that made him excel at Lille where he scored 18 goals in 31 games in all competitions.
There were two Champions League goals, one against Chelsea with a towering header and another at Valencia which he scored after showing his pace and composure.
After his fine season, accolades followed. He was named the Lille’s Player of the Season, included in Ligue 1’s Team of the Season and won the 2020 Prix Marc-Vivien Foé, the award given to the Best African player in Ligue 1 in a season.
The 21-year-old striker has also been rewarded with a big move. Osimhen has left Lille for a step up to Napoli who paid about €71 million potentially rising to €81 million with add-ons.