Benson Chukwueke Benson Chukwueke Author
Title: Amazing What made these Players the Legendary Heroes of Nigerian Football..
Author: Benson Chukwueke
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The myth of “ The globe Trotters” the legendary American Basketball team were nothing compared to some individual brilliance, flair and ...

The myth of “ The globe Trotters” the legendary American Basketball team were nothing compared to some individual brilliance, flair and mythical display of some select Nigeria football players that came on the scene at one time or another during our 50 years of independence.

Today, history speaks of some of the legendary heroes of Nigeria football players and how they captivated the fans.


These players may not be the best in terms of technical quality (TQ) possessed by Muda Lawal one of Nigeria’s best or goal keeper Peter fragene. But, Nigeria fans can never ever forget these players due to the beauty they brought to the game and the dimension they represent in Nigeria football history. I mean players that brought some mythical beauty, Patriotic spirit, Warrior bravado etc. They’re crowd pullers that gave so much excitement and cheers to Nigerian fans.


Teslimi ‘Thunder’ Balogun has a myth that his shot sweep across the field like a missile. With such hard leather ball of his days, both goal keepers and players get so scared to line-up when Thunder Balogun is posed to take a set piece (Free Kick). It is said that his shot broke through the goal post net and it can penetrate through a human stomach. No shot could be compared with Thunder Balogun dynamite. Not even the shot of Emmanuel Osigwe or Roberto Carlos could do such damage.

Many football fans do not know him as Teslim. He was fondly called Thunder Balogun because of the fire power of his shot.

Thunder Balogun was the first Nigeria to play professional football with Peterborough United, Holbeach United and Queens Park Rangers.

He was also the first Nigerian coach that led the Nigeria Team to 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico.

Thunder Balogun died in July 30, 1972 at the age of 45. Today, a stadium has been named after him “Teslim Balogun Stadium Lagos State.


Inua Lawal Rigogo “The flying Cat” was simply a wonder! No one has ever seen anything like his acrobatic display. Several times during his career, he defied the law of physics by suspending and changing direction mid air to stop deflected shot at goal. suspended in mid air for some milli-seconds in defiance of gravity! There is a saying that “no human being born of man can score Rigogo.”

It was the former President of Ghana Dr. Kwame Nkrumah that nicknamed him ‘the flying cat’ in 1968, because of his acrobatic display and goal keeping brilliance.

The last time I heard of Rigogo, was when he led a group that were mobilizing youths for football development in Northern Nigeria.


Emmanuel Okala “The Rock of Gibraltar” a 6ft5 towering with heavy built. Okala stood between any attacker and the goal post; whether there is a defender or not, you cannot score Okala.

It was said that Hafia of Guinea football club had to use charms to score Okala two gals to one against Rangers International of Enugu. In that match, Okala called the attention of the referee several times that he was seeing two balls anytime the Hafia players kick the ball at goal.

Okala was just insurmountable. He was the only goal keeper that had won the African football player of the year in 1976. Perhaps, he was the greatest goal keeper to ever come out of Africa.

However, his invincibility was broken by an own goal from the famous Godwin Odiye’s back flip that cast Nigeria the 1982 world cup.

Okala played played most of his club football with Rangers international of Enugu. Today, he is still part of the administration of the oldest club in Nigeria-Rangers International of Enugu.


Segun Mathematical” Odegbami was so different with his accuracy in crossing the ball right to the feet of any player he intended the pass for. Secondly, he had an unusual pace and dribbling skills. He was a master when it comes to running with the ball.

Arguably, Odegbami was the best outside right attack minded player Nigeria had ever produced. He is better than Finidi George or Tijani Babagida. You could not even be compared his accuracy with that of David Beckham of England.

Segun’s nickname ‘mathematical’ came from his background as an engineer. He studied at Premier technical institution and Polytechnic Ibadan. It was his background as well as his exquisite skills, pace and accuracy that brought the nickname ‘mathematical to limelight.

Segun was born in August 27, 1952. He played most of his club football with IICC of Ibadan. He scored 23 goals in 46 caps for the national team. He presently writes a newspaper column called “Mathematical” and run a football academy. He had also made a failed attempt to be elected as the NFF President.


Stephen “The Boss” Keshi had overwhelming personality and boldness to withstand football administrators of his days. Keshi spoke out vehemently about their corrupt practices. Born January 31, 1962. He played for ACB,NNB, while he was in Nigeria. He had so many loggerheads with the football administrators and was once suspended from the national team. Keshi hads to go to African Sports of Coire d’voire to continue his career. Keshi move to Europe opened the flood gate for other players in Nigeria to travel also. Keshi was the bos! Even coaches and administrators understood his influence over other players.

Keshi captained most of the clubs he played with in Nigeria and abroad. It was said that Keshi challenged coaches team list for any game. He drew his own list as captain and present to the coach for compares.

In Europe, Keshi played with Lokeren, Anderlecht in Belgium, Strasburg in Germany and Perlis in Malaysia.

Keshi captained the National team that won the nation cup in 1994 and the same team took Nigeria to the world cup for the first time.

Keshi was the coach that qualified Togo for the world cup for the first time in 2006. He also coached mali national team in 2010.


Rashidi “Dangling” Yekini was such a fierce attacker. 6ft3 tall and huge. He burst defenders with such intimidating pace and power shots. Defenders could not just handle Yekini. In his prime days he cannot play for 90 minutes in a game and not score. He has such eagle eyes for goals.

He is perhaps the greatest top striker ever produced from Africa. He turned out every year as the highest goal scorer in any league he played. He still hold the record in the Portugese league, where he scored 34 goals in 32 matches for vitoria Setubal in 1993 – 94 season (An average of 1.05 goals per match). He still hold the record as the highest goal scorer for the national team. He scored39 goals in 70 appearance. He was the first Nigeria to score in a world cup game.

Born october 23, 1963 in Kaduna state Nigeria. He played for IICC, Abiola Babes in Nigeria. He played for Africa Sports in Coite d’ voire before he travelled to Europe and played with vitoria Setubal in Portugal. He won the African football player of the year twice. In 1992 and 1994.

The last we heard of Yekini was when he came back to Nigeria league and played with Gateway FC.


Samuel “The Patriot” Okwaraji was an epitome of patriotism. When fellow national team players were demanding for first class air ticket in other to honor national calls. He paid his own air fare and played for the national team free of charge. It was said that Okwaraji only collected match bonuses as motivational fee. He highly cherished the honor to wear the national color.

Born in 1964 at Orlu – Imo State Nigeria. Okwaraji studied abroad and graduated as a lawyer. He understood the ethics of professionalism which translated in his football career. He played for Dynamo Zagreb, Vfb Stuttgart, and SSV Ulm.

Sam Okwaraji died during a national duty in August 12, 1989 in a world cup qualifier match against Angola at the national stadium Surulere Lagos. He collapsed during the match due to congestive heart failure. A large gold statute of Sam Okwaraji presently stood at the entrance of the football pitch at Dan Anyaim stadium complex in Owerri Imo state Nigeria.


Victor Ikpeba “Prince of Monaco” set the whole city of Monaco ablaze with his beautiful brand of foot ba ll skills and

goal scoring prowess. He overshadowed such world class players as Thierry Henry and Ambrossini. Victor became more famous and influential than the governor of Monaco. With that high class beautiful queens of Paris flocking around him. He was the most admired face in France. Women mobbed him on the streets of Monaco

demanding a touch as well as his autograph.

Victor Ikpeba caught the attention of the world. He was the African football player of the year 1997.

He was part of the Nigeria national team that won the Olympic gold medal in Atlanta 1996.

Born in 1972, Ikpeba played for a grassroots club Federal Palace and ACB while in Nigeria. He then played with club RFC LiƩgeois in Belgium before he went to AS Monaco in France. Ikpeba is presently an international businessman.


Austin “Jay-Jay” Okocha was just a magician the way he twist and jog the ball. Jay-Jay can play the ball with any part of his body. He get the defenders confounded with his leg –overs, back-heels, flick and flips of the ball. He was such a wonder to behold.

Jay-Jay as he was fondly called got his nickname pass down to him by his elder brother Emmanuel Okocha who also a professional football player. Austin and Emmanuel Okocha usually confused the fans who was the real Jay-Jay. Austin’s fame overshadowed that of Emmanuel at Ernchert Frankfurt in Germany. Though, Austin played for Rangers International in Nigeria before Emmanuel brought him over to Germany to play along side with him at Frankfurt.

Austin Jay-Jay was part of the Nigeria national team that won 1994 Africa nations cup, He was also part of the first Nigeria team to the world cup. He was a vital player of the national team that won the Olympic gold medal in 1996.

Jay-Jay still hold the record as the highest Nigeria paid player. He was signed at Paris Saint German (PSG) for $17 million in 2000. He captained the national team and his club at Bolton Wanderers. Before then, Jay-Jay had played with Freneche at the Turkish League.

Recently, Jay-Jay failed to win the election of the NFF President. He had previously served with the Presidential task force Charged to qualify Nigeria for the 2010 World cup.


Nwankwo “Papilo” Kanu have been voted many a time as the greatest Nigeria football player. Kanu is a phenomenon. Though, he looks so feeble, but Kanu has a lion heart . As the famous British Commentator Barry Davis would say “Kanu has bags of football tricks and you’ll never know what he would do next with the ball. Kanu’s game is beyond human comprehension. He had scored some famous goals now tagged as “Kanu’s Wonder goal, Kanu’s golden goal, Kanu’s amazing goal …”

Kanu is a champion of Life. He always win, both in the game of football and in all aspect of life. He survived a life and career threatened heart surgery that led him to establish Kanu Heart Foundation (KHF).

Kanu played with Iwuanyawu Nationale before he travelled to Europe. He played for Ajax Amsterdam, Inter Milan, Arsenal England West Bromwich, and Portsmouth.

He is the most decorated and influential African football player. He won the African football player of the year twice in 1996 and 1999. He was the captain of the Nigeria national team that won the Olympic gold medal in Atlanta 1996. He had previously won the U16 world cup in Japan 1993, UEFA Champions League 1994, UEFA cup 1998…

Born December 25, 1975 in Owerri Imo state, Kanu still plays for Portsmouth and is presently a Commonwealth Ambassador. His KHF has sponsored treatment for over hundred children that suffered cardiovascular diseases. Kanu is truly a legend.

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  1. Really great players. And they played in great teams

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