TOP TEN NIGERIANS TO PLAY IN THE ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE (Posted first on connectnigeria.com)

With or without the consent of European football governing body UEFA, the English Premier League is the best and most exciting football league on planet earth.
People from all over the world, are glued to their television sets to get a glimpse of the EPL action week in, week out.
Since the start of the EPL in 1992, about 25 or thereabout Nigerian Internationals have played in England’s elite football league and this is a list of my top ten Nigerians to fly the Green White Green in the EPL.

KANU ‘PAPILLO’ NWANKWO
Although Kanu made most of his EPL appearances as a substitute, he is the reason the league became a popular one here in Nigeria. He moved to Highbury from FC Internazionale of Italy for 4.1million pounds after a scare about his heart. He went on to play for West Bromwich Albion and Portsmouth. He made a total of 315 appearances (118 as a substitute, an EPL record) scoring 57 goals. He won 2 Premier League titles, 3 FA Cup trophies, and 1 Community Shield, African and BBC Footballer of the year during his stint in England.

JOHN MIKEL OBI
John Michael Nchekwube Obinna popularly known as John Obi Mikel joined London giants Chelsea after a tug of war with Manchester United which saw FIFA intervene and act as a pacifier between the two rivals. The matter was resolved and Chelsea were asked to pay 12million pounds in compensation to Manchester United and 4million pounds to his parent club, FC Lyn Oslo of Norway.
He made his EPL debut as a substitute and scored his first goal in English football in 6-1 thumping of Macclesfield Town in January 2007 (FA Cup). He’s gone on to play in the League Cup, FA Cup, and Champions League finals for the club. He’s the most decorated Nigerian to play in the EPL; he has won a Premier league title, 4FA Cups, 1League Cup and 1Champions League medal during his 5years at Chelsea. He’s also made 160 appearances for the club scoring 2goals.

YAKUBU ‘YAK’ AIYEGBENI
After a tremendous display in the 2002/2003 Champions League campaign where he scored 7goals in 8matches, he earned a loan deal to Portsmouth FC, who were fighting for promotion in the Championship. He helped them to the EPL before signing permanently.
He is the third highest goal scorer in the history of the Nigerian national team. He made his debut in English football as a 57th minute substitute for Vincent Pericard in 1-all draw against Brighton & Hove Albion on 18th June 2004 and scored his first goal against Grimsby in his first start.
He played 37times in Portsmouth’s debut season in the EPL scoring 16times; scored his debut EPL goal in the 1-1 draw against Manchester City (his second match).
He went on to represent Middlesborough, Everton, Leicester City and Blackburn Rovers. He scored 29, 26, 25, 17 EPL goals for Pompey, Middlesborough, Everton and Blackburn Rovers, a total of 97goals in 213 appearances; averaging 0.45goal per game. He scored four hat-tricks in his EPL career.
He joined Chinese side, Guangzhou R&F this summer after Blackburn Rovers’ demotion to the Championship.

JAY JAY OKOCHA
A cult hero at the Reebok stadium, he joined Bolton Wanderers after the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan after the expiration of his deal with French side, Paris Saint Germain.
In his debut season, he was limited to few appearances due to injuries but he still steered his team away from the hands of relegation with 7goals. This endeared him to the hearts of Bolton fans, which made them unveil a T-shirt in his honour with the inscription “Jay jay, so good they named him twice”. His goal against West Ham United was voted EPL team goal of the season. He was made captain of the team in 2003 and led Bolton to their first cup final in 9years (League Cup final v Middlesborough) in 2004 which they lost to a Bolo Zenden’s first half penalty.
In 2006, he was stripped of the captaincy and subsequently, joined a Qatari club that summer. He played 124 times in the league, scoring 16goals.

JOSEPH YOBO
The Super Eagles captain and most capped player with 87caps joined the EPL train in July 2002 after signing for Everton FC from Marseille in a million pound loan deal. The deal was made permanent a year later with Everton paying Marseille an additional 4million pounds for his services.
He went on to become one of the most consistent players in the Everton squad, and was one of only 7 players in the entire league to play every minute of every match throughout 2006/2007 season.
As of 15 April 2007, he is the record appearance holder for an overseas player and became the first African to captain the side in the absence of Phil Neville, against Larissa of Greece in the UEFA Cup on 25th October 2007
In 2009/2020 season, he fell down the pecking order after the club signed John Heitinga and Phil Jagielka from Athletico Madrid and Sheffield United respectively, his poor form didn’t help either and he was farmed out on loan to Turkish giants, Fenerbahce; He made the deal permanent last week. He played 220 times in the league for Everton, scoring 8goals.

OSAZE PETER ODEMWIGIE
Born to a Nigerian doctor and Uzbekistani mother, he joined West Bromwich Albion on 20th August 2010 for an undisclosed fee on a two year contract.
He scored on his debut, 81st minute winner against Sunderland. He also scored in the memorable 3-2 win against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium; a brace against Newcastle United in a 3-1 win surpassing Robert Earnshaw’s record as the club’s top scorer in the EPL with 15goals. On 30th April, he became the first WBA player to score in 4consecutive matches after scoring against Tottenham Hotspur. He won two Player of the Month awards during the course of the season; the sixth man to receive the accolade twice in one season in the award’s history.
He scored his first hat trick in EPL in 5-1annihilation of Wolverhampton Wanderers on 12 February 2012, which made him win the Player of the Month award for the month of February; his third in his short stint in England. He has chipped in 25goals in 60 EPL games, an average of 0.416goal per game.

EFAN EKOKU
Efangwu Goziem Ekoku, English-born ex Nigerian international played in the EPL with Norwich City and Wimbledon.
He joined the EPL bandwagon after signing for Norwich City in a 500,000 pound deal from Harry Redknapp’s Bournemouth side where he scored 7times in 14games. Norwich were in the thick of the title race, he scored 3goals in 10matches; Manchester United later won the title that year while Norwich finished third.
He scored four times as Norwich beat Everton 5-1 at Goodison Park; becoming the first player to score more than 3goals in one match in the EPL.
He moved to Wimbledon in 1994 replacing John Fashanu. He was the club’s top scorer that year with 9goals while they finished in 9th position. He went on to score 7 and 11 goals in 94/95 and 95/96 seasons respectively. He took them to the League and FA Cups finals in 1996 which they lost on both occasions.
He left the club in 1999 for Swiss club, Grasshoppers.
He was inducted into Norwich City Hall of Fame in 2012, obtained his FA/UEFA coaching badges and serves as a co-commentator for TWI overseas coverage of the EPL.

CELESTINE BABAYARO
The ex-Nigerian was signed by Ruud Gullit as a 19year-old back in April 1997 from Anderlecht for 2.25million pounds for Chelsea, a club record for a teenager at the time.
He won the FA Cup and Charity Shield with Chelsea in 2001 and 2002 respectively. The arrival of Jose Mourinho saw him lose his place to Wayne Bridge who was signed as part of Roman Abhramovic’s revolution. He joined Newcastle United in 2005 after playing 200 times for Chelsea. He made 179 EPL appearances scoring 5goals.

DANIEL ‘THE BULL’ AMOKACHI
He signed for Everton for 3million pounds after the 1994 World Cup. He is famous for bringing himself on as a sub then proceeding to score two goals in the Semi Final FA Cup win over Tottenham in 1999; although he won the match, his coach wasn’t too pleased with his actions. He also appeared in the FA Cup final triumph but only as a late sub. He didn’t make the best impact in an Everton shirt and lost his place to Rideout and Duncan Ferguson. He played 43times and scored 10goals.

FINIDI GEORGE
Nicknamed “The Gazelle” during his time at the Amsterdam ArenA, joined Ipswich Town during the twilight of his career in 2001 from Mallorca for 3.1million pounds. Ipswich town had defied all odds and finished third in their debut season in the EPL, all thanks to the goals of Marcus Stewart, Martijn Reuser and James Scowcroft.
Finidi scored twice on his debut in a 3-1 win over Derby County at Portman Road but they were relegated at the end of the season and he returned back to Spain in 2003.

Much Ado About Manchester United

I wasn’t into English football when I was growing up rather I was an ardent follower of the Dutch Eredivisie, all thanks to my late uncle. The first “official” European match I watched was Ajax vs. AC Milan, Champions League final, 1995 where an Ajax team of youngsters captained by Danny Blind and coached by Louis van Gaal won the day courtesy of a goal by then 17 year old Patrick Kluivert. Ajax had the Van der sars, de Boers, Davids, Seedorfs, Witschges, Litmanens, Kluiverts, Blinds, Reizigers along with 2 Nigerians, Kanu Nwankwo and George Finidi in their ranks.

I fell in love with the Ajax team and kept on following the Dutch league but all I really cared about was the goals; I never missed an episode of Rothmans football show on NTA back in the 90s. I did not support any club until I watched the UEFA Champions League magazine show prior to the final between Manchester United and Bayern München at the Nou Camp in 1999.

They did the pathetic story of the ruin and rise of the club, Manchester United F.C. The Munich air disaster took place on 6th February 1958, when British European Airways Flight 609 crashed on its third attempt to take off from an ice-covered runway at Munich-Riem Airport in Munich, Germany. On board the plane was the Manchester United football team, nicknamed the “Busby Babes” along with a number of journalists and supporters. 23 of the 44 people on board the aircraft died instantly as a result of the crash. As I watched this documentary, I wept as one of the players, Liam Whelan actually said: “This may be death, but I am ready” shortly before take off! The manager, Sir Matt Busby read his last rites (prayers before death) twice on his hospital bed because his chances of survival were slim. But the death of their best players did not bury the club! To feeble minds that would have been the end of the story. I saw the Munich memorial clock on the south eastern corner of Old Trafford that permanently read “Feb 6th 1958.” I saw the “Munich Tunnel” in Old Trafford stadium that contains the names of all the dead players and the bold inscriptions under the crash victims’ pictures: Manchester United Shall Rise Again and that was the day I joined the club because that is the summary of life.
The club did rise again; Sir Matt Busby resumed managerial duties the next season (1958-59), and eventually built a second generation of Busby Babes including George Best and Denis Law, that ten years later won the European Cup, beating Benfica. Bobby Charlton and Bill Foulkes were the only two crash survivors who lined up in that team.

Thirty one years later (1968-99), United exorcised their Munich demons in a dream final at the Nou Camp beating the men from Munich 2-1 courtesy of late strikes from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjær cancelling out Mario Basler’s opener. Basler had given Bayern the lead via a free kick in the first half only for Sheringham to head in a David Beckham’s corner with 2mins left to play. Deep into extra time, Beckham delivered another corner, Sheringham got a head to it and Solskjær who was at the back post poked it in. I was delirious, elated and ecstatic that I couldn’t contain my joy. Since then, the name Manchester United F.C has been encrypted in my heart.

There are only two clubs in England; Manchester United and the rest. If football is your passion, Manchester United is your brand.

Who are the favourites to win the English Premier League this season?
What are your predictions for the incoming season?

EPL-mania

The moment we’ve all been waiting for is finally here. The English football season (2012/2013 season) will kick off today when Chelsea, the FA Cup Winners and Manchester City, The English Premier League champions lock horns in the traditional season opener, Community Shield at the Villa Park.

The FA Community Shield (formerly known as Charity Shield) is the annual match contested between the champions of the previous Premier league campaign and the holders of the FA Cup. It is traditionally held at the Wembley Stadium but this year’s edition will be hosted by Villa Park. If the Premier League champions also won the FA Cup then the league runners-up will provide the opposition. It is a glorified friendly match which proceeds from the game distributed to community-based initiatives and charities around the country. The current holders are Manchester United, who defeated Manchester City 3-2 last year.

This friendly affair precedes the start of the new EPL season; the EPL season normally starts a week after the Community Shield clash.

Here are some facts about the English Premier League:

25% of the current teams are situated in London. There are about 14 professional soccer teams based in London. Five of those teams – Arsenal, Chelsea, Fulham, Tottenham and Queens Park Rangers – are currently in the EPL. Arsenal and Tottenham can never play home matches on the same day to avoid traffic jam.

Fans hate their American owners. Americans are major shareholders in Arsenal, Manchester United, Aston Villa, Liverpool and Sunderland. English fans do not hide their distaste at Americans’ control of their clubs.

Only four different clubs have won the league since 1994/1995 when Blackburn Rovers won the title. Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and most recently, Manchester City have had their names inscribed on the trophy.

An English manager has never won the league. Sir Alex Ferguson has won the EPL a record 12 times but he is a scot. Fellow scot, Kenny Daglish also won it with Blackburn Rovers ion 1995. French professor, Arsene Wenger; the Portuguese special one, Jose Mourinho and Italian duo, Roberto Mancini and Carlo Ancelotti have all won the EPL title.

The league has been renamed four times. It started as FA Carling premiership in 1992. The name was changed to Barclaycard premiership in 2001; to Barclays Premiership in 2004 and to Barclay’s Premier League in 2007.
It is the most lucrative league in the world. According to Deloitte, EPL revenues topped $2.8billion in 2011/2012.

Just 7 clubs have participated in 20 EPL Seasons: Arsenal, Aston villa, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur have never been relegated.

45 different clubs have spent at least one season in the EPL. Five of those survived just one season. 17 teams have 10 or more total seasons in the EPL.

Foreign players make up nearly two-thirds of the league. 635 are not British. 171 Africans (Nigera-27, Senegal-22, Cameroon-21, Ivory Coast-15, Ghana-14, S/Africa-12, Algeria-11, Morocco-11, Mali-8, Egypt-6, DR Congo-5, Guinea-4, Togo & Tunisia-3, Congo & Liberia -2, Cape Verde, Zambia, Angola, Benin, and Gabon-1) have played in the EPL so far.

Only 10 Africans have won the EPL title and they are: Christopher Wreh (Liberia), Lauren and Geremi (Cameroon), Kanu and Mikel (Nigeria) Essien (Ghana), Drogba, Kalou and Toure brothers (Ivory Coast).

The highest goalscorer in EPL history is Alan Shearer; he scored 260 goals for Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United. Andy Cole and Thierry Henry are second and third on the list with 189 & 176 goals respectively. Top three Africans on the list are: Didier Drogba (20th with 101goals), Yakubu Aiyegbeni (28th with 91goals and Emmanuel Adebayor (41st with 72goals).

A total of 248 hat tricks have been scored in the EPL. The first to score three times in one match was Eric Cantona for Leeds United against Tottenham in 1992. Efan Ekoku was the first to score four times, for Norwich City versus Everton also in 1992. Andy Cole was the first to score five times in the league for Manchester United against Nottingham Forest. 12 Africans have chipped in 3 or more goals in one match in the EPL. Yakubu Aiyegbeni leads the pack, having scored 3+ goals in one match four times in his EPL career. Others are Didier Drogba (thrice), Adebayor , Tony Yeboah and Benjani (twice); Kanu, Aruna Dindane, Efan Ekoku, Henri Camara, Salomon Kalou and Peter Odemwigie have all achieved this feat once.

What are your predictions for today’s clash and the incoming EPL season?

Football Induced Psychosis

Football is the most popular sport on planet earth. In Nigeria, football is worshipped and played by a lot of people including me.

Most people are ardent followers of the English Premier League & support teams like Manchester United (Red Devils), Arsenal (Gunners), Chelsea (Blues) & Liverpool (Reds). People roam the streets every weekend to have a glimpse of their team in action on TV. The speed at which premier league football is engulfing Nigerians and the world at large is alarming. You’d see people wearing belts, jerseys, watches, caps, boxers, pants etc just to represent their clubs. Na Chelsea fans do am pass sha. Okada & kabu-kabu drivers are not left out; they decorate their bikes & buses with stickers of their favourite clubs.

I can still recollect back then in 2001 when it was all about Arsenal & Man United, the EPL was less popular, hence there was no news of violence even when these two football heavyweights clashed but now, the story is quite the opposite.

Alas! After the UEFA Champions League final in Rome (May 2009) where Manchester United was trounced, outclassed, outplayed, annihilated, humiliated & taught the game of football by the Numero Uno club in the world at the moment, FC Barcelona, an angry fan in Port Harcourt , Nigeria drove his bus into a crowd of people leaving six people dead &two wounded in the process.

My questions remain “Is this rage worth it? Dem sabi u? Dem dey pay you? These players collect a specified amount of money at the end of every week, match bonus after every match & an extra bonus for taking part in a competition like the UEFA Champions League yet na we dey kill ourselves over nothing.

How do we cure ourselves of this madness abeg?

Nigerian Premier League: Can We Ever Have The Same Passion For Our Local Teams?

 

It’s a culture nowadays to support Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Bayern Munich, AC Milan or Juventus and I’ve been pondering if we could ever have the same passion for our local club sides. 

Our poor domestic league is a drawback to the Nigerian Football team. I’m not clamouring for all our Nigerian top players to ply their trade in Nigeria but the league should be good enough to retain players rather than see them rushing to countries with no football pedigree for money.

I have been involved in heated arguments with people who believe the NPL will never be good enough for us to attend their matches and cheer our local teams but I think we can do this.

The Egyptian, South African, Moroccan, Tunisian, Mexican and Japanese leagues are leagues we should use as stereotypes. Let’s use the Egyptian league for example, it is so organized and exciting that their top players leave Europe and return home. For instance, Amir Zaki was an instant hit at Wigan Athletic when he was on loan at the club (2008/2009 English premier league season) and had the opportunity to make the deal permanent but he declined the offer and opted to return back to Egypt where he’s been representing Zamalek. The Egyptian league is so exciting to watch because of their style of play and the atmosphere in the stadia. The fans come out in mass, wearing the colours of their favourite teams and singing at the top of their voices.

In Nigeria, the reverse is the case; the pitches are nothing to write home about, terrible officiating, poor crowd turn out and indiscipline on the part of players and club officials.

These are ways I believe we can transform our league:

With all due respect, a lot of credible men have held the top position at The Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) Glass House without achieving anything and I think it’s time for them to move aside and allow a capable ex-footballer, who has seen it all and knows what the league needs, to lead us to El Dorado.  Kalusha Bwalya, an ex-footballer has turned the fortunes of Zambian football since he took reigns of their Football Administration a few years ago and I believe that’s our first step to redemption.

Co-operation and Unity: NFF and The Sports Ministry led by Bolaji Abdullahi have to work in sync to make this dream a reality. This is sine qua non. The days of in-house fighting that have rocked the NFF over the years should be left in the past and NFF should also try and act as a bridge between the clubs and their players, working towards settling the problem of unpaid royalties and salaries by these clubs. We need to be able to pay these local players enough to keep them comfortable and happy to stay rather than see them leave for obscure footballing countries like Cyprus, Malta, India, Thailand etc. Moving to one of the top European leagues is understandable.

Non-Governmental Interference: The State Governments need to relinquish the management of these clubs thus enabling corporate bodies or individuals to purchase these clubs out rightly; providing them with start up funds to be able to sign players and manage the wage bill.

Media and Promotion: Supersports have been televising our league for some years now but that can be improved upon. The fact that it is shown on TV does not mean people will watch it.  The Public Relations and Marketing committees should be inaugurated to make some buzz about these games. Ex footballers like the Okochas, Finidis, Olisehs, Kanus should also be carried along. We can pick a leaf from Supersports, I love the way they hype their league (Super Diski). Also capable hands for match day analysis and commentary should also be employed. The stadium quality also has to be enhanced and the refereeing situation sorted out cos we sabi fix match gaan.

All these minor issues affect the way the game is perceived. You can’t promote a game the commentator knows nothing about the history of the clubs nor the names of the players.

The NFF and Prospective club owners should try and make the match tickets available at an affordable price to ensure the stadia are always filled with fans; with gate proceedings going to the club hosting the match.

The “home” advantage issue is something that has to be dealt with. The home team is always favoured one way or the other and the referees are often bribed to swing matches in their favour. Referee’s salaries should be reviewed and security officials employed on match days to avert any crowd trouble.

Generally, the Government would gain a great deal from an efficient and exciting football league. Look at England, the EPL rakes in more revenue than most of the sectors over there and the same success can be recorded here in Nigeria if we all support it.