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Seven Young Talents In Europe Tipped To Channel New Era For Nigerian Football

Two decades ago Nigerian football achieved its most noteworthy success at international level by winning Olympic gold, with those who made it possible seen as the nation’s first golden generation. A who’s who of Nigerian football, including the likes of Celestine Babayaro, Taribo West, Nwankwo Kanu, Jay-Jay Okocha, Daniel Amokachi and Sunday Oliseh were the now-legendary names gracing the pitch.

Just a few months ago the class of 2016 came very close to matching their predecessors. They may have ultimately won bronze and the Super Eagles will not be at the upcoming African Cup of Nations – held in Morocco – but there is enough talents in their ranks to suggest a healthy future.
Here is a look at the west African country’s brightest talents.

. Kelechi Iheanacho in Man City colours

. Kelechi Iheanacho in action for Man City 

Kenneth Omeruo
Position: Defender
Age: 22
Club: Alanyaspor
International caps: 32
International goals: 0

Still only 22, the multi-functional defender, who is capable of playing at either full-back or in central defence – has amassed over 100 first team appearances at club level, albeit with four different clubs across three countries.

A Chelsea youth player, whom he joined from Belgian side Standard Liege, Omeruo not yet made it to their senior team, instead enjoying productive spells at ADO Den Haag, Middlesbrough, Kasımpaşa and now Alanyaspor.

Despite being on the move constantly his performances have been stable enough to see him play for the Nigerian national team, debuting on January 2013 against Cape Verde, and he has to date made 32 appearances with many more expected to come.

William Troost-Ekong
Position: Defender
Age: 23
Club: FK Haugesund
International caps: 5
International goals: 0

A recent addition, having won his first cap last year, there’s no doubt Troost-Ekong be a mainstay for years to come. Born to a Dutch mother and Nigerian father, he switched allegiance from the Netherlands (whose U19 and U20 teams he represented), and was part of the Super Eagles team who left Rio 2016 with a Bronze medal, where he played in all of their matches.

Having begun in the youth teams of Fulham and Tottenham he left the latter to join FC Groningen, playing 34 league matches, before joining Gent. He is currently on loan at Haugesund in Norway where he has taken on the responsibility of the captaincy.

Ogenyi Onazi
Position: Midfielder
Age: 23
Club: Trabzonspor
International caps: 39
International goals: 1

The former Lazio youngster was a member of Nigeria’s last AFCON winning side and although utilised in a bit-part role, there was no denying he has huge potential; what he lacks in size he more than enough makes up for it in industry.

A midfield destroyer Onazi, now plying his trade in Turkey with Trabzonspor, is adept in dictating the play holding a wide range of passes. Many of the forwards he’s played alongside – including compatriot Emmanuel Emenike – rate him highly.

Ahmed Musa
Position: Forward
Age: 23
Club: Leicester City
International caps: 59
International goals: 11

Before the arrival of Islam Slimani arrived at Leicester City, Musa was the most the defending Premier League champions had paid for a player. He’s not disappointed, in the few appearances he’s made, showing the pace and finishing he’s become renowned for.
Nigeria’s shining light at the last World Cup, famously scoring twice in a 3-2 defeat to Argentina, he produced 54 goals across 168 matches with his previous club CSKA Moscow.

Although a centre-forward by trade he’s oft been used on the flanks for his country, to devastating effect. A regular presence since turning 17 he’s now seen as a leader in his own right having captained the Super Eagles in five of their last ten internationals.

. Alex Iwobi in Arsenal colours

. Alex Iwobi in Arsenal colours

Alex Iwobi
Position: Forward
Age: 20
Club: Arsenal
International caps: 6
International goals: 0

Another to switch allegiance, from England this time, Iwobi cemented a regular starting birth with Arsenal after impressing in moments last season. A wide-forward, preferring to operate from the left, he’s created three goals in seven league matches this campaign.

Having made his first international appearance on August 2015, in a 2-0 friendly defeat to DR Congo, he’s played a further five matches, and is yet to open his account.

Iwobi will hope to follow in the footsteps of his uncle, Jay-Jay Okocha, who attained Super Eagles legendary status; his club team mate Mesut Ozil even sees similarities adding the 20-year-old is a hybrid of Okocha and Edgar Davids.

Kelechi Iheanacho
Position: Forward
Age: 20
Club: Manchester City
International caps: 4
International goals: 3

If there is to be a poster boy for this new exciting Nigerian generation it could very well be Iheanacho, who by the time he’s turned 20 has scored three goals in four international games. At club level it’s equally impressive: 17 goals across 43 matches.

Now under Pep Guardiola’s tutelage many predict his development to be substantial, directly benefiting the Super Eagles. In a short space of time, through his spatial awareness and clinical finishing, he’s developed a reputation of being a defender’s nightmare.

Moses Simon
Position: Forward
Age: 21
Club: KAA Gent
International caps: 6
International goals: 2

Dubbed as the “Nigerian Cristiano Ronaldo” during his formative years, due to his skillful nature, it’s taken a while for him to shake off that tag, but he is now excelling in the Belgian top-flight with KAA Gent.

Since joining from Trencin, from where he was heavily linked with a plethora of European giants including Spurs and Liverpool, he’s managed 12 goals and 11 assists in 71 matches for the Belgian champions.

As with Iheanacho, there are big things expected of the 21-year-old, who has two goals in six appearances with the national team.

Culled from Squawka News

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