When it comes to top athletes, a career can often lead to a life abroad. Though many return home to star on national teams, they might go from a city like Lagos to London or Shanghai. In the case of Nigerian footballers, many have made such distant relocations.
Today, European and East Asian football leagues are home to top Nigerian players like Odion Ighalo, Eberechi Eze, and Victor Osimhen. Though these are only a few big names, they’ve set strong examples for other players who may want to make a career of the sport.
Ighalo, in particular, has a storied history with football. He’s played in clubs across Europe and spent time in the Chinese Super League alongside other great world talents. He’s also helped propel the Nigerian national team into the global spotlight.
Though Eze is of Nigerian descent and has spent time training with the Nigerian national team, he was born in Greenwich, UK. He’s played for English underage national teams as well as Premier League clubs.
He began with Queens Park Rangers, which competes in the UK’s second-tier league. However, that’s no small feat. Those who follow and wager on major league sports like football know that the English Premier League is a top-tier football league and possibly the best in the world, but its second and third-tier leagues aren’t far behind.
Since moving from the Championship side to the Premier League, Eze has outshone teammates and competitors across the league. Though new to Crystal Palace, his performance in the 2019-20 season earned him a place on the PFA Championship Team of the Year, which is awarded to the league’s top players.
Osimhen, like Ighalo, was born in Lagos, Nigeria. He played competitively in local leagues until he was recruited by VfL Wolfsburg of the Bundesliga in 2017. Despite the big move and an injury that barred him from starting the season, Osimhen worked overtime to develop his skill.
Following a bout with malaria, Osimhen was sent on loan to club Charleroi in the Belgian football league. Rather than wilt under pressure, he got to work proving his worth as a striker by netting 20 goals in a 36-game period in the 2018-19 season.
From there, Osimhen pushed harder for a place in Europe’s most competitive leagues. He signed for Lille in France’s Ligue 1 in 2019. Given his outstanding performance in the 2019-20 season, he received a slew of awards, which included: Player of the Month (Ligue 1, September 2019), Player of the Season (awarded by Lille fans), and finished as Ligue 1’s top scorer of the season.
Unsurprisingly, this has made Osimhen a hot commodity in European football. In July of 2020, Italian club Napoli of Serie A signed on the Nigerian star for a record-breaking €70 million.
Mentioned above, Ighalo is one of Nigeria’s senior talents and authorities on football. Not only is he active in his home city of Lagos to help bring the sport to locals who are interested in developing their skill but he’s also invested in helping that talent join top-tier leagues abroad.
Eze has mentioned in interviews that Ighalo helped mentor him. Not only is it a matter of skill with the ball but also an ability to maneuver and manage a high-profile football career. Ighalo is no stranger to the world of signing contracts and being sent out on loan.
Since starting his career in 2007 with Norwegian club Lyn, he’s spent time in Italy’s Serie A, France’s Ligue 1, Spain’s La Liga, and the UK’s Premier League. More recently, he played with Chinese Super League clubs Changchun Yatai and Shanghai Greenland Shenhua.
Since his stint in China, he’s since been sent on loan to Manchester United in 2020. Signing on for a year with Man U fulfilled a dream for Ighalo, who’s been a lifelong fan of the club.
However, in terms of national teams, Ighalo has passed the ball on. Following a strong run with the Nigerian national squad in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, he announced his retirement from national competitions.
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