7 Nigerian Footballers Who Rose From U-17 To Become Super Stars

7 Nigerian Footballers Who Rose From U-17 To Become Super Stars

The 2023 Under-17 World Cup kicked off on Friday, 10 November 2023 with the tournament having played host to some of football’s finest players whether retired or still active.

The likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Ronaldinho, Toni Kroos, and Cesc Fabregas have all touched down at the U-17 World Cup en route to enjoying storied careers at the very top of the game.

Nigeria is undoubtedly one of the best footballing nations in Africa and even in the world and the country has always produced great players, mostly at the youth level, especially Under-17.

Complete Sports’ Oluyemi Ogunseyin, hereby, takes a look at seven Nigerian players whether retired or still active who passed through the U-17 World Cup to become superstars in the world of football.

Nwankwo Kanu (Japan 1993)

Nwankwo Kanu had a truly notable performance at the U-17 World Championship which took place in Japan in 1993 with the Golden Eaglets of Nigeria winning the tournament.

Kanu scored five goals in six appearances at the tournament to help Nigeria emerge as champions after which the retired striker joined Ajax in 1993 for an undisclosed fee.

He scored 25 goals in 54 overall appearances for Ajax from 1993 to 1996. Kanu won the 1995 UEFA Champions League as the Dutch Eredivisie club defeated AC Milan in the final.

Arguably Nigeria’s greatest footballing export, Kanu would enjoy great success on the continent prior to his arrival at Arsenal, also winning the UEFA Cup at Inter Milan.

The two-time African Footballer of the Year would enjoy a trophy-laden spell at the club, winning two Premier League titles and two FA Cups, the first of those as part of a domestic double in 2002.

He would prove a valuable member of the Arsenal squad for six seasons, memorably scoring a brilliant hat-trick against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge before later joining West Bromwich Albion.

Kanu thereafter left for Portsmouth where he scored the winning goals in both the semi-final and final as they won the FA Cup in 2008. He won the Olympic gold in the football event at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

He scored the winning goal in the 4–3 semi-final win over Brazil, his second goal of the match while Kanu participated at the 1998 and 2002 FIFA World Cups and netted 13 goals in 86 caps for Nigeria.

Victor Osimhen (Chile 2015)

Victor Osimhen notched a record-setting ten goals in 2015 as Nigeria romped to an unmatched fifth crown after which he secured a transfer to Wolfsburg of Germany but injury halted his career for a while.

Osimhen won the Golden Boot and Silver Ball awards at the tournament and also earned himself the CAF Young Player of the Year award in 2015. He still holds the record for the highest number of goals scored in a single U-17 World Cup.

The striker would, however, enjoy stints with Sporting Charleroi of Belgium and Lille of France before making a big-money move to Napoli during the summer transfer window of the year 2020.

Osimhen scored 26 goals and made four assists in 32 Serie A matches, propelling Napoli to their first Serie A title in 33 years, and netted 31 times in 39 games in all competitions in the 2022/23 season.

He broke the scoring records of former AC Milan striker, George Weah and ex-Inter Milan forwards, Obafemi Martins and Samuel Eto’o in the Serie A, thereby becoming the highest-scoring African in the Italian top-flight.

The Nigerian attacking sensation also became the first African football ever to emerge as a top-scorer in the Serie A in a single season in 125 years.

He also bagged ten goals and two assists in the 2023 African Cup of Nations qualifiers to emerge as the top-scorer in the qualification series.
The striker scored five goals in six UEFA Champions League outings for the Partenopei to lead the club to a historic campaign in the competition and is on course to become the CAF African Player of the Year.

Kelechi Iheanancho (UAE 2013)

Kelechi Iheanacho started representing Nigeria at youth levels from the under-13s, however, he made his mark with the country’s under-17 team.
Iheanacho played a significant role in the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates where he won the Golden Ball award for player of the tournament.

Nigeria won the competition, in which Iheanacho scored six times, including once in the final, and provided seven assists in all.

Iheanacho also played a prominent role as Leicester City won the FA Cup in the 2020–21 season. He scored the only goal in a 1–0 win over Southampton in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley Stadium.

The win took the Foxes to their first FA Cup final since 1969 and they eventually won the trophy. Iheanacho also scored the winning goal against his former club, Manchester City in the 2021 FA Community Shield.

Taiwo Awoniyi (UAE 2013)

Taiwo Awoniyi represented Nigeria at the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates and went on to win the tournament, scoring four goals during the competition.

He also represented Nigeria at the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand after winning the 2015 African U-20 Championship in Senegal.
Awoniyi thereafter joined Liverpool in 2015 for a fee of around £400,000 but was always loaned out to various clubs and he never played for the Reds.

In 2020, Awoniyi left for his seventh loan spell, this time joining Union Berlin for a year and in 2021, he rejoined the Bundesliga side, this time permanently for £6.5 million.

After shining at Union Berlin, Awoniyi completed a move to newly promoted Premier League side, Nottingham Forest on a five-year deal on 25 June 2022.

On 22 October 2022, he scored the winning goal in a 1–0 home win against Liverpool. Towards the end of the season, he scored six goals in four games, including the winner in a 1–0 home victory over Arsenal that preserved the club’s Premier League status.

On 18 August 2023, Awoniyi became the first Forest player to score in six consecutive Premier League matches since Stan Collymore in March-April 1995.

Victor Ikpeba (Scotland 1989)

Victor Ikpeba was discovered by Belgian club, RFC Liège during the 1989 FIFA U-17 World Championship in Scotland and moved to play in Belgium together with teammate Sunday Oliseh.
At the age of 20 and after scoring 17 goals in 1992–93, Ikpeba was bought by AS Monaco, then coached by Arsène Wenger. At Monaco, he gradually became a success despite having a tough start.

He showed outstanding form after the 1996 Olympics, scoring 13 league goals to help Monaco win the league title, and also finishing as the second-top goalscorer in the 1996–97 UEFA Cup.

His performances earned him the African Footballer of the Year award in 1997. Ikpeba played 31 international matches and scored seven goals for Nigeria.

He was a member of the Super Eagles team at the FIFA World Cup in 1994. He also scored the lone goal against Bulgaria in the second game of the team at the 1998 FIFA World Cup.

Ikpeba played his part to help Nigeria win the 1994 African Nations Cup and the Olympic football gold medal in 1996 where he scored a goal in the 4–3 semi-final win over Brazil.

Samuel Chukwueze (Chile 2015)

Samuel Chukwueze won the Bronze Boot at the 2015 FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Chile after dazzling football followers with his exceptional left foot which helped the Golden Eaglets a lot.

Chukwueze was a part of the Nigerian squad that won the 2015 U-17 AFCON and thereby qualified for the World Cup. He scored two goals at the AFCON and was named the best player of the tournament.

He played a major role in helping the Nigerian team win the tournament where his best performance was in the final against Mali, scoring the only goal of the game.

This was a remarkable achievement for the young player, who had only just turned 17 before the tournament began. Chukwueze has since gone on to become one of the brightest prospects in African football.

He represented Villarreal CF in Spain before completing a summer move to AC Milan. The 24-year-old won the bronze medal with the Super Eagles at the 2019 African Cup of Nations in Egypt.

John Mikel Obi (Finland 2003)

John Mikel Obi scored one goal at the 2003 FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Finland despite the Golden Eaglets of Nigeria failing to live up to expectations as they were eliminated very early.

After cutting his teeth at the tournament, Mikel went on to become one of Africa’s successful football stories, featuring and captaining Nigeria in the Olympic Games and senior World Cup in Russia in 2018.

Mikel represented Nigeria’s under-20 team at the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship and won the Silver Ball for the second-best player behind Lionel Messi as the Flying Eagles finished runners-up to Argentina.

The highlight of Mikel’s career in the Super Eagles was when he and his teammates ended Nigeria’s 19-year wait for the AFCON trophy as they won in South Africa in the year 2013.

In 2016, he defied the warnings of then-Chelsea manager, Antonio Conte to lead the Dream Team XI to the Olympics where they took the bronze medal at the tournament in Rio de Janeiro.

The subject of a controversial transfer to Chelsea despite Manchester United believing they had captured the in-demand teenager, he would go on to spend over a decade in west London and win several major honours.

Despite the fact that Mikel scored only one goal and contributed ten assists in the Premier League after making 249 appearances for Chelsea who he left in January 2017, the ex-Ngerian international made his mark in England.

Mikel remains the Nigerian player with the most trophies in England after making 372 appearances in all competitions for the Blues and winning two Premier League titles, three FA Cups, the Champions League and Europa League.

The former Super Eagles skipper also had a high percentage of wins in the Premier League, having emerged victorious on 149 occasions while picking up defeat only 41 times with Chelsea.

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  • Celestine Babayaro deserves to be on this list. He certainly achieved more than some on this list. He won a plethora of trophies with Chelsea in England and Europe and was a starter for the most part.
    He was a super-star in his own right.

  • Silva 7 months ago

    This list is what you know right because they are note than these.
    Wilson Oruma
    Nduka Ugbade
    Celestine Babayaro
    And muchmore

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