The Greatest Defensive-Midfield Player In Nigerian Football In 60 Years!

The Greatest Defensive-Midfield Player In Nigerian Football In 60 Years!

Culled from Operanewsapp.com

It is probably the most technical position in a football team. It requires that a player have the physical and mental stamina to defend, to create and to attack. That’s why there are not too many such players that have been truly exceptional in Nigeria’s football history. They are not easy to find.

The successful ones, therefore, must be consistent in their performance and must have longevity and do not play below a certain minimal level from match to match.

In considering how good a defensive midfield player is, it is important to also consider the era of football at the time. In the 1960s, a defensive midfield player was almost 100 % a defender, hardly venturing forward, focusing on helping the back four by clearing the balls up front.

In the 1970s and 1980s, with the coming of several European coaches from Germany and Yugoslavia (Heinz Marotske, Yelisavic Tiko and so on) into Nigerian football additional responsibilities of destroying opposition strategies, organizing the midfield, starting attacks from the back, linking with the front line and even scoring goals, have been added.

All of these will obviously go into the reckoning of respondents based on their experiences. But one thing is common to all, the truly gifted defensive midfielders across all the generations stand out, separated by their longevity, efficiency and productivity.

A rough chronological exercise is important here.

Also Read – Odegbami: The Perfect Defensive Midfield Player – Ogochukwu!

Between 1960 and 1973 Godwin Achebe, played as Captain and defensive midfielder for the Green Eagles of Nigeria. He was absent from the national team for 4 years during the Civil war, but returned to captain the team again. He led the Green Eagles to win the Gold Medal of the 2nd All-African Games in Lagos.

After him, for a brief but interesting period, was Sani Mohammed of Stationary Stores and the Green Eagles. He took over from Godwin Achebe but relinquished the role after two years to Mudashiru Lawal.

defensive-midfieldee-playmaker-muda-babatunde-lawal-austin-jay-jay-okocha-paul-hamilton-haruna-llierika-segun-odegbam-samson-siasia i

Muda Lawal

Muda played mostly in that position for the country from 1975 to 1984.

Then came several players that manned the position for brief periods but did not own it – Ademola Adesina, Paul Okoku, and Mutiu Adepoju.

Had Paul Okoku not travelled for studies to the US he, probably, would have played that role for a longer time. He was brilliant and was born for that position.

Paul Okoku

The moment Sunday Oliseh appeared on the scene he did not relinquish the role again.

After Oliseh, a few players played in that position but never owned it, from Ayinla Yusuf, to Seyi Olofinjana, and one or two others, before Mikel Obi was converted to that position in 2007 by Jose Mourinho. He was adopted by Nigeria as the country’s defensive midfield general for most of his career playing for the Super Eagles.

A few others have played in that position since then, but surely did not do enough for consideration amongst the greatest in Nigeria’s football history since Independence in 1960. And that includes Wilfred Ndidi who is doing a great job now, but still has some way to go.

I call up several persons, many of them for the first time in this ongoing series of conversations, for their choice of the greatest in 60 years.

Shockingly, no one even mentions Mikel Obi who was touted recently as ‘the greatest Nigerian player ever’ by ‘The Bull’ in terms of medals and trophies he won.

I decide that this conversation will not be complete without getting the opinion of Daniel Amokachi. So, I call him up and make life easier for him: he would not know Godwin Achebe; he saw Muda Lawal play in the ‘evening’ of his football; he played with Sunday Oliseh and coached Mikel Obi; so, between Mikel and Oliseh who would he rate as the better defensive midfield player?

All their responses:

1. Adekunle Raji, (Kantara) – Sports Consultant.

‘Mudashiru Lawal – He brought finesse to midfield play with his ball control and passing skills. He was a consistent player and played for a long time. Every coach could not resist him because he would always play within a range. Incredible stamina and never stopped running, always moving. Always knew what he would do on the field.

Sunday Oliseh had A master at made-to-measure long range passes and he connected beautifully with Rashidi Yekini in that era. Remembered for that once-in-a blue-moon shot against Spain. Not much after that. Although he got the job done, he was not particularly skillful.

The greatest in this position must have something extra to offer. So, Muda Lawal is it with the edge for those that saw him play.’

2. Ayo Iroche – Former Sports Administrator, Communications consultant

‘Godwin Achebe was a born leader. He led the Green Eagles to Nigeria’s first international trophy – the All African Games Gold. He always stood tall, read the game very well and controlled the team. Confident and had ability to hold and shield the ball that no one could dispossess him of it. Great distributor of the ball.

Sani Mohammed – He was cool, very calm, fought for the ball, almost like Muda Lawal, but without his passes and endless chasing of the ball.

Muda Lawal was very good, better than all the others except Achebe. Muda was calm, could also read the game, fought for every ball and led by example on the field.

Sunday Oliseh was a very good player but very temperamental. A good captain must always bring his team together and never lose his cool on the field of play even when his passes are not well connected, or when a team mate falters. He does not recover quickly to defend when his team loses possession.

Wilfred Ndidi. Still young. With time he will do better. He needs to move to a bigger better European club and then he will come into reckoning in the future.

My choice – Godwin Achebe’

3. Admiral Jubril Ayinla – Former Chief of Naval Staff, Sports Admnistrator

‘Godwin Achebe played in an era when defensive midfielders were basically defenders clearing the balls from defense in the kick-and-follow style of play.

There was no transition in those days, carrying the ball from defense to attack. So, you can’t rate him as much as Muda Lawal.

Muda Lawal is head and shoulders above the rest.

His leadership qualities were first class. He was very mature as a player and carried the rest of the team along during a match. He marshalled the players.

Sunday Oliseh is also very good in his time but, on the balance of performance, it is Muda Lawal’.


Sunday Oliseh

4. Tosin Adebambo – Ex-Shooting Stars Int. USA-based

Baba Yara of Stationary Stores, George Hassan of Asaba Textiles, Sani Mohammed of Stationary Stores, Sebastian Broderick of Bendel Insurance, Sylvanus Okpala of Enugu Rangers, Shafiu Mohammed of Raccah Rovers, Nwabueze Nwankwo of Enugu Rangers, Nathaniel Adewole of Shooting Stars, were all great defensive midfield players for their clubs and the country.

The final name, but not the least, in this great assembly is the defensive and attacking midfield ace, Muda Lawal.

But the greatest defensive midfielder of the generations, minus the offensive sphere of the game, would wholeheartedly go to Sunday Oliseh – he is the best I have seen’


5. Dr. Kweku Tandoh – Former Exec. Chairman Lagos State Sports Commission, and sports consultant

Sunday Oliseh was a thinking footballer and there were not too many of them in the world.

These are footballers who would have thought through in their heads what they are about to do with the ball and have already seen the ‘end result’ of that move even before the move is made.

Sometimes they are even able to predict the ‘play’ of their opponents, like a Chess Grandmaster.

Sunday Oliseh was one of such footballers. Others in that mould include Socrates of Brazil, Marco Van Basten of the Netherlands, Franz Berkenbauer of Germany and Ruud Gullit of the Netherlands.

My Choice – Sunday Oliseh


John Mikel Obi

6. Daniel ‘The Bull’ Amokachi – Ex-international player and coach, Football Ambassador

‘I will fly with Sunday Oliseh. Sunday and Mikel Obi played a similar kind of football. They both protected the ball well and gave nice penetrative passes. Oliseh was more aggressive going forward. His contribution to our generation was massive. The great passes he placed behind defenders for Rashidi Yekini upfront, and to the flanks for Finidi and Amuneke stand out.

He is more of a leader even though both of them were captains. Oliseh would shout at players, referees and everyone because he was a bit temperamental and wanted to win everything. That is the quality of a good leader. He was more outspoken too. He told it the way it is.

So, between the two of them, I would give it to Sunday Oliseh.

Segun Odegbami

Copyright © 2024 Completesports.com All rights reserved. The information contained in Completesports.com may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the prior written authority of Completesports.com.


  • Chima E Samuels 4 years ago

    How many of you played at a better club than Ndidi. We are tired of this your greatest of all time story telling of hyping your generation and belittling today’s gen now I see why Oakfield might be right!

    • Can u imagine @Chima,Ndidi that was the best tackler and highest ball winner in the entire EPL is a player that uncle Sege overlook like that, he only reckons with his analog age playing mates. However, generation by generation ratings, 70s to 80s, Muda Lawal, 90s Sunday Oliseh, 2000s, Mikel/Ndidi/Olofinjana.

  • GLORY 4 years ago

    @ Chima, I beg to disagree with you on this. Those guys of old, The Muda Lawal, Segun Odegbami, Adokie, Henry Nwosu, Stephen Keshi, n many others were as talented as the present, if not even better. To be honest watching so called stars nowadays apart from Messi n Ronaldo makes me almost regret not to falling into today’s generation of footballers. They are just been over hyped period.

  • Greatest of their own time not all time.

  • Mr Hush 4 years ago

    Though we all have our choices.
    But riding on this tale, “best of all time” is nothing more than unnecessary.
    For the simple fact, there wouldn’t be an all time.
    There would be now,there would be an era but never an all time. Time is constant.

    From the oldies (as they chose to call it),the millennials now the Z generation); we would all have our preference base on what we see. And the mind evolves around perception. So it would be hard to judge the “best of all time” ..

    It is unnecessary. And flame blowing.
    There would never be definite winner.

  • Collins id 4 years ago

    My favorites are oliseh,onazi,thomson oliha, stephen keshi. sanni keita. Ndidi

  • Dr. Drey 4 years ago

    I saw each one from Muda. It’s between Muda Lawal and Oliseh. For those who never saw Mudasiru Lawal, Joe Aribo is the closest semblance of Muda Lawal since the Trojan bowed out. Very functional in defence and efficient in attack. One minute he is breaking up play and initiating an attack deep in our own half, the next moment he is finishing the attack with a goal. He was always the extra man in the defence and the extra man in the attack without being caught out. Honestly, missing that 1978 WC denied the world the opportunity to see some really great individuals (Muda, Uncle Segun and Adokiye would have been pounced on by European clubs if they had managed to play at that stage).

    Oliseh was another very intelligent one…very good at breaking play and picking up the attackers with balls over the defence. Ndidi is also evolving…he’s young and has room for improvement. He doesn’t look to me like one who will ever have that attacking verve Muda had, but he is beginning to add short and long range passes to his game and joins the attack for set pieces…I said it two years ago on this forum that he would soon get to the heights of Oliseh and one spoilt kid (whose name I wouldn’t like to mention) ran insults on me….today ndidi is in the top 5 in the world in his position. Mikel for me never left gear one all through his career, he never really challenged himself if you ask me. Thomas Mlambo saw him in 2005 and called him the “the future of African Football”, but despite his obvious talent, he just always seemed contented with where he was….never seemed bothered, perturbed or motivated to push himself beyond limits to greater heights, like the type of motivation someone like a Yaya Toure or CR7 had.

    But when a player hits 12 goals (where 37 goals is the highest of all times) and several assists for the national team and many more for his clubsides from defensive midfield position like the great Mudasiru Lawal (God rest his soul) did, then if he’s not the greatest defensive midfielder, who else is…? Lolz

    Muda is one of few Nigerians to have 3 national honours without being a politician. He was awarded MON after winning 1980 AFCON. He was also awarded the national title of Officer of the Order of the Niger and was Nigeria’s first-ever Soccer Ambassador. In 2003, the Confederation of African Football, CAF, recognised Muda with a post-humous award and he has a stadium named after him in his native Ogun State.

    Muda is simply the Nigerian GOAT of his position…!

    • GLORY 4 years ago

      God bless to you @ Dr Drey. You have said it all. You truly know football.

  • _ Best Super Eagles DM (Pt 1) _

    Thank you Mr Hush for your prose above which was well received. I know the brain is a tremendous computer however its capacity to process data for “all time analysis” and return information on the best footballer that ever lived for any fan is as much a stretch as indeed a fantasy.

    I started following football intensely in 1988 to be precise and yes, the information is out there in the world wide web of achievements and application of footballers that pre-date the last 32 years. However, my memory will always inadvertently lean favourable towards information that my own eyes witnessed and gathered first hand; in which my heart and soul reacted to rather than what I read based on the recollection, observation and conclusion of someone else – however qualified the historian would have been or however reputable/reliable the sources could be considered to be.

    Having established that, I will like to put forward my own candidate for Nigeria’s best defensive midfielder in the last 32 years (1988 – 2020).

    Happily, that is a position that the Super Eagles have hardly struggled to find suitably qualified, experienced and flamboyant candidates to fill. It is similar to the wings or even centre forward position.

    I am typing this as an off-the-cuff exercise so the finished product should be forgiven for not being laden with deep statistics and in-depth analysis of achievements. Without further ado, I will list them in descending order with the first being my best:

  • Ayphillydegreat 4 years ago

    Mudashiru Lawal is the obvious pick for me. Though I never saw him play, but history doesn’t lie. I read about a goal he scored in the 1976 AFCON against Egypt in the third place match which was ranked the best goal of the AFCON tournament until Mustapha Hadji goal in 1998 AFCON. He was the engine of the Green Eagles for a very long time culminating in the 1989 triumph. Aji Shiru was incredible and I think Oliseh is next to him in Nigeria’s defensive midfield history. Ndidi is still quite young and we hope he maintains his current status. There’s also Etebo and when I look at Aribbo in the SuperEagles midfield the more I feel he could be that puzzle in that DM role. But we’ll see. 

  • _ Best Super Eagles DM (Pt 2) _

    1) Sunday Oliseh: the guy is truly legendary for those of us who saw him play and mythical for those who didn’t. His ball control, ownership of that position, poise and panache with which he dictated from deep, key match winning influences in big games, unapologetic yet polished approach to tackles and overall influence as a Super Eagle are variables yet to be surpassed by any player during his time and ever since.

    2) John Obi Mikel: ability to bring wealth of experience to bear and navigate the centre midfield when partnered with more brutal and hard tackling defensive midfielder is something that the Super Eagles will struggle to replicate long after Mikel Obi’s retirement. He always needed an Onazi, Ndidi or Azubuike to do the dirty work so he can concentrate helping the Super Eagles maintain a motif that brings balance, purpose and an element of unpredictability to play which were moreso evident in Afcon 2013 and the Confederations Cup of the same year. Simply irreplaceable.

    3) Wilfred Ndidi: for an accurate appraisal and comparison of Ndidi to be made with the 2 above, it will be best to do this after his retirement as the Leicester City man’s game is still evolving. For now, it is hard to see any other better, rugged tackler of the ball than Ndidi for the Super Eagles in the last 32 years. Putting his club accomplishments to one side, the way he took to national team football in the heat of the world cup qualifiers in 2017 speaks to more of what is to come. His ability to cover vast acres of Real Estate to deter incursions into delicate territory with no-nonsense interceptions, tackles and retrievals are of supreme quality – making the unthinkable become indisputable that Nigeria indeed does have a player that can be described world class in his department.

    4) Eddy Onazi: it was a shame how so much potential faded so soon at such an alarming rate. Onazi was the forerunner of Wilfred Ndidi as they both interpret the defensive midfield position in much the same way. Both have the lungs of a panther and the grasp of a hawk to harass and dispossess any unsuspected opponent of the ball. His tenacity and ability to complement a more serene centre midfield partner is a recipe for a successful pairing and solid midfield.

    5) Yusuf Ayila: when you need a player to do the basics and carry these out as effectively as they are compelling then look no further. He hardly disappointed in Super Eagles colours and interpreted the role in the way of needed tactless, simple passes, forward movements and presence where required. Simple at best, reliable at worst.

    6) Seyi Olofijana: could be easily forgiven to have gone under the radar of many which would erroneously lead to a conclusion that this erudite defensive midfielder was often underwhelming. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whereas he wasn’t one to ‘drive’ a winning strategy like say an Oliseh or a Mikel, he did have the potential to support and implement his own contributions to achieving victory as part of a more talented collection of players.

    7) Others: John Ogu never really imposed himself enough on that position. Mikel Agu does do well when called upon with composure, good ball control and distribution and decent tackles but time is running out for him to make lasting Super Eagles impact. The late Thompson Oliha played with poise and complemented his midfield pairings whilst I have not taken time to research the efforts of those that played before 1988.

  • @deo… What about Dickson Etuhu…world cup 2010 Lol!

    • My brother, I will pick Pascal Ojigwe, Godwin Okpara and even Fegor Ogude ahead of Dickson Etuhu!! 🙂 🙂

  • Bello Okandeji 4 years ago

    Munda Lawal is the choice. He is tireless and workaholic . With his emergency at Nation’s Cup at Ethiopia in early 70 , he never look back for the National team and club. With Chukwu covering up behind him and Atuegbu , youll be delightful watching the passing of ⚽️ to the wings where Odegbami, Adokie ,Awesu and other wingers slipped the opposite defense for the attacking force to score with ease. Of the lot Musa stand out.

Update cookies preferences