The Intro – The Greatest Left-Back In Nigeria’s Football History

The Intro – The Greatest Left-Back In Nigeria’s Football History

Culled from Olusegun Patrick Odegbami Facebook page

Since I have started the trend, since I received responses to my postings of the past two days from everywhere and can’t even cope with managing them, since people seem to be finding them useful and entertaining and restful and mentally soothing, I have decided to take on one of the greater challenges in Nigerian football – selecting the best left-back in our football history.

Do you know that through the years, that position has been the most problematic for most coaches? Do you know that only one player in that position that has ever been official captain of the Green/Super Eagles in 60 years? Do you know that there have been more right footed players playing at left-back than left footed players? Do you know that the turnover of players in that position has been more than any of the other positions?

When you go down the list of players that have occupied that position in Nigeria’s history, you will understand that making a choice of one may be the most difficult challenge for respondents this time around.

I shall promote my usual list of 9 (or 10 this time) of them drawn from 60 years of Nigerian football, to serve only as a guide. Respondents that I call up, or that call me, to express their view, are free to name their own choice either from my list or outside it.

I shall publish reactions and responses in Opera news tomorrow night.

Looking through some of the earliest names, one will make a startling discovery – Nigeria has had to convert several right-footed players to play at left-back because of the deficit of left footed players that naturally want to play in that position. Nigeria may not have a large pool of left footed players and it is reflecting in the country’s football.

Also Read: Who Is The Eagles’ Greatest Goalkeeper In 60 years?

The earliest amongst the great left-backs was also Nigeria’s Green Eagles Captain through most of the 1960s, Augustine Ofokwu, captain also of Stationery Stores, a right-footed player controlling the team from left- back. He started the tradition.

He was followed by two close contestants for the position during the 2nd All African Games – Sylvester Egborge (right footed) and Morton Owolo (left footed). Sylvester will occupy that space for now.

Such was the high turnover of players for that extremely difficult position that those that came after them did not last for too long.


Yisa Shofoluwe

Let me attempt to go through some of the other several great names that held that position: Samuel Ojebode, captain of Shootings Stars; Harrison Mencha of Rangers International FC; Okey Isima of Standard of Jos and Rangers International; Defense Minister, Yisa Shofoluwe of Stationary Stores, Johnny Orlando of Shooting Stars (the situation was so bad the Ghanaian midfield player was drafted to the national team without ever having played in that position before), Kadiri Ikhana of Bendel Insurance, Bright Omokaro of Bendel Insurance, and Ben Iroha of Iwuanyanwu Nationale. All of them were right-footed players converted from other positions to play there.

The only full-blooded left back of that era was Morton Owolo.

It was with Ben Iroha that the era of right footed left-backs temporarily ended until recently when it has been revived again.

For several years in the 1990s Nigeria produced some truly delightful left-backs that doubled as midfield/wing-backs, players that could combine all three roles in one. They were all left footed: Celestine Babayaro, Taiye Taiwo, Ifeanyi Udeze and Elderton Echiejile.

Also Read – Odegbami: Using The Spirit Of Sports To Fight Our Greatest Battle!

Without any disrespect to them, none of the present crop of left-backs can ‘show face’ amongst the greatest in 60 years. Their own time will still come.

In a particular noteworthy case also, the country had to convert its attacking pearl, an incredible winger on the left flank to play at left-back. Fortunately, at the time, the country was blessed with two of the country’s best attacking left-wing players at the same time and in the same national team. That was how Adokie Amiesimaka, the Chief Justice, was left to play on the flank, and Felix Owolabi, Owoblow, was deployed to the left-full back position in an occasional strategy to confuse opposing teams and unleash the fullest strength in attack. Felix Owolabi on his own was a one-man army, a bulldozer of a player, a utility player capable, with his strength, speed and power, of playing in any position on the field, particularly on the left side.

I won’t add him to the list of full backs here since he will be featuring somewhere else soon (I believe), as one of the greatest wingers in Nigeria’s history.

Occasionally, true left footed defenders showed up on the Nigerian football landscape and left their footprints.

All of this will reflect, I believe, in the conversations to follow, and in the choices that the people I shall call upon in the next few hours will make.
Meanwhile, this is my shortlist. Feel free to choose from outside this list.

Mazelli, Austine Ofokwu
Sylvester Egborge
Skippo, Samuel Ojebode
Harrison Mecha
Defense Minister, Yisa Shofoluwe
Ten Ten, Bright Omokaro
Ben Iroha
Celestine Babayaro
Taiye Taiwo
Elderton Echiejile

Don’t miss the reactions and responses. Watch out, the next phone call could be from me to you.
Pls. share. It helps.

Segun Odegbami

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  • This one hard me o! Pls..permit me to pick from the days of Iroha..92 -98.. after Reuben Agboola as we didn’t have stable leftbacks in Maroc 88 and Algiers 90.
    iroha’s career was threatened by injuries. Mike Emenalo had to play that role in USA 94 after his superb performance In Tunisia.he was still active when Babayaro came in.
    Celestine Babayaro! My man from Belgium to Chelsea to New Castle to Olympic 2000. Celestine should have been the best for me but Taiwo..who was chosen as the best left back from Africa like 4-5 occasions made the selection hard for me. Udeze’s career was also threatened by injuries.
    Let me wait for another debate.
    This one hard me.

  • Ayphillydegreat 4 years ago

    This one in terms of pure talent and ability as well as agility I have to give it to Cele. Babayaro was world class in his prime, combining defensive solidity to attacking prowess. He was one of the main reasons along with Kanu that the one that Olympic gold in Atlanta 96. Taiwo was only good on free kicks, but never really convincing on the defensive side of his game. Celestine Babayaro for me is Nigeria’s best ever left back. Followed closely by Ben Iroha. I thought Yisa Shofoluwe was a right back during his playing days.

  • Chima E Samuels 4 years ago

    I give this to Cele and Ben. Credits should also go to the 2000 guys such as Taiwo and Udeze!!!

  • Pompei 4 years ago

    If David Alaba had played for Nigeria, he would have been in the running.
    I’m not inclined to pick the best, for several reasons.
    However, if I have to mention personal favourites, Cele, Taiwo, and Udeze are the top 3. Aina is doing really well so far. If we get Saka, that’s another one with huge potential.
    I remember Yisa DEAN OF DEFENCE Shofoluwe as a right back. If he ever played as a left back, that is news to me.
    The most notorious left back we ever had is the one and only 10-10 Omokaro. His vicious, bone-crunching tackles sent many to the hospital. But it was in 1988 that he got the nickname 10-10. In our semifinal Afcon match against Algeria, the Algerians had a man advantage as one of our guys had been sent off. Omokaro’s horrendous, kung fu type tackle on an unfortunate Algerian reduced them to 10 players as well, since they had already made their maximum substitutes. Legend has it that the Algerian guy was never able to play again. Strikers and wingers were terrified of him. They went out of their way to avoid 10-10 in matches. Right wingers who should come directly against him, would switch to the midfield, or even to the left, just to avoid the guy.

  • Pompei 4 years ago

    It wouldn’t surprise me if 10-10 is now in the butcher business. Viciously cutting, slicing and chopping up meat and bone in a shop. THE BUTCHER OF THE DEEP SOUTH, EDO OR BENDEL BUTCHER would have been nice nicknames for him.
    If you are wondering why he never seemed to get his fair share of cards, especially the red type, the reason is that even the refs were afraid of him! 🙂 🙂 🙂

  • Alaba would have been an established Nigerian international if not for the satanic practice of Nigerians which they do without check…. There should be a rule that every u17 player should be made to play 5 test matches in the presence of foreign independent scouts before 30 players will be selected by them regardless of where they come from and the coach will now make his 24 man from there.Enough of this coaches turning our age grade teams into business centres thereby making us a laughing stock in international tournaments…imagine the last u17 and u20 we presented… I almost cried watching them…this age grade teams has always been our assembly line of players if the NFF allow greedy coaches to destroy it then the likes of Malawi will drag with us in football

  • Omo9ja 4 years ago

    This is lovely. Keep up the good work CSN.

    Ben Iroha
    Celestine Babayaro
    Taiye Taiwo
    Elderton Echiejile.

    I will give it to Ben Iroha.

    Ben Iroha is the best in this regard. Follow by Emmanuel Babayaro, Udeze and Taiye Taiwo.

    During his playing days, his style, movements and experience were too much.

    Iroha was a modern left fullback during his days.

    Mazelli, Austine Ofokwu
    Sylvester Egborge
    Skippo, Samuel Ojebode
    Harrison Mecha
    Defense Minister, Yisa Shofoluwe
    Ten Ten, Bright Omokaro

    These players were very exceptional during their playing days but still, football wasn’t that developed compare to Iroha, Babayaro and others.

    For Iroha to be playing like that at that time like that ah, don’t let us do Ojoro o.

    Is like comparing Enyeama, Ikeme and Akpayi to Peter Rufai a.k.a, dodo mayana.

    Nigerian best left footer till this present is Ben Iroha.

    God bless Nigeria!!!

  • Pompei 4 years ago

    I have to also mention Ben Iroha, an all-action left back. His goal against CIV in the Tunisia 1994 Afcon is what most remember him by, the way he combined with Jay Jay. Also worthy of mention is Echiejile. Like Iroha, he also won the Afcon. He was solid, effective, reliable.
    Jay Jay also had a great relationship with another left back, that is Cele Babayaro. The two were rumoured to be best pals. And on the pitch they often combined together. I recall the Olympic qualifier against Egypt in 1995. Cele collected the ball deep in the Nigerian half, and in a crazy display of ball control, him and Jay Jay kept the ball in the air, until they arrivd at the Egyptian 18-yard box. I still remember the shouting and screaming of the fans, to this day.

  • Pompei 4 years ago

    “Felix Owolabi on his own was a one-man army, a bulldozer of a player, a utility player capable, with his strength, speed and power, of playing in any position on the field, particularly on the left side”.

    A great left winger, by all accounts. I would like to know how he got the name OWOBLOW. I also heard he is well known in Ibadan by the nickname COMMANDER, a name he received for his heroics in a Principal Cup game while in secondary school. He reportedly was down with fever on match day, and about 30 mins to the end with the score at 0-0, the principal demanded that they bring him on. He came on and grabbed 2 goals in like 10 mins. From what I heard, by the end of the game, he had added a third, a hattrick, that enabled his school to win the game 3 nil. The principal started calling him COMMANDER, and the name stuck.
    Can someone please tell us how he got the nickname OWOBLOW? Thanks in advance!

  • Prince Uche 4 years ago

    Elderson Echiejile doesn’t deserve to be on this list, no grudge attached.

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