While the Super Eagles are certainly going from strength to strength right now, boasting a team loaded with young stars like Wilfred Ndidi, Victor Osimhen, Kelechi Iheanacho, Samu Chukwueze, and Zaidu Sanusi, the nation has a history of losing talents to other countries.
Of course, the players are linked by heritage, more often than not being born in the country that they choose to represent, but there are still many players who could have pulled on the green of Nigeria.
England is somewhat of a historic hub of Nigerian heritage talent opting to try to get into the ranks of their home nation rather than following their roots. That said, in recent years, Germany has also emerged as a hotbed of players who could declare themselves for Nigeria.
The summer of 2021 finally saw Euro 2020 get underway, with the vast majority of the best talents from Europe in attendance. Among these players, and at the very top of the bill for one position, a few Nigerian heritage players earned a place in the prestigious tournament.
David Alaba and Karim Onisiwo in it for Austria
For much of his career, 431 games of which has been with Bayern Munich, David Alaba has been considered one of, if not the best left-backs in world football.
Over the last couple of years, following the emergence of Ghanaian-Canadian Alphonso Davies, Alaba has nestled into the backline to prove himself as a top-class centre-back, too. After 13 years on Bayern’s books, his career takes him to Real Madrid, with the big-money Spanish behemoths winning the lottery to get the defender as a free agent.
Born in Vienna to parents from the Philippines and Nigeria, Alaba’s football story started in his home city. He initially joined SV Aspern, within one of the districts of the Austrian capital, before Austria Vienna snapped him up in 2002. It wasn’t until 2008 that he’d move to the youth ranks of Die Roten, making his international debut for Austria in 2009, aged just 17-years-old after playing from the under-17s to the under-21s. Few would argue that he’s now Austria’s best player with 81 caps, 14 goals, and 17 assists – he’s certainly their most decorated.
Also found on Austria’s Euro 2020 squad list is 29-year-old attacker Karim Onisiwo. He and Alaba’s fathers are said to be close friends in the players’ native Austria, with them both hailing from Nigeria. However, the two Nigerian heritage players’ career paths are quite different.
Alaba is the first name on the team sheet for Austria, while Onisiwo is more regularly starts on the bench, having made nine appearances in his last 21 squad inclusions. Domestically, he would face Alaba during the last few Bundesliga campaigns, playing across the frontline and in attacking midfield for FSV Mainz 05.
At Euro 2020, Alaba and Onisiwo entered a very winnable group. The Netherlands looked strong but were missing key players, Ukraine struggled a great deal in the last couple of major tournaments, and Burschen beat North Macedonia 2-1 and 4-1 in qualifying.
Bukayo Saka could be the X-factor for a favoured England
There’s a tremendous amount of excitement around the England national team coming into Euro 2020, and with good reason. The team looks strong enough in each position to go toe-to-toe with the best and boasts plenty of exciting depth players: namely, Bukayo Saka.
It’s difficult to overstate the fandom of football in England, especially as the UK boasts such a popular betting market. All of the sites that SBO grades as the top-rated bookmakers – through a process of judging all aspects of the service – go big on football. These fans know what England have in their locker, and countless many will seek sites that allow for specialised features like in-play and cash-out, just in case the likes of Saka come off of the bench and look to make an impact in attack.
Born in London, both of Saka’s parents are from Nigeria. They emigrated to England as economic migrants, with the Arsenal prodigy’s father being a core reason as to why he’s reached such dizzying heights before his 20th birthday. While a very talented attacker with an innate ability to find space in the box, Saka will also be considered a utility player for England as he’s an accomplished full-back, wing-back, and can play on either wing.
The Gunner of Nigerian descent will be looking to his cap count of five entering Euro 2020 – four of which were starts – and tally of one goal and one assist. England’s group contained regular banana skins Croatia, fellow Group A qualifiers the Czech Republic, and their heated rivals to the north, Scotland. England are expected to make a deep run for the Henri Delaunay Trophy, and Saka might just be decisive in the hunt.
So, Nigerian football fans can look on to Euro 2020 to see players of the nation’s heritage. There’s a world-class defender and a potential super-sub for Austria, as well as one of the top young talents in the sport today playing for England.