Nigeria’s greatest Right-winger in 60 years of Nigerian Football!

Finidi George

It is not easy for me to do this.  I took myself out of the list of the footballers I could recall that played the Number 7 position for either the Green Eagles or the Super Eagles since this is only a mental exercise, an expression of personal opinion with no votes to be counted, no winner to be declared, and no trophy to be awarded.  So, as I had done before, I called up three foremost authorities on Nigerian football – mature, well informed and knowledgeable persons that have been present through the entire period under X-ray – 1960 to date.: ex-international football player and national Coach, ‘Professor’ Alabi Aissien; veteran journalist, newspaper columnist and Broadcaster, Mr. Fabio Lanipekun; and veteran Broadcaster, commentator, and advertising guru, Obong Dele Adetiba.

 

Between them, I believe, I have a formidable and authoritative source of verbal and off-the-cuff, non-forensic history of Nigerian football. What we have here are their simple opinions based on recollections and emotions.  I guided them through my rough list of former right-wingers. They added their own according to their recollection as we went down memory lane.  These are their reactions, as close to their actual words as possible.

 

‘Professor’ Alabi Aissien – Ex-international, former National Coach

“Segun, you have opened a can of worms, not me.

I will not make this assessment based on friendship, but on the truth. I, Alabi, my rating is not based on any sentiment but what comes out of my mind. My question is: ‘do you deserve what rating I give you?’

There have been very many wingers in our history, starting from Cyril Asoluka. He was a regular winger, nothing more, nothing less.

So, also, was ‘Wonder Boy’ Paul Hamilton. He was actually more of a striker than a winger.

Sunny Ekunwe was also a regular winger, like Willy Bazuaye, Muyiwa Oshode and even Baba Otu Mohammed. Baba Otu was very fast and used his head very well, so he scored many goals as a winger.

Chris Ogu would only do well if you gave him the freedom to do as he wanted. Sam Okpodu was a very smart player. Tarila Okorowanta, the super brat, would play only when he wanted to, and that’s not the hallmark of greatness. Ndubuisi Okosieme is like Tarilla, very talented but would play according to his mood.

John Chidozie did not even play in Nigeria, so he can’t be in the reckoning.

The others were very good but regular wingers also, Benjamin Nzeakor, Wole Odegbami, and so on. All these players did not play enough to be reckoned as the best ever.

Finidi George was different, he was very, very good, very creative, illustrious and hard working. He did not score enough goals. That’s the difference with you.

Tijani Babangida was very quick, not really regular, but cannot be reckoned amongst the greatest.

Pius Ikedia was a dancing player like Stanley Mathews of England in those days.

Ahmed Musa has great speed but I don’t see him as a regular winger and not in the reckoning of the greats.

So, at the end, what?

In your time, you were a playmaker. You always made a difference in most matches. You were not just a winger, and no one can take that away from you. You operated from anywhere in attack. People gave you names, not me, they gave you accolades for what you did.

Look at Beckham or Ronaldo. What makes them different is that they were doing things that were not regular on the field. You were not a regular winger. Every time you had the ball, the people expected something unexpected to happen. You were one of the greatest. In my humble opinion, one of the very best”.

 

Fabio Lanipekun – Veteran Journalist/ Broadcaster/

“Generally, the right wing has produced probably the highest turnover of players in the national team. Many Nigerian footballers naturally gravitated to that side of the field because it provided the area on the field that best suits their natural ability – right foot, speed, plenty of space to run into behind the defense.   In the early days, football was not as technical as nowadays when positions are clearly defined by team strategy. There were those that played on the right-side of attack that could not be classified rightfully wingers.

The earliest players from 1960 would include Cyril Asoluka. He was a good winger.

Then entered Okwudili Daniel, and Paul Hamilton, who was really a striker but sometimes operating down the right flank.

But ‘Danny Boy’, Daniel Okwudili was special.

He was a very popular player from Hussey College, Warri, one of the very early superstar players. He was an athlete. He ran and broke Nigeria’s 100 yards sprints’ record. He ran it during a meet in Lagos in 9.9 seconds, beating the great Nigerian sprinter, Olowu, to second position. 

He was a show man, a fashionista, and led a musical band. He later worked as a music and entertainment presenter in the early days of WNTV/WNBS in Ibadan. That’s how versatile a person he was.

His football was incredible. His weapon was his speed. He would sprint past defenders, leaving them for dead. He was simply the best right winger of that era.

Then came Paul Hamilton and ‘Lucky Boy’ Muyiwa Oshode of Stationary Stores. He was mostly on the bench of the national team, but whenever he was brought in as a substitute he would score a goal – hence his nickname.  There were other players like Babalola, Sule Kekere and Baba Otu Mohammed, all from Mighty Jets FC of Jos. 

 At a time Rangers started to dominate Nigerian football. That’s how an incredibly fast winger Emeka Onyedika came to the national team briefly. This was followed by IICC players, Kafaru Alabi, Boamah. That’s where you came from too. You say I should not talk about you.

Bendel then produced the next set, Chris Ogu, Sam Okpodu, and some others.

These were all very good right wingers who could have claimed the position for themselves but fell short of the standard you had set.

 With your exit from the national team there was a plethora of young, very good players too – Tarila Okorowanta, Clement Temile, Wole Odegbami, Okosieme, Nzeakor, and so on.

 

In the early 1990s came the great and immaculate Finidi George, a truly fine and gifted player, fast, clever, skillful and with some of the best crosses from the wings.  Finidi shared some of the period with another even faster winger in Tijani Babangida. As a result, Tijani was occasionally moved to the left side of attack where he used his speed to win matches.

Then came John Utaka, he had all the talent but not the mentality to have been greater than he was. The last and latest of the great wingers is the current captain of the Super Eagles, Ahmed Musa. His goals at the 2018 World Cup puts him amongst the list of the greatest in Nigeria’s history.

So, I asked Uncle Fabio: “After all this your long ‘story’ sir, who is your choice of the greatest right-winger in Nigeria’s football history since 1960?”. 

He laughed out very loud, and then, he told me!

 

Obong Dele Adetiba – Broadcaster/Advertising/PR Guru

“My thought of the best winger is a player with the ability to innovate on the field of play. There are two kinds of wingers. The first are players that are efficient. They are a part of a team that if the team is good, they fit in and can be good. These are players like Jackie Charlton and Gerd Muller of Germany in those days. But George Best is of the second kind. A player with a personal flair to be different. Players that almost singlehandedly can change a match, or win a match.

For the era we are considering, Cyril Asoluka was the first, but he cannot be in the reckoning for the best.

 

Wingers are constrained by space to play at the edges of the field. They therefore need speed and skills. Most of them have speed. Some have skills. The ones that combine the two are special and those are the ones that stick in my head. You remember them for special performances.

 

That’s why Lawrence Amokachie of the early 1960s comes to my mind. He was not the fastest player but he was very skillful on the wings. When cornered, he had the ability to maneuver his way out with the ball without losing it. He would always do something constructive with the ball. That’s why he was nicknamed the Tailor. His play was made to measure.

 

Sunday Atuma from Jos in those days was very good. He had a standup style, dribbling and moving.

Wingers have limited space to express their skills on the field, so those that succeed, I lift my hat to them.

Muyiwa Oshode was aptly described as ‘Lucky Boy’. He did not score high in the area of dexterity. He was a regular substitute. He knew where to position himself when opportunities came. He was at the right place at the right time. He scored a few important goals that way.

 

Baba Otu Mohammed was good too. That he was awarded honours was a matter of the times and tournaments played, which is subjective.

Yakubu Mambo, the Ghanaian that played on the right flank for Nigeria, was also good. His focus was getting behind defenders forcefully, and trying to score. He was a handful for all defenses. He gave 100% in effort all the time.

Finidi George was in a different class. He was very, very good, no doubt, very innovative, very clever and very efficient.

The other such player was Tijani Babangida. He had speed and skills.

Ahmed Musa is a very competent, skillful traditional winger and must be reckoned with amongst the greatest.

 

You added speed to your own play. You always conjured something out of nothing.

Something that is missing in all the wingers, except a few, is the magnetic personality reflected in the reaction by the spectators when players step onto the field for a match. The personality of special players was magnetic and drove the fans wild. The fans always expected the unexpected to happen when such players entered the field. That’s what you had.

 

It is very difficult for me to make a final choice of the best winger. I am very comfortable to say that it can be any one of Lawrence Amokachie, Finidi George or Segun Odegbami”.

That’s fair enough, don’t you think?

 

The following are downloaded online:

Engr. Kayode Adeniji – Football Fan.

Without any whimper of doubt this may be the closest call to make as far as positions and departments are concerned in Nigerian football history.

If we choose to consider individual right winger’s contributions to overall success in football in Nigeria, there is only one name that is incontrovertible.  If the legendary Ernest Okonkwo were alive I can conveniently hazard a guess of his choice.

If athleticism, speed, goal scoring ability with both legs, scoring with headings, cool headedness, inspiration to other members of the team, motivation to victory, calculated dribbling through the flanks and pin point crosses are to count for something in making the choice, one name stands out as the best of all time.

Flash back to 1978 nations Cup. Ask Joseph Carr of Ghana Black Stars why he could not stop the heroic header. Ask Elkrameh Ahmed of Egypt who was arguably the best goalkeeper in the continent at that period how he could not stop three goals in Surulere, ask the Algerian goalkeeper how he was beaten twice in the finals of 1980 Nations Cup. Ask Rasaki Fadare why Water Corporation could not stop Shooting Stars those days. Ask Charles Tetteh of Alyufsalam  Rocks of Ilorin how they lost the Challenge Cup finals. Ask Ponda Mali of Taifa Stars of Tanzania, ask Zamalek goalkeeper in 1976 Cup winners cup semi-finals. Ask, ask, ask several other goalkeepers.

The best right winger is undoubtedly the one and only Mechanical Engineering body, the immutable and legendary Patrick Olusegun Odegbami. God bless him for us.

 

Chris Green – Barrister, Administrator, Former member NFA

It is really difficult to choose. For me, since Big Sege has excused himself makes it easy for me to choose the best right winger. I may not have chosen Big Sege because he contributed more in total than limiting him to a position. He was very good from the outright as well as a No.9. I will definitely go for Finidi George. Benjy Nzeakor would have come second but he didn’t play long enough save for his exploits in Brazil and Peru.