That is the question I asked 10 very seasoned and well-renowned Nigerian football aficionados.
Nigeria has had very many Captains (great and small) of the senior national team, either the Green Eagles or the Super Eagles, at different times in 60 years. Each one of them had their time in the sun of Nigerian football. Some shone brighter than others, lasted longer and impacted more significantly.
In separating the giants from the Lilliputians, however, some of the captains stand out as exceptional leaders of the national team, impacting and influencing the team’s fate, both on and off the field for a long period of time. These captains were well respected by players and officials, and were a part of important landmark victories and achievements. Without any disrespect to all the great players that have led the country as Captain of the senior national team at one time or the other, easily and in my humble opinion, the following stand some distance apart from the rest.
- Fabian Duru, the pioneer national Captain at Independence in 1960;
- Sam Opone that led Nigeria to the 1968 Olympics for the first time;
- Godwin Achebe, captain before and after the Biafra Civil War;
- Victor Oduah, that led the 2nd All Africa Games Gold medal team in 1972 and Africa X1;
- Christian Chukwu, led Nigeria to win the African Cup of Nations for the first time;
- Stephen Keshi, the Captain (non-playing) to lead Nigeria to the country’s first World Cup;
- Joseph Yobo, captain for more years than any other player and went to 3 World Cups; and
- Mikel John Obi, who went to 4 African Cup of Nations (twice as captain) and 2 World Cups.
The following are the responses of the 10 wise men. They turn out to be surprising, simple, straightforward and easy choices.
- Segun Adenuga –Journalist:
Stephen Keshi. Statistically played 62 matches but scored more goals for the country than any captain – 10 goals – a leader by example on the field.
- Yakubu Ibn Mohammed – Journalist and DG NTA:
Christian Chukwu. He led a team packed full of talented players and succeeded. That is the mark of a great leader.
- Emeka Odikpo – Journalist
Stephen Keshi. Most influential captain with longevity in that position. He commanded the respect of players and officials, that’s why they called him the Big Boss.
- Sani Toro – Administrator – Sec. General NFA (1993-99)
Christian Chukwu. He won medals as Captain in 1976 (Bronze), 1978 (Bronze) and 1980 (Gold). Respected by everyone, particularly all players, for his commitment, patriotism, and discipline.
- Michell Obi – Journalist
Stephen Keshi. Quintessential captain. He defined 2 generations of Nigerian football. Spearheaded the crystallization of players from amateur to professional football. Captained in Nigeria, in Africa and in Europe.
- Rafiu Ladipo – President General, Supporters Club, Worldwide
Stephen Keshi. For the period of his reign he was the controlling factor in Nigerian football. In good and in bad times the players and the coach were completely with him. He achieved everything, and is well respected by all.
- Ikeddy Isiguzo – Journalist
Christian Chukwu. True leader, human, humane, dominant, not domineering, got the job done, and was well respected.
- Tony Akiotu – Journalist
Stephen Keshi. He had all the attributes of a leader – charisma, style, passion, command, respect, authority.
- Kunle Solaja – Journalist
Christian Chukwu: Was very first captain to lead and to win the African Cup of Nations for the first time in 1980, and was declared Player of the Tournament – the first Nigerian. He was a trail blazer.