Monday, July 31, 2017

Forwards: Nigeria's G.O.A.T. Players (Vol. 3)

We now arrive at an evaluation of forwards in order to complete the Nigerian G.O.A.T players. If you read the first two volumes, you would note that the team consists of the following (see below), prior to naming the forwards. After naming the forwards, we would have the final volume (Vol. 4) that names the G.O.A.T Coach with an Assistant Coach.
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Starters
GK:  Vincent Enyeama

D:    Uche Okechukwu
D:    Christian Chukwu
D:    Stephen Keshi

MF:  Sunday Oliseh
MF:  Mikel Obi
MF:  Muda Lawal
MF:  Augustine Okocha

Honorable Mentions
My choice, admittedly subjective, are Emmanuel Okala, Yisa Sofoluwe, Taribo West, Haruna Ilerika, and Henry Nwosu.
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The G.O.A.T Forwards
This is an area where it could become sentimental coming up with a list of G.O.A.T. players. But in the end, one has to stick to the criteria which you can find here. It is not easy to select three starters from a pool of players who have given their all playing for Nigeria. It is important, at this point, to stress again that the G.O.A.T is based on what you have done while wearing a senior national team shirt. This simply ignores whatever a player may have done for their clubs, local or foreign.

The initial pool from which finalists were selected includes the following players: Elkanah Onyeali, Thunder Balogun, Albert Onyeanwuna, Thompson Usiyen, Sunday Oyarekhua, Dejo Fayemi, Segun Odegbami, Daniel Amokachi, Rashidi Yekini, Finidi George, Emmanuel Amuneke, Nwankwo Kanu, Obafemi Martins, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Julius Aghahowa, Ikechukwu Uche, and Victor Moses. That is a total of 17 players for just three spots! Note that one of the few Nigerians to win the African Footballer of the Year (AFOY), Victor Ikpeba, does not even make the list of 17! Why? Well, he won the AFOY without being a regular in the Nigerian national team. The award was based on his exploits for Monaco in France.

How about the 17? We eliminated the following: Thunder Balogun, Elkanah Onyeali, Albert Onyeanwuna, Emmanuel Amuneke, and Dejo Fayemi. This leaves us with 12 finalists. So why did we eliminate those five players? Balogun was Nigeria's top player at club level but he was already on a decline when the national team was established in 1949. Balogun ended up playing 8 games for Nigeria, scoring two goals in one game against Ghana in 1954. Onyeali remains Nigeria's top scorer on per game basis (11 in 14 games) but he played just a few games compared to his peers because he left for England early in his career after just three years on the national team. That short career accounts for his failure to make the G.O.A.T team. Onyeanwuna played as a second striker but scored few goals in over 30 appearances. Therefore, in spite of being a household name in his era, the stats mean he has not done enough for the G.O.A.T. team. Amuneke, in the main, was not an automatic starter in two AFCONs that he played and at the 1994 World Cup he was not a key player even though he, like Ikpeba, won the AFOY. Faye had a three-year career but was not consistently spectacular. Thus, none of them made it to the final list.

The Finalists
Rashidi Yekini, without doubt, would be unanimous choice at the most advanced forward position in most G.O.A.T. selections for Nigerian soccer. His goal scoring record is 13 goals ahead of second-placed Segun Odegbami. There is little doubt that Yekini belongs and that he has to be the first selection.

Other choices at the two remaining forward positions are Segun Odegbami and Sunday Usiyan. Before I explain these selections, let me address the non-selection of Nwankwo Kanu because of the controversy that may follow this decision. To many, Nwankwo is perhaps Nigeria's best known player in a global sense following his exploits at Ajax Amsterdam and Arsenal and the fact that he was the most significant player for Nigeria's gold winning 1996 Olympics team. But then sit back and think about the exploits that I just mentioned. None of those include an achievement with Nigeria's national team, which is the central criterion for picking the G.O.A.T. In reality, Kanu did little at the senior national team level for Nigeria even though he was captain for some period. He usually failed to finish a game with his career average minutes at only 56.3 minutes and he failed to score a goal in finals of three World Cups and six AFCONs. That certainly stands out, adversely, for any player to be considered in the Nigerian G.O.A.T. team! As I said earlier, the sentimental and emotional criteria should take a back seat. The stats matter!

So why Odegbami and Usiyan? The first name should not be a surprise. Odegbami was clearly a dominant player during his career for Nigeria and it was not just a subjective conclusion but one confirmed by statistics (see Table 1). The team scoring rate was only second to Usiyan's whenever he was on the field and his personal scoring is the second highest ever behind Rashidi Yekini. Yes, Odegbami's team efficiency is low because towards the end he played in a poor Nigerian team. Often people argue, was Finidi George not better than Odegbami? George was a very good but apart from early in his Nigerian career he could best be described as an in-betweener, not quite a forward nor a midfielder and it hurts his selection in a G.O.A.T. because his performance as a forward pales in comparison to several others, including Odegbami, and as a midfielder there are also doubts.

Thompson Usiyan, as the second forward selected on the G.O.A.T should not be a surprise? Some may even argue that Usiyan should be Nigeria's best ever forward ahead of Yekini. Usiyan's stats scream QUALITY. Before he left for America, Usiyan's rate of personal scoring was 15 goals in 19 games (0.79)! He finished at 0.58 (see Table 1) which is Nigeria's best among the finalist (second historically to Elkanah Onyeali's rate). Usiyan was not just a finisher, like Yekini, he was also technically gifted on the ball.



Two players are then selected among the honorable mentions. I have Sunday Oyarekhua and Obafemi Martins for honorable mention. Oyarekhua's statistics are spectacular (see Table 1) but he was largely underrated. Not only was Nigeria's team efficiency high when he was on the field, but the team scoring was very good at 1.62. His personal scoring was also good. Oyarekhua was prolific, scoring at the same rate as Odegbami, and was critical to Nigeria's first continental championship (the 2nd All Africa Games in 1973). Oyarekhua was a classic finisher inside the box and had no frills to his game.

Obafemi Martins may not have won a continental championship with Nigeria but he was, perhaps, Nigeria's fastest player who also scored on consistent basis. His stats are impressive and he passes the eye test ahead of Ikechukwu Uche and Yakubu Aiyegbeni who were also prolific and his contemporaries.

Starting XI G.O.A.T. Nigerian Players (3-4-3)
GK:  Vincent Enyeama

DF:  Uche Okechukwu
DF:  Christian Chukwu
DF:  Stephen Keshi

MF:  Sunday Oliseh
MF:  Mikel Obi
MF:  Muda Lawal
MF:  Augustine Okocha

FW:  Rashidi Yekini
FW:  SegĂșn Odegbami
FW:  Thompson Usiyan

Honorable Mentions
Emmanuel Okala, Yisa Sofoluwe, Taribo West, Haruna Ilerika, Henry Nwosu, Sunday Oyarekhua, and Obafemi Martins.


Upcoming is Vol. 4 the G.O.A.T. Coaches.