The 2011/12 season in Europe is over, but the memories will linger on. For Nigerian stars, it was different tales for different folks: dreams realised and expectations dashed. In this report, JOHNNY EDWARD takes a look at the fortunes of the footballers in the just-ended season
Osimhen’s goals fire Napoli to UCL
Despite missing out on the Serie A title with Napoli, Victor Osimhen was named the Best Young Player of the 2021/22 season in Italy.
No doubt, the young striker proved his worth both on the domestic and continental level with Napoli, scoring 18 goals with six assists in 32 competitive games. Of these lot, he amassed 14 goals and five assists in just 26 Serie A appearances.
But he beat Juventus striker Dusan Vlahovic, Leao (AC Milan) and Sassuolo’s duo Gianluca Scamacca and Giacomo Raspadori to the prestigious award despite scoring fewer goals than the others. More importantly, his goals helped Napoli return to the Champions League action, after they placed third behind champions Milan and second-place Inter. The highly successful season also had the forward setting a new record in the Italian Calcio, equaling Obafemi Martins’ 11-goal record set during the 2004/05 season, on March 19 in the Partenopei’s 2-1 win over Udinese at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.
His brace in the encounter saw him become the first Nigerian to score in double figures in two consecutive Serie A campaigns, having scored 10 goals in 30 league games in his debut season.
He thus joined other African stars George Weah (AC Milan), Samuel Eto’o (Inter Milan) and Mohamed Salah (AS Roma) in achieving the feat.
Osimhen is only in his second year in Italy, after he joined Napoli from Lille for a club and African record fee of €81.3m and still has three years left on his contract in Naples, but he has been linked with a move away from the club.
Premier League clubs like Arsenal, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle are reportedly leading the race to sign the Nigerian after a terrific season in Italy.
Awoniyi enjoyed best season ever
Recently, Berlin-based publication BZ-Berlin released a list titled, “50 best players Union has ever had” with Nigerian striker Taiwo Awoniyi featured at No.14.
The list was a ranking of the 50 best players to have ever played for Union Berlin in its 56+ years and Awoniyi was ranked high despite just spending a year and nine months at the club.
In fact, the 24-year old striker only just completed his one and only full season with the club and finished as their top scorer which has endeared him to the fans of Union.
Awoniyi first joined Union Berlin in September 2020 on a loan deal from Liverpool and scored five goals in a season blighted by injuries.
But Union had seen enough of his quality to shell out £6.5m for his services the following season and bring him back to Stadion An der Alten Försterei on a permanent basis.
And in his first season as a full Union player, Awoniyi banged 20 goals to help the team finish fifth in the 2021/22 Bundesliga season, their highest-ever league finish.
The 25-year-old finished as Nigeria’s top scorer in Europe’s top five leagues and also added his name in Hinrunde’s folklore, surpassing former teammate Max Kruse as the club’s record scorer in the German topflight with 15 goals in a single season – his best since arriving Europe as an 18-year-old, after winning the 2013 U-17 World Cup.
Almeria back to LaLiga, thanks to Sadiq
Sadiq etched his name in Almeria folklore after grabbing the winner that sealed their promotion back to LaLiga.
The big striker scored 18 goals overall, with 12 assists in 36 games last season for the Andalusian club, and was named their player of the season for his heroics.
Barring any summer move, Sadiq will be the second Nigeria international in the Spanish topflight, after Samuel Chukwueze.
Simon helps Nantes end trophy hoodoo
Simon helped FC Nantes secure their fourth Coupe de France crown – their first major trophy since 2001 as Antoine Kombouare’s side edged out OGC Nice 1-0 at the Stade de France in Paris last month.
The winger, who placed 12th in the Ligue 1’s assists chart, was the second African in France topflight’s assists list after Hamari Traore, who churned out one more. He also scored six goals in 30 Ligue 1 appearances.
After an impressive season, Simon was nominated for the RFI Marc Vivien-Foe Award for the Best African Player in Ligue 1 but was beaten to the award by Ivory Coast and RC Lens captain, Seko Fofana.
Retired goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama (2014) and Victor Osimhen (2020) are the only Nigerian winners of the award.
Heroics of Rangers gang
Trio Calvin Bassey, Joe Aribo and Leon Balogun were instrumental to Glasgow Rangers’ impressive season, where they reached the final of the Europa League and lifted the Scottish Cup.
Manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst’ greatest individual triumph last season was overseeing the development of vastly improved defender Bassey. The 22-year-old had only started six games in his debut season, having signed from Leicester for a mere £230,000 compensation and his best position was up for debate as he had played centre-back and left-back.
The defender started 38 of Rangers final 41 games and was named in the Europa League team of the season. He also won the club’s Young Player of The Year and the COPA90 Breakthrough Player of The Season awards. Also, midfielder Aribo played some of the best football of his career, scoring the opener in the Europa final defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt in Seville.
He found the back of the net eight times and made six assists in the 36 appearances.
Balogun, on his part, was a stalwart in defence, scoring twice to help The Gers reach the final of Europe’s second-tier trophy.
Dessers Conference League king
Cyriel Dessers played on a season-long loan at Feyenoord and was a massive hit, scoring 10 goals in 13 games (seven starts and six substitutes) as the Dutchmen reached the UEFA Europa Conference League final, where they lost 1-0 to Roma.
He scored another nine goals with two assists in 27 games as Feyenoord finished third in the Eredivise.
He marked his return to the Eagles with a goal against Mexico in a recent international friendly.
Nwakaeme hands Trabzonspor league title
Anthony Nwakaeme, 33, helped Trabzonspor to the Super League title for the first time in 38 years, scoring 13 goals in 30 league games as the Turkish side emerged champions for the first time since 1982. In appreciation, the club has erected the Nigerian’s statue for his contribution to the club.
The striker is currently stalling on a new deal despite Trabzonspor chairman Ahmet Agaoglu revealing that the club will make him their highest-paid player.
Relegated Watford legion
Nigerian quartet William Troost-Ekong, Emmanuel Dennis, Oghenekaro Etebo and Samuel Kalu could not help Watford stay up in the English Premier League last season. The Hornets had staged an immediate return to the English topflight after relegation in 2019/20, but found themselves returning to second-tier football once again.
The Hornets had three managers – Xisco Nunez, Claudio Ranieri and Roy Hodgson – in charge of the team during the campaign under review.
Dennis, who joined from Club Brugge last summer, was one of the standout performers at Vicarage Road, scoring 10 goals, but the same cannot be said of his countrymen Troost-Ekong, Etebo and Kalu.
Troost-Ekong started the season brightly but lost his place in the starting lineup due to several mistakes in the heart of defence. He made only one appearance in the second half of the season, while Etebo’s loan spell at the club was blighted by a quad injury he sustained in eight games into his time at Watford. Kalu, on his part, joined the club in January but failed to sparkle. He made 11 appearances (323 minutes) without a goal.
Ndidi’s season-ending injury
Battling midfielder Wilfred Ndidi’s arrival at Leicester City in January 2017 filled the vacuum left behind by French star N’golo Kante, who joined Chelsea.
And ever since, the 25-year-old has been a mainstay in the Foxes midfield. Things were going on well for the hardworking ‘middleman’ when he suffered a knee injury on March 31 – in the Foxes clash against Stade Rennes in a Europa Conference League game – which ended his season.
He made 21 appearances, scoring two goals before his injury, which also affected Nigeria’s chances of qualifying for the Qatar 2022 World Cup in Qatar after the Eagles missed out on the away-goal rule to Ghana.
He is expected to be back for pre-season ahead of the new campaign.
Bitter-sweet story for Okoye
Maduka Okoye will join his parent club Watford, who were relegated to the English Championship, after helping Dutch side Sparta Rotterdam escape demotion from the Eredivisie.
The 22-year-old goalkeeper, who signed a five and half-year deal with the Hornets in January, after strings of impressive performance in the Dutch league, surprisingly turned down Crystal Palace and Southampton before sealing a £5m move to Hertfordshire in January. He is expected to take Ben Foster’s place between the sticks.
Ozonwarfor death scare
Nigerian defender, Valentine Ozornwafor, lost consciousness twice on the pitch during Sporting Charleroi’s 3-0 loss to Royale Union Saint Gilloise on February 20. The 22-year-old had to be stretchered off the pitch in the 46th minute after he was hit in the face by Royale Union Saint Gilloise striker, Dante Vanzeir.
The centre-back fell down on the turf with his hands on his face for a few minutes, before he was substituted, while Vanzeir was rightly sent off by the referee. The incident saw the Disciplinary Committee of the Belgian Football Union hand Vanzeir handed a five-match suspension.
Ozornwafor who was on loan with the Zebras from Galatasaray, made his international debut in 2021 in Nigeria’s friendly games against Cameroon.
Etebo out for five months
Oghenekaro Etebo started the season on loan at Watford from Stoke City but the midfielder had his bright start to the season cut short after suffering a quad injury last September.
Etebo, a key component of Nigeria’s national team, did not recuperate on time to be included in the squad for the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon in 2021.
Despite recuperating in February, he was barely fit for the crucial playoffs against Ghana, as Nigeria crashed out of the qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar in March.
The 26-year-old could not help the Hornets stay up and has returned to the Potters, who finished 14th in the Championship last season.
Iwobi, Okoye death threats
Everton versatile player Alex Iwobi was a key part of the Toffees battle against relegation from the EPL, as Frank Lampard’s side secured safety with a game to spare. Iwobi played various roles from defence through midfield to attack, as the Toffees desperately sought to keep their place among England’s big boys.
However, he, alongside national teammate, Okoye, would want to forget the 2021 AFCON in a hurry.
Both players were subjected to cyberbullying by fans, including death threats in January, after Nigeria’s exit from the AFCON following a 1-0 defeat to Tunisia.
Irate fans felt Okoye should have saved the Tunisian goal, while Iwobi was sent off for a foul after just six minutes on the pitch for a dangerous tackle. Iwobi had been sent in, in the 59th minute, for Kelechi Iheanacho to help change the complexity of the game, but his sending off further piled pressure on the midfield and the defence as Austin Eguavoen’s side collapsed.
Kalu’s age controversy
Barely 48 hours after joining English Premier League side, Watford, in January, Samuel Kalu was taunted on social media over his real age, as several Hornets fans insisted he was older than 24, his age.
After he was officially unveiled by the club, with his picture and that of their new manager Roy Hodgson, posted on the club’s Twitter handle, Watford fans took to social media to query the 24-year-old winger’s real age.
A Twitter user MD said, “Is 24 the length of time he’s been at Bordeaux? Because he is NOT 24 years old.”
Jordan Lee wrote, “More Kanu than Kalu. He is definitely not 24.” Diary_of_a_Disturbed_mind added, “Maybe his English age is 24, in Africa, he’s already a village elder.”