Some of these stars started from humble beginnings, and defied all odds to become household names.
Without a doubt, football stands out as one of the most popular sports in Nigeria, giving rise to numerous stars.
Some of these stars started from humble beginnings, and defied all odds to become household names. In this piece, Oghenovo Egodo-Michael explores the journeys of some of these football stars on their path to greatness.
Victor Osimhen currently plays as a striker for Serie A club, Napoli, in Italy, as well as the Nigerian national team.
Born on December 29, 1998, in Lagos, Nigeria, Osimhen started playing football at a young age, and joined Ultimate Strikers Academy in Nigeria, before moving to Wolfsburg in Germany.
Osimhen rose from humble beginnings to become one of the most promising young talents in the world of football. His story is one of perseverance, hard work, and determination in the face of adversity.
He grew up in a large family with five siblings, who were raised by his mother after his father passed away when he was just six years old. To survive with his family, the striker hawked sachet water popularly known as ‘pure water’ on the streets. Despite the challenges he faced growing up in the slum, Osimhen showed an early interest in football and never gave up on his dreams.
As a teenager, Osimhen joined the Ultimate Strikers Academy in Lagos, a football academy that has produced several notable Nigerian players, including Odion Ighalo and Isaac Success. It was there that Osimhen’s talent began to shine, and he quickly caught the attention of scouts from European clubs.
In 2015, Osimhen was invited to join the Golden Eaglets, Nigeria’s under-17 team. He played a key role in their successful campaign at the 2015 U-17 World Cup, scoring 10 goals and winning the tournament’s Golden Boot award. His performances caught the eye of several European clubs, and in January 2016, he signed for Wolfsburg in Germany.
Soon after he arrived in Wolfsburg, he tore his meniscus and underwent three surgeries, and it wasn’t until four months later that he played his first match with the team.
Speaking about the experience in an interview with Sports 1, Osimhen said, “It was really tough when I first came to Europe. It was lonely.
“I would come back from training and there would be nobody at home. It was not easy, considering the fact that I was not playing due to injuries I suffered constantly.”
Despite facing several challenges over the years, Osimhen has continued to work hard and push himself to be the best player he can be. He is known for his speed, skill, and finishing ability, and he has already established himself as one of Nigeria’s most valuable players.
In July 2020, Osimhen signed for Napoli in Italy with a reported transfer fee of €70m.
Osimhen rose to another level when he helped Nigeria win the U-17 World Cup in 2015. He was also a member of the Nigerian team that won the bronze medal at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt. Osimhen made his debut for the senior national team in 2017, and has since become a returning member of the team.
Kelechi Iheanacho is a footballer, who currently plays as a striker for Leicester City in England, as well as the Nigerian national team.
He started playing football at a young age, and joined Taye Academy in Nigeria before moving to Manchester City in England in 2014.
The player has made a name for himself as a talented striker with a knack for scoring goals. He has overcome numerous challenges to become one of the most exciting young players in world football, and his story is one of perseverance, hard work, and determination.
The footballer was born in Imo State, in October 1996 and grew up in a family of six. He lost his mother, Mercy, when he was just 16 years old.
A few months after her death, Iheanacho was named Player of the Tournament as Nigeria won the 2013 U-17 World Cup. His stellar performance caught Manchester City’s eye.
Speaking about his experience on Manchester City’s website, he stated, “That year, I was invited to play for the U-17 national team and it was a big opportunity for me.”
“I received news from home that my mother was sick. I didn’t know how bad it was — I just knew she was sick. I could not go home to see her. This was my chance to go for my dream. The next news I got from home, a few weeks later, was that my mother had died.
It is very hard for me to talk about this.”
Iheanacho’s success on the pitch has been hard-won. He has faced numerous challenges throughout his career, including injuries and competition for places. In 2018, he was left out of Nigeria’s World Cup squad, a decision that he described as the lowest point of his career.
Despite these setbacks, Iheanacho has never given up on his dream of becoming a top-rated footballer. He is known for his ability to create chances for his teammates, as well as his creativity and agility on the pitch.
Off the pitch, Iheanacho is known for his humility and dedication to his family and community. He has spoken openly about the importance of education, and has set up a foundation to help underprivileged children in Nigeria.
Samuel Chukwueze currently plays for the Italian football club, AC Milan; as well as the Nigerian national team, Super Eagles.
He started playing football at a young age, and joined the Diamond Football Academy in Nigeria, where he honed his skills. He later signed for Villarreal CF in 2018, from where he moved to AC Milan in July 2023, for a fee of over €20m.
Chukwueze’s rise to fame began when he played as a member of Nigeria’s U-17 team, which won the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2015. He was one of the standout players of the tournament and was named the third-best player of the competition. He made his debut for the national team in 2018, and has since become a regular member of the squad.
In 2019, he won the Nigeria Football Federation’s 2018 Young Player of the Year award. That same year, the footballer won the bronze medal at the Africa Cup of Nations with the Super Eagles.
Born on May 22, 1999, in Umuahia, Abia State, Chukwueze was brought up in a Christian family and started playing football when he was only eight years old.
While growing up, he admired football legend, Augustine Okocha, aka Jay Jay; and a former Dutch footballer, Arjen Robben.
He had his secondary education at Government College and Evangel Secondary School, both in Abia State. Although his parents were initially against his career as a footballer because they were concerned that it interfered with his education, Chukwueze did not let that stop his dreams. He was so determined that his parents eventually gave in. Though a left-handed player, he is a fantastic dribbler and can play as an inverted winger.
Ahmed Musa currently plays as a forward for the club, Sivasspor, in Turkey, as well as the Nigerian national team. He is the most capped Super Eagles player of all time, with 107 caps.
Just like others on this list, he started playing football at a young age and joined GBS Football Academy in Nigeria, before moving to VVV-Venlo in the Netherlands.
Musa’s rise to fame began when he helped Nigeria win the African Youth Championship in 2011. He was also a member of the Nigerian team that won the U-17 World Cup in 2009, as well as the Nigerian team that won the bronze medal at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt. Musa made his senior debut for the Nigerian national team in 2010, and has since become a regular member of the squad, winning the AFCON in 2013.
Born on October 14, 1992, in Jos, Plateau State, he comes from a multi-religious family, with his mother being a Christian from Edo State, and his father hailing from Borno State.
Musa attended Saint Peace Primary School and Ihya’ul Islamic Secondary School before joining GBS Football Academy, where he started his football career. He is known for his pace and impressive work rate, playing mostly as a left winger. Musa had his breakthrough in the Nigerian professional football league, playing for Kano Pillars during the 2009/10 season. He has played for various clubs in Europe, including Leicester City in the English Premier League.
In addition to his football career, Musa has also been in the news for his personal life. In April 2017, he was involved in a dispute with his estranged wife, Jamila, which resulted in the police being called to his home. The couple later divorced due to ‘irreconcilable differences’. He then later got married to Juliet Ejue in Abuja.
With quite an outstanding record, Wilfred Ndidi is one of Nigeria’s best midfielders. He currently plays as a defensive midfielder for Leicester City in England, and the Nigerian national team. Just like many of his colleagues, Ndidi started playing football at a young age, and joined Nath Boys Academy in Nigeria before moving to Genk in Belgium.
Ndidi’s rise to fame began when he helped Genk win the Belgian Pro League in 2016. Ndidi made his senior debut for the Nigerian national team in 2015 against Democratic Republic of Congo in a friendly game played in Belgium. He has played in several international tournaments, including the 2018 World Cup and the 2021 African Cup of Nations. Ndidi was also named in Nigeria’s squad for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, but had to withdraw due to an injury.
Ndidi grew up in the Ikeja Military Cantonment, Lagos, where he discovered his love for football. However, his father, a retired army officer, prioritised discipline and education over football. Ndidi played in many inter- and intra-school competitions before joining Nath Boys Academy, which led him to professional football.
In an earlier interview with the BBC World Service, Ndidi revealed that he often seized the opportunity to play football whenever his father went to work. He said, “Any time my dad went to work, I would go and play (football).”
In May 2019, Ndidi married his longtime girlfriend in Abuja. That same year, he started studying for a degree in Business and Management at De Montfort University, United Kingdom.
Kenneth Omeruo is a footballer, who plays for the Turkish side, Kasimpasa, and the Nigerian national team.
He started his football career at JUTH FC in Jos, Plateau State, before moving to Standard Liege in Belgium.
Omeruo’s rise to fame began when he helped the Nigerian U-20 team win the African Youth Championship in 2011. He was also a member of the Nigerian team that finished runnerup in the U-17 World Cup in 2009.
He made his debut for the national team in 2013, and has since become a mainstay in the Eagles defence.
In January 2012, Chelsea signed him as a promising teenage defender, but he spent the next seven years out on loan, never playing for the first team. Despite this, Omeruo has become an integral player for the Nigerian national team and has represented the country at various international tournaments.
Omeruo was born October 17, 1993, in Abia State and he has two younger siblings— a brother, Lucky; and a sister, Chisom. His brother, Lucky, followed in his footsteps as a footballer and currently plays for the Belgian club, KSC City Pirates, as a striker.
The footballer is married to Chioma Nnamani, and they have two children. Though, like the others on this list, Omeruo did not have it easy finding his way in his career, his parents were very helpful and supportive.
Omeruo has also offered support to young Nigerian footballers, such as Obi Agu, helping them achieve their dreams through the Kenneth Omeruo’s Academy.
Source: The PUNCH