Start of the season in reverse for the old Nigerian guard
Familiar faces make way for new talent emerging in the first Nigeria Power Rankings of the new season, with players spread across Europe.
Last season’s regular table tops made the list, but the top five are dominated by new or less consistent talent in the Super Eagles rankings and names from more distant leagues.
1. Taiwo Awoniyi, Union Berlin – Germany
The joys of stability are already bearing fruit for this former international junior. In six years on the books at Liverpool, the youngster has failed to kick a ball in anger at Anfield.
Instead, he was moved from team to team, country to country, especially Germany where he blew mostly hot and often lukewarm.
Awoniyi sealed a permanent move to FC Union Berlin just before the start of this season, consolidating a place he secured on loan last season, and the results were immediate.
Awoniyi opened the season with an assist in DFB Pokal where Union won 1-0, before scoring five goals in his next five Bundesliga and UEFA matches.
These include a brace against KuPS in the UEFA Conference League and others against Bundesliga heavyweights Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Moenchengladbach.
Those three league goals put him close to legendary sniper Robert Lewandowski and tied with Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland.
2. Ezekiel Henty, Slovan Bratislava – Czech Republic
Like Awoniyi, Henty got off to a pretty bubbly start, scoring the same number of goals as his compatriot. He only came out of the top spot by playing more games [seven to Awoniyi’s five].
As if to downplay the impact of playing in an inferior league, two of Henty’s goals came in the UEFA Europa League, including one against Henry Onyekuru’s Olympiacos.
But his glory came in his last game of the month when he silenced Zlate Moacvce with a superb hat-trick as Slovan had just scored a goal to claim a 4-1 victory.
Unknown to many at home, Henty is quietly lighting fires from his Czech Republic base and although he may be a bit long in the tooth for Nigerian coach Gernot Rohr’s youth-friendly approach [he’s 28], nothing says that the door might not open at some point if he continues like this.
3. Chidera Ejuke, CSKA Moscow – Russia
Watching the highlights of Ejuke this month is bound to leave you feeling overwhelming sadness and intense pleasure.
Sadness for the defenders who seem to get lost on a professional football pitch, and joy to see such an unpredictable talent weaving magic with their feet.
But it’s not just about glitz and glamor, the winger can also be efficient, as his two goals and an assist over the month amply demonstrate.
4. Emmanuel Dennis, Watford – England
When you make a splash on your English Premier League debut with a goal and an assist and end up making it into the Premier League highlights table, you know you’ve done something right.
It’s hard enough to score in the Premier League let alone in your opener. So while that goal on opening day was not followed by another, Dennis’ loud announcement of his presence will have encouraged defenders to heed it and score it more studiously.
5. Paul Onuachu, Genk – Belgium
Few expected to see Onuachu still with Genk at the start of the season. After hitting a record of over 30 goals the previous season, there was speculation the tall Nigerian would use his talent and go elsewhere.
Instead, we find him at the start of a new season, still with the Belgian champions, and still in excellent shape. He wasted no time proving all the noise was valid, scoring twice in the League and once in the Champions League
If he had a chance, Onuachu would likely move in a snap, but with this contract still with Genk, he will continue to score goals for them.
6. Kelechi Iheanacho, Leicester City – England
‘Seniorman Kelz’ started where he left off last season, officially opening his and Leicester City account in the very first game of the season, and what a big game it was.
Leicester outlasted champions Manchester City to win the Community Shield and it was thanks to the former City forward who converted a cold-blooded penalty against his former side to seal a late victory.
It takes a certain dose of nerve to stow a penalty kick under these circumstances and in a game like this, and Iheanacho has shown he has not only the ability, but also the ice in his veins to step up and put the kick in. walk despite his presence for only 11 minutes.
7. Moïse Simon, Nantes – France
He may not have scored a goal so far, but Moses Simon is as important an asset as any at Nantes FC. He constantly provides threats and backs them up with assists.
He made 5 assists, a high in the match, in their loss to Olympique de Lyon, and was responsible for two assists and won man of the match honors when he beat Metz 2 -0, recording three assists in four games.
8. Wilfred Ndidi, Leicester City – England
There are only three games in the English Premier League season, but Ndidi shows once again that he is one of the best midfielders in the world.
The Nigerian was fully involved in the Foxes’ 1-0 win over league champions Manchester City in the Community Shield, where he recorded 5 tackles and three interceptions. He looked faded in their loss to West Ham United before rebounding strongly against Norwich.
9. Leon Balogun, Rangers – Scotland
Rangers had a poor start to the season, being bluntly dumped by Malmö in the Champions League and losing to Dundee United at the start of the league campaign.
But with their backs to the wall, the champions were beaten 1-0 against rivals Celtic, a game where Balogun was played far from his usual position as a center-back but still showed that at 33 he could still compete with the best.
10. Ahmed Musa, Fatih Karagumruk – Turkey
The Nigerian captain spent most of last season either without a club or playing in the NPFL with Kano Pillars, and some believed he was finished as a result.
But the 28-year-old had none of that, and after signing for Turkish club Karagumruk, immediately put those doubts to the test with a goal and a man-of-the-match performance on his debut in Super Lig, as his team claimed a 3-2 victory over Gaziantep FK.