World Cup Dreams and Dual Nationality: 11 Premier League Footballers of Nigerian Heritage

Three Lions or Super Eagles - which one will you be sporting for the World Cup? Ahead of Russia 2018, our football-mad co-founder Emeka still dreams of pulling on one of these national colours. And in celebrating dual nationality, he looks at footballers of Nigerian heritage who have had the opportunity to make that choice.

Growing up as part of a diaspora throws up for many this dilemma of which country to support – do I choose where I am from or where I am – and the country in which I grew up? I remember being quizzed about this back at school with one of my all English school friends – who is still one of my best friends – incredulous that I might even side with the Nigerian Super Eagles for a one-off game of England versus Nigeria, despite knowing more of the English players than Nigerian players and merrily belting out “Three lions on a shirt” whenever England played anyone else. I shrugged. This is how I felt – and feel.

Like many children of immigrants, I feel aligned to more than one nationality and my roots feel more diffuse, with several hearts beating inside my chest. Yet, when it comes to the dream of playing football at an international level, I know I would only be able to opt for one country. Whilst I’m still longingly waiting for my opportunity to pull on a national shirt, here are a number of Nigerian dual-national footballers who have played at the top level of English football and have had that choice.

Starting Lineup

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Carl Ikeme

Adopted Country: Nigeria

Position: Goalkeeper

Born in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham, Carl Ikeme has spent his entire football career with Wolves, making more than 200 appearances for the Wanderers. Named in the League One Team of the Year as the side won the League’s title in 2013-14, he missed out on their promotion from the Championship to the Premier League as 2017-18 title winners as he was diagnosed with acute leukaemia during pre-season. First called up to play for Nigeria in 2007, he was set to keep goal for the Super Eagles in World Cup 2018. Unable to be officially selected as he continues to battle his illness, he has been handed an honorary place in Nigeria’s World Cup squad. We wish him well!

 

Ugo Ehiogu

 Ugo Ehiogu with the League Cup Final trophy after Aston Villa beat Leeds in 1996 (credit: Getty Images)

Ugo Ehiogu with the League Cup Final trophy after Aston Villa beat Leeds in 1996 (credit: Getty Images)

Adopted Country: England

Position: Central Defender

Of Igbo stock, Ugochukwu Ehiogu was born and raised in East London. A powerful defender, he played in the Premier League for almost 10 years, winning the League Cup twice with both Aston Villa and Middlesbrough. As the first black player to captain an England team in a competitive match, whilst playing for the under-21s, he was capped several time times for the senior national team. Following his playing career he went on to coach for England and Tottenham Hotspur before suffering a fatal cardiac arrest on the training ground in 2017. Aged 44, his life was celebrated with tributes from across the football with his former defensive partner and current England manager Gareth Southgate describing him as "a gentle giant away from football, he was a colossus on the pitch".

 

Angelo Ogbonna

 Angelo Ogbonna playing for Italy against Nigeria during an international friendly match in 2013 (credit: Liverpool Echo)

Angelo Ogbonna playing for Italy against Nigeria during an international friendly match in 2013 (credit: Liverpool Echo)

Adopted Country: Italy

Position: Central Defender

West Ham United’s Obinze Angelo Ogbonna was born to Nigerian parents who had emigrated to Cassino, Italy – his birthplace. At 6ft 3in and surprisingly quick for his size, his imposing physical attributes made him a natural defender as he started his footballing career with Torino. Rising through the youth ranks to the senior side, he eventually became their captain. He was capped by the Italian national side whilst still playing for the unfashionable Serie A club and picked up a silver medal as Italy finished runner’s up at Euro 2012. Heavily linked with moves to Arsenal and Manchester United, he eventually joined European heavyweights Juventus for €13 million becoming the first ever player to captain Torino and transfer to their rivals. At Juve he won two back-to-back league titles, as well as two domestic cups, before arriving in the Premier League in 2015.

 

Leon Balogun

 (credit: Geoff Penn)

(credit: Geoff Penn)

Adopted Country: Nigeria

Position: Central Defender

Admittedly, Leon-Aderemi Balogun is yet to play in the Premier League having just signed for Brighton Hove and Albion from the German top-flight. Born in Berlin to a Nigerian father and German mother, at 29 years old Brighton will be his first club outside of Germany. For the Nigerian national team, he has formed a solid defensive partnership with William Troost-Ekong, a Dutch-born Super Eagle – and together they are known as the Oyinbo Wall. Seen as an heir to Nigeria’s former defensive leader Joseph Yobo, it was he who Leon first came on for when he made his debut for the Super Eagles back in 2014. However, his debut was curtailed after just 20 minutes following a freak injury which would ultimately keep him out of the 2014 World Cup. Having missed out last time round, Leon was reduced to joyous tears as Nigeria secured qualification for Russia 2018.

 The Oyinbo Wall - Leon Balogun (left) with William Troost-Ekong (right)

The Oyinbo Wall - Leon Balogun (left) with William Troost-Ekong (right)

 

Victor Moses

Adopted Country: Nigeria

Position: Winger

Born in Lagos, the son of a Christian pastor, Victor Moses was orphaned at 11, as his parents were killed in religious clashes whilst he played football in the streets. With flights paid for by relatives, he immediately fled the country and arrived in London as an asylum seeker. Placed with foster parents, he grew up in South London and it was there that his star as a footballer started to shine. Having transformed the fortunes of a struggling local Sunday League side, he was scouted to join the Crystal Palace academy where he excelled scoring 50 goals for their under-14s side. Still a schoolboy, Moses also led his team to the English Schools Under-14 Cup final where he scored all five goals. At 16 he made his first team debut for Palace. Via Wigan Athletic, he would eventually join Chelsea – his current club.

 (credit: News Group Newspapers Ltd)

(credit: News Group Newspapers Ltd)

However, despite picking up a Europa League winners’ medal in his first season at Stamford Bridge, he wasn’t a first team regular, and was sent out on three consecutive season-long loans. Returning to Chelsea for the 2016-17 season, Moses was finally entrusted with regular first team duties by Italian coach, Antonio Conte. However, although known as an attacking winger, he was asked to play defensive wing-back. Whilst he had never played that position before, Moses again excelled, becoming an integral part of the Chelsea side which won the Premier League and then this year’s FA Cup. At international level, he too played for the England youth teams but decided to play for the Nigerian senior side. A member of the Super Eagles’ African Cup of Nations winning team in 2013, he also represented them at the last World Cup and is in the squad for Russia 2018.

 

Ross Barkley

Adopted Country: England

Position: Attacking Midfielder

Yes, you did read ‘Ross Barkley’. Highlighted as a wonderkid as he broke into the Everton team, Ross has Nigerian roots. Born and raised on Merseyside, he has a Nigerian father and English mother. A strained relationship with his dad meant Ross took his mother's surname. Nevertheless, he was eligible to play for both the Super Eagles and Three Lions. Having never visited Nigeria and representing England from the under-16s to under-21s, it was a simple choice for him to opt to play for them at the senior level. Since, he’s played for England at the Brazil World Cup 2014 and was selected in their Euro 2016 squad.

 Dele (left) and Ross Barkley (right) in England colours (credit: Skysports)

Dele (left) and Ross Barkley (right) in England colours (credit: Skysports)

 

Dele Alli

Adopted Country: England

Position: Attacking Midfielder

Seen as England’s most naturally gifted midfielder, Tottenham Hotspur star Bamidele Jermaine Alli is another one who qualifies for our line-up through a Nigerian father. His first name means "follow me home" and is now the sole name by which he goes by following a complicated family situation – which he prefers not to comment on. Starting out at Milton Keynes Don, in the city where he was born and raised, his precocious talent had several Premier League clubs vying for his services. Ultimately, it was Tottenham who won the prize, signing him £5 million when he was just 18. Having initially been loaned back to MK Dons and helping them win promotion, once he returned to Spurs he quickly became one of their leading lights. In his first two seasons he was voted PFA Young Player of the Year and won the BBC’s Goal of the Season. Now 22, he’s already played more than 100 games for the Tottenham and scored more goals and assists than the likes of Premier League legends Steven Gerrard, David Beckham and Frank Lampard at the same stage of their careers.  Although it’s reported that John Fashanu, a former footballer of Nigerian heritage who played for England, tried to convince Dele to play for the Super Eagles, he’s become a key member of the England team. And he’s hoping to live out a schoolboy dream by playing in a World Cup in Russia.

 

Alex Iwobi

 Alex Iwobi wheels away having scored the goal to send Nigeria to the World Cup 2018 (credit: Goal.com)

Alex Iwobi wheels away having scored the goal to send Nigeria to the World Cup 2018 (credit: Goal.com)

Adopted Country: Nigeria

Position: Attacking Midfielder

Alexander Chuka Iwobi is the star of the current Nigerian team and it was his goal against Zambia which sent Nigeria through to the World Cup in Russia. He grew up in a footballing family. Nephew of African footballing legend and seven-time Nigerian footballer of the year, Jay-Jay Okocha, his Dad, Chuba Iwobi, was also a footballer and played with Jay-Jay’s elder brother – whose sister he ended up marrying.

 Alex Iwobi sitting next to his Uncle, Nigeria football legend Jay-Jay Okocha – so good they named him twice! (credit: The Sport Review)

Alex Iwobi sitting next to his Uncle, Nigeria football legend Jay-Jay Okocha – so good they named him twice! (credit: The Sport Review)

Born in Lagos, Alex left aged four to briefly live in Turkey where his uncle was playing football, before settling and growing up in East London. He was signed up by Arsenal at age six and after 10 years progressing through the junior sides, he fulfilled his dream of breaking into the first team. When it came to international teams, he opted against the advice of his manager, Arsene Wenger, and chose to play for the Super Eagles despite having represented England at junior levels. Having been awarded the African Football Young Player of the Year Award in 2016, he is now a key player for Nigeria. A few years prior this all looked unlikely, as he was close to being released by Arsenal in his early teens due to concerns over his light-weight physique. Perhaps his growth spurt was due to a fondness for Nigerian food, especially eba (cassava dumplings) and okra soup cooked by his mum!

 

Peter Odemwingie

 A delighted Peter Odemwingie (middle) after scoring Nigeria's goal in a 1-0 win over Bosia at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil (credit: Konbini)

A delighted Peter Odemwingie (middle) after scoring Nigeria's goal in a 1-0 win over Bosia at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil (credit: Konbini)

Adopted Country: Nigeria

Position: Striker

Peter Osaze Odemwingie was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan to a Nigerian father and Russian Tatar mother who were both doctors. At the age of two, as the Soviet Union broke up, he and his family moved to Nigeria. He would later return to Russia for secondary school and played for the CSKA Moscow youth team. Upon returning to Nigeria at 17, Peter became a professional, starting out with Nigeria Premier League side Bendel Insurance, based in Benin City the capital of Edo State. Following a journeyman career, which took him to Belgium, France and back to Russia, he quietly slipped into the Premier League towards the end of his career aged 29, signing for West Bromwich Albion. After scoring a winner on his debut, a man-of-the-match derby-day display and winning the Player of the Month award early on in the season, quickly the league started to recognise his talent. Having chosen to represent his fatherland, by now Peter was already a fully-fledged international, captaining the Super Eagles side in the African Cup of Nations 2010 as they reached the semi-finals and he picked up his third bronze medal of this competition. He also won silver medal at the 2008 Olympic Games and represented the Eagles at the World Cup twice. Now playing in Indonesia, he’s not in their squad for Russia.

 

Emmanuel Adebayor

 (credit: Getty Images)

(credit: Getty Images)

Adopted Country: Togo

Position: Striker

Sheyi Emmanuel Adebayor - former Arsenal, Manchester City and Real Madrid striker and the captain of Togo - is Nigerian. Born in Lome, Togo to Yoruba parents, his first name Oluwaseyi means “God Did This” in reference to his difficulty walking as a child. Unable to walk for the first four years of his life, his mother was left praying for divine intervention which she claims arrived in the form of a game of football at his church. Years later, Emmanuel would move from French club Monaco to Arsenal, fulfilling a lifelong dream as he signed for the club of his idol, former Arsenal and Nigerian star Nwankwo Kanu. A rangy striker who resembled the Super Eagles legend, Emmanuel was given the nickname “Baby Kanu”. It was in his second season at Arsenal that he became a star. As their leading goal-scorer he was named in the Team of the Year and won goal of the season for a goal scored against Arsenal’s North London rivals Tottenham – who Emmanuel would go onto play for later on his career. He was also awarded the BBC African Footballer of the Year for his performances that season.

 

Shola Ameobi

 Shola Ameobi scoring for his hometown club Newcastle versus their local rivals Sunderland

Shola Ameobi scoring for his hometown club Newcastle versus their local rivals Sunderland

Adopted Country: Nigeria

Position: Striker

Born in Zaria, Northern Nigeria, Foluwashola Ameobi was Newcastle United's longest-serving player in the Premier League era. Having moved to Newcastle upon Tyne when he was five, he went on to play for Newcastle for 14 years making nearly 400 appearances, appearing in the Champions League and scoring at Barcelona’s famous Camp Nou. The oldest of three brothers, he was joined in the first team setup by youngest brother Sammy, whilst the middle one, Tomi, went through the  Academy, before starting his professional career at Leeds United.

 Shola (left) with his youngest brother Sammy (right) whilst both playing for Newcastle (credit: The Nation)

Shola (left) with his youngest brother Sammy (right) whilst both playing for Newcastle (credit: The Nation)

Shola also has 3 sisters, the youngest Titi was a talented sprinter and when Sir Bobby Robson, picked up a prescription for a new pair of glasses from Shola’s eldest sister, an optician, she told the Newcastle manager. “Now you will be able to see well enough to pick my brother!” Shola played a number of times for the England Under-21’s before finally opting to play for Nigeria and realising his World Cup dream at Brazil 2014.

 Unity is Strength - Nigeria’s Super Eagles huddled before kicking off the second half versus England at Wembley in June 2018 (credit: Getty Images)

Unity is Strength - Nigeria’s Super Eagles huddled before kicking off the second half versus England at Wembley in June 2018 (credit: Getty Images)

Substitutes (Adopted Country in Capitals)

Nedum Onuoha

  • Full Name: Chinedum "Nedum" Onuoha
  • Position: Defender
  • Birthplace: Warri, Nigeria
  • Qualifying Countries: Nigeria, ENGLAND (U21 caps)
  • Primary Club(s): Manchester City

Ikechi Anya

  • Full Name: Ikechi Anya
  • Position: Midfielder
  • Birthplace: Glasgow
  • Qualifying Countries: Nigeria, Romania, SCOTLAND
  • Primary Club(s): Watford, Derby

Jordon Ibe

  • Full Name: Jordon Ashley Femi Ibe
  • Position: Winger
  • Birthplace: London
  • Qualifying Countries: Nigeria and ENGLAND (U21 caps)
  • Primary Club(s): Liverpool, Bournemouth

Gabby Agbonlahor

  • Full Name: Gabriel Imuetinyan Agbonlahor
  • Position: Striker
  • Birthplace: Birmingham
  • Qualifying Countries: Nigeria, Scotland and ENGLAND
  • Primary Club(s): Aston Villa

Victor Anichebe

  • Full Name: Victor Chinedu Anichebe
  • Position: Striker
  • Birthplace: Lagos
  • Qualifying Countries: NIGERIA and England
  • Primary Club(s): Everton

 

For more sporting Nigerians, check out our Chuku's Chats with champion high jumper Mike Edwards