The Italian Serie A has at differnet times witnessed talented Nigerian footballers glamourize the top flight competition. As Serie A fans anxiously wait to see how new arrival, Victor Osimhen, will turn out for Napoli, Complete Sports’ OLUYEMI OGUNSEYIN highlights five top picks among the 34 Nigerians who have played in the Serie A.
Obafemi MARTINS: (Reggiana 2001, Inter 2001-2006)
The Nigerian caught the eye of football enthusiast in Italy – in Serie A and indeed around Europe with his lightning speed acceleration and pace.
His first club in Europe was Reggiana where he broke into the first team and after just two appearances for the Teste quadre, he caught the eye of Inter Milan scouts who immediately signed him up for €750,000 in 2001.
In his first season, he scored 23 goals for Inter’s primavera side, helping them to the Italian Under-18 title and this form resulted in a chance to impress in the first team.
His pace quickly earned him a reputation and was a major problem defenders had to deal with. But it was only after a couple of seasons with the Nerazzurri that he became a first team regular for the Milan club, forming a formidable partnership with Brazlilan, Adriano whose power and strength complimented the sheer speed of Martins.
He scored 49 goals in 137 games in Italy. He just made a return to the game with Chinese Super League side, Shanghai Shenhua.
Nwankwo KANU: (Inter Milan -1996-1999)
Another Nigerian that is well known and respected in the game, Kanu is one of the biggest names in African football.
He moved to Italy as a high profile youngster following a successful period with Ajax in which he played a part in their Champions League success over Milan.
Kanu, a second striker turned out for Inter Milan he is regarded as one of the most successful Africans ever to play the game.
He has collected a UEFA Champions League medal, a UEFA Cup medal, three FA Cup Winners Medals and two African Player of the Year awards as well as a Premier League title and an Olympic Gold Medal.
His time at Inter was cut short after he underwent a medical examination, which revealed a serious heart defect. With the help of the club, he recovered and went onto achieve tremendous success with Arsenal.
Taribo WEST: (Inter 1997-1999, Milan 1999-2000)
West turned out for the two giant Milan sides where he played as a defender. However, he had a more successful stint at Inter Milan where he was a vital part of the side that enjoyed European glory by winning the UEFA Cup in 1998.
He was considered by many as ‘the rock’ in the heart of that Inter defence, and his unassuming style, not to mention his trademark hairstyles made him stand out among his team-mates.
But at the end of the 1998–99 season following clashes with former Internazionale coach, Mircea Lucescu, it was clear his future at the Nerazzurri was in doubt.
Once Marcello Lippi was made boss, he was told to look for a new club. It wasn’t long before he found one, Milan stepped in and offered him a chance to remain at the San Siro.
Although, his time with the Rossoneri was less than happy as he only managed four appearances for the club before moving onto England in 2000, then after jumping from club to club, he announced his retirement in 2008.
Sunday OLISEH: (Reggiana 1994-1995, Juventus 1999-2000)
The Nigerian’s stock in football rose when he scored a thunderous shot against Spain in the 1998 FIFA World Cup to earn victory for his country over the Europeans.
He played for Reggiana and after an impressive spell with the Teste quadre he moved to Cologne, then Ajax and later turned out for Juventus with whom he won the Intertoto Cup in 1999.
He was a technically gifted midfielder with good passing ability and played about 40 Italian domestic league games.
In January 2006, at the age of 31, Oliseh retired from professional football after playing a half season for Belgian club, Genk.
Ogenyi ONAZI (Lazio – 2011–16)
Onazi joined Lazio in 2011 following appearances at the 2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup in which Nigeria reached the final on home soil, losing to Switzerland.
Onazi was first promoted to the Lazio first team during the 2011–12 season after appearing at youth level. He made his Serie A debut as a substitute in the penultimate match of the season, a 2–0 victory over Atalanta.
In the following 2012–2013 season, Onazi was granted more playing time Under coach Vladimir Petković featuring in a defensive midfield.
On 7 March 2013, he scored his first goal for Lazio against Stuttgart in the last 16 of the Europa League. He scored his first Serie A goal in a 3–1 win over Inter Milan on 8 May 2013.
On 31 May 2015, his 88th-minute goal for the final score of 3–2 in Lazio’s win over Napoli helped secure the last Champions League place for the club.
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