Many Nigerians have played in the Italian serie A in the league’s hay days, great players like Sunday Oliseh (Juventus), Taribo West (AC Milan/Inter Milan) Kanu Nwankwo (Inter Milan) have donned the colours of the biggest clubs in Italy during their playing days .
But the dwindling fortunes of the serie A in recent times and the ever growing popularity of the English Premier League has seen many Nigerian fans of the Italian league look elsewhere for entertainment as well as young Nigerian players opting for the far more lucrative lure of the Premier League.
Like it was in the 90’s where Italian clubs dominated European football, the Italian Serie A is experiencing a resurgence and Nigerian players are not left out in the league best known for its physicality and high tactical gameplay. We take a look at four Nigerian players that currently ply their trade in the serie A you may not have heard of.
#1 ORJI OKONKWO
Orji Okonkwo moved to Bologna from FC Abuja Academy in August 2016. Born on the 19th of January 1998 in Benin city of Edo state, the young star is quietly building his career at modest Italian serie A side Bologna.
Spoting Jersey number 30 for the serie A club, the 19 year-old star operates from the left side of the attack and can also play as a lone striker or a supporting striker in a two man attack.
Orji Okonkwo might have slipped through the minds of Nigerian football fans, but for those who followed the triumphant Golden Eaglets side at the 2015 Chile Under-17 World Cup, the screamer scored from 35-yards against Mexico in the semi final by Okonkwo readily comes to mind.
Yes, it was Orji Okonkwo’s big moment in a tournament owned by Victor Osimhen and Kelechi Nwakali.
Okonkwo made 9 appearances for Bologna scoring one goal and creating several chances.
It is clear that coach Roberto Donadoni rates the young star highly.
Orji is eager to play for the national team of Nigeria and will work hard to secure more playing time to force the attention of German Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr.
#2 JOEL CHUKWUMA OBI
Joel Obi is one of those forgotten Nigerian stars who once raised great expectations from many fans by his explosive skills that saw him dubbed the new “Jay Jay Okocha”, but lingering injuries here and there has truncated the growth of Obi and ultimately pushed him out of the national team.
Born 22 May 1991 in Lagos, Joel Obi migrated to Parma, Italy where he quickly joined a football academy and was quickly spotted by scouts of Inter Milan.
He was promoted to the senior Internationale first team by Jose Mouriho in 2009 but waited till Rafeal Benitez took over before making his debut in 2010.
Currently playing for Torino (signed in 2015) and wearing jersey number 22, made 13 appearances this season. A fact worthy of note is that he was always a starter as long as he was fit to play.
Joel Obi has played 12 times for Nigeria with 11 of those coming in 2011 same year he made his debut. The last time he played for Nigeria was in 2014.
Joel Obi created a number of assists for Italian serie A top scorer Andrea Belotti and one to be considered for the Super Eagles if he stays fit as he is still relatively young and has got creativity, something missing in the midfield of the Super Eagles.
#3 SIMEON “SIMMY” TOCHUKWU NWANKWO
Simeon Nwankwo, popularly called Simmy was born on the 7th of May 1992, in Lagos State and plays as a centre forward for Serie side, Crotone.
The 25 years-old has played for amateur side GUO, before playing for Portimonense from 2011–2013 then Gil Vicente from 2013–2016 all in Portugal before finally signing up with his current side Crotone in 2016.
Simmy made 21 appearances for Crotone across all competitions, starting 4games, and made 17 substitute appearances while scoring 4 goals with all his goals coming at the crucial end of the season.
The player has not been capped by Nigeria and is now in his prime to announce himself in the national team.
#4 SADIQ UMAR
20 year-old Sadiq Umar was born in February 20 1997 in the city of kaduna and became popular after helping Nigeria win the bronze medal at the Rio Olympics football tournament in 2016.
Currently on the books of Bologna were he was transferred on loan from Roma, the lanky striker made 7 appearances, starting 1 and getting subbed on 6 times for Bologna.
He failed to score in his short spell that also saw him suffer some time off the pitch with injury.
Umar is still young and if he manages to get playing time and grab goals next season, he might just get a call up to the national team.