5 Hottest Prospects from The Nigerian Football League 2017 (Part 1)

With ongoing improvement in the quality of the Nigerian Premier Football League (NPFL), tNS is happy to present the hottest prospects for the 2016-2017 season. It is common knowledge that there is paucity of data to objectively assess all aspects of performance within the Nigerian league, therefore it becomes especially important to utilize the resources we have to assess the best talents around.

(1) Stephen Odey (Striker)

Odey first got noticed in the football circles in Lagos during the 2012 Principals cup when he led his team to victory, finishing as both the tournament MVP and top scorer. He joined MFM F.C afterward and has now added two Lagos FA Cups with the NPFL team. Able to play on either wing and as a striker, Odey made his professional debut last year (2016) as a fresh-faced 18-year-old with MFM.

Stephen Odey celebrates a goal in the colors of MFM F.C.

The club was just promoted to the first-tier of Nigerian football on the back of some brilliant attacking football and Odey finished with 9 league goals in that first season ending in 2016. He has continued to improve, now adding a striker’s instinct to his game. His style of play can be described as strong, fast and difficult to dispossess in and around the penalty area, holding up the ball quite well. He has shown good technique in his finishing, with some room for growth in his positioning and all-round play.

In his second season in the Nigerian top-flight, the 19-year-old has now taken the league by storm. So far,  he has 14 goals at the halfway point and he has set a personal target of 24 goals to surpass the season goal-record set by Enyimba’s legendary captain Mfon Udoh in 2014. History of the Nigerian league shows this could prove to be difficult as defences tighten up towards the latter-half of the season. His stats show a very balanced center-forward able to finish with either foot when necessary. So far in open play, he has 4 goals from his left foot and 6 from the right; while his 4 penalties have all been finished with his right.

Stephen Odey's first 12 goals in 2016-2017

(2) Ikouwem Udoutin (Left Back)
Udoutin starting for Enyimba (to the left-side of goalkeeper Dauda)

It is not everyday you see a full-back in the Nigerian league who is fast, capable of crossing and passing comfortably with both feet. Udoutin is that and a lot more. He rose through the ranks of the Enyimba youth system and has been registered as an Enyimba-owned player through the Nigerian FA since 2013. Udoutin's development was mainly at Enyimba Feeders, through loans at Real Sapphire FC and Unicem Rovers over the past 2 years. He has made appearances in the Federations Cup while on loan, since last season.

Promoted to the Enyimba F.C first team at the start of the present season, he was ceremoniously named in the starting lineup on MD1 against Sunshine stars. He lived up to his pre-season hype around Enyimba circles by posting a man-of-the-match performance! Knowing Enyimba fans, they already expect him to be fast-tracked to the Nigerian national team. Ikouwem has really surprised everyone with his sumptuous technique which and has now ensured that Chima Akas plays a more-advanced role in left-midfield. (Akas is a previous player-of-the-season, vice-captain and player for the Nigerian national team)

Ikouwem Udoutin in 2017 for Enyimba of Aba

Ikouwem has now made 10 appearances out of 18 with 5 confirmed starts at the time of this writing. He also has 2 assists to his name. He recently posted a complete shut-out on the left wing in the games against league champions Rangers and F.C IfeanyiUbah, causing the opposition to utilize the other flank instead. I cannot speak to his overally ability yet, but he does possess a wide-range of passing combined with speed and spatial awareness. His crosses have also been impressive when he makes his forays forward, and he has two assists already. If handled properly, Udoutin could be the long-term solution to Nigeria’s left back issues. I do expect him to be fast-tracked to the national team, enyimba fan disclosure :)  much like club legends Enyeama and Onyekachi 'Tico' Okonkwo.

(3) Obinna Nwobodo (Central Midfield)

Obinna Nwobodo (middle), celebrates 2016 league title with Enugu Rangers

A talented midfielder, in the form of a regista, Nwobodo was the fulcrum of Rangers’ title-winning 2016 season with 7 goals and 6 assists. We previously documented his exploits during the early part of last season. He usually maintains a deep starting position, with the occasional burst of speed goal wards. He was the midfield dynamo in the Nigerian U-20 team in 2015 where he played a crucial role in their U-20 AFCON win. His injury in the final of that tournament kicked off a frantic search for replacements, eventually ensuring that Nigeria under-performed in the U-20 World cup later that year.

This season with Rangers’ exit from the CAF champions league, the team has started to perform better in the league with Obinna at the center of things again. He has 3 goals so far this season with 2 coming in a man-of-the-match performance in the away game against Gombe United. There are rumors that he has signed a pre-contract agreement with a top team in Hungary; but nothing has been confirmed yet. If Rangers let him go, it might not end so well for them seeing as teams tend to build around him.

(4) Ibrahim Alhassan Abdullahi “Mu'azam” (Striker) 

Mu'azzam signs for Akwa United

Highly rated in Nigeria’s youth setup, Alhassan previously represented Nigeria at U-17 and U20 levels. He had a short 2015-2016 as he joined Wikki Tourists for the second half of the season. He made his debut as a substitute against Kano Pillars, his hometown club; immediately turning the game on its head with two quick goals to announce himself to the league. His close control and flicks also ensured 2 red cards for the Kano pillars defence in a blistering display that made for a memorable debut.

Leading up to the present 2017 season, he followed mentor-coach Abdu Maikaba to Akwa United and has been a constant threat upfront. His consistency can be attributed in-part to his management team and new-found focus under Maikaba’s tutelage. He demolished Shooting Stars (3SC) with a 16-minute hat-trick in Akwa United’s 4-2 win in Uyo. He has also consistently shown a repertoire of flicks, tricks and close-control that harken to the days of a lanky 17-year-old Nwankwo Kanu in the Nigerian League. From his contribution of 10 goals in 13 games at the halfway point of the season, Akwa United have recognized the talent on their hands by promptly reviewing his contract and making him the highest paid player at the club.

Highlights of Alhassan Ibrahim (Mu'azzam) 2016-2017

(5) Emeka Nwabulu (Goalkeeper)

Nwabulu organizing his defense in a away game for Wikki against Ikorodu Utd in 2016

Another youth-team product at the U-17 level, Nwabulu struggled for game time at the youth national teams. Seeing his lack of impact, he made the brave decision to tryout for a team in the Nigerian league. In his breakout season in 2016, with Nwabulu was a fixture behind the sticks as Wikki Tourists made a title run with one of the best defensive records in recent time. Despite having a small squad, they completed the league season with the best goal differential (+17) and conceded the least amount of goals (28).

With no big-game players in defense, Nwabulu was arguably their standout defensive player under master-tactician Abdu Maikaba. He became the first goalkeeper to win the League blogger's award in the league after his spectacular displays in June 2016 when he had 3 clean sheets in one month. As a result of his commanding displays, he finished the season as the best goalkeeper in the league with 11 clean sheets, and it can be argued that had Wikki Tourists finished top of the pile, he would have been in contention for the player of the season. I hope Rohr takes note!