The annual #YNaijaPowerList enters its fifth year and we bring you the most influential young Nigerians in sports, under 40 who are doing it for themselves, and for the nation. From a track queen on her way to legendary status, to a fast rising footballer at her prime, to representatives of our footballing future, these power 10 are the names to beat.
Akani studied Chemical Engineering, has earned an MBA, worked with Goldman Sachs in investment banking, but all that hasn’t stopped him from doing his bit to tackle the problem of underperformance in athletics. His sports media and management company, Making of Champions was conceived after Nigeria’s dismal performance at the London Olympics. MoC’s reality TV show Top Sprinter is helping to unearth, train and develop a new generation of Nigerian sprinters.
For many years, Uneku Atawodi was the only black woman in the world playing the sport of Polo professionally. These days, she is quite the business woman, running Bamboo House, a boutique hotel and lounge in Abuja. She also constructed the Bamboo Beach Polo arena in Lagos to help bring Polo closer to the masses. Atawodi is also the founder of Malaik, billed as Africa’s first equity crowdfunding platform.
Odion Ighalo is a professional footballer who plays for the Super Eagles and English premiership side Watford. Ighalo scored in his Premier League debut in August 2015 and was for a spell, the highest goal scorer in the premiership. He was named the Premier League Player of the month for December 2015 and is the first Nigerian to score in 4 successive premier league games. Ighalo made his national side debut in a 0-1 home friendly loss to Uganda.
Kelechi Iheanacho lived up the prodigious promise showed early in his career when he finished the 2015/2016 season as Manchester City’s third highest goal scorer with 8 Premier League goals to his name and boasting the best goals per minute ratio of any player, averaging a goal every 93.9 minutes. He made his first start in the Nigerian national team in March 2016 against Egypt and has been selected in the 35-man provisional squad for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Ahmed Musa made history when he became the first Nigerian to score more than once in a FIFA World Cup match after putting 2 goals past the Argentinian defence at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. A member of Nigeria’s 2013 AFCON winning team, Musa joined Premier League champions, Leicester City this July for a club record 16.6 million Pounds, all the way from Russian side CSKA Moscow.
Nigeria’s fastest man for the second year running is Seye Ogunleye, who won the 100m title at the All-Nigeria Championships this July in Sapele, Delta state posting a personal best time of 10.02 seconds. Ogunlewe Jr, who recently bagged a double honours degree in Law and Politics from Essex University, presently represents Nigeria’s best hope of challenging fastest man alive, Usain Bolt for the title.
Blessing Okagbare remains the reigning African queen of the sprint- and jump. Perhaps Nigeria’s brightest medal prospect at the 2016 Rio Olympic games, Okagbare is also the 100m and 200m champion at the Commonwealth Games, her 10.85 posted in the 100metres broke the 12 year old games record. She is only the 4th woman in history to win both titles. This month, she claimed her 7th national title at the All-Nigeria Championships by shaving 4 seconds off her own 6 year old record.
The most exciting female player on the continent is also one of the youngest. In January 2015, Asisat Oshoala scored double at the Glo/CAF awards, winning the African Women’s Player of the Year and Women Youth Player of the year. A veteran of two FIFA Under-20 Womens World Cups, Oshoala recently achieved her childhood dream of playing for Arsenal Ladies FC in the English Premier League after transferring from Liverpool Ladies.
Uhunoma Osazuwa produced a sensational outing in the Heptathlon event at the Africa Athletics Championship Competition in Durban where she scored a personal best while breaking the Nigerian record in the event at the same time. The US-based Osazuwa, broke her personal best (PB) of 6106 points to win the gold with another PB, a national record and championship record of 6153 points.
Isaac Success raised sporting eyebrows this year when English Premiership side Watford shelled out money in the region of 12.5 million Pounds (a club record) for his services for the next 5 years. The signing came as a surprise as Success’ 7 goal tally in 49 appearances while at Spanish side Granada didn’t exactly set the world on fire. The new football season will be a great chance to convince sceptics of his potential.