Modernisation continues in its threat to take over the juice in the beautiful round leather game of football with statistics becoming the basis of almost every talking point generated by the game in the 21st century.
Scouts globally now run after numbers: goals and assists (for offensive players) but some of us still love to attend football games and enjoy some beautiful artistry. Although players are being encouraged to do less of the entertainment and be business-like and get stats-driven, some talents are so innate that they cannot just go unexpressed by the players.
The 2019/20 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) season has been a thrilling one in many respect before the global pandemic forced everyone into an unwanted home sabbatical. Having watched about twenty-four (24) league games involving eighteen (18) of the twenty teams this season, I drew up this list of the top five dribblers in the league.
Before I take you through the countdown, let me start unusually with a list of players in my “Worthy mentions” category. Enyimba’s Stanley Dimgba has had a barnstorming season for the People’s Elephant hitting double figure of goals in all competitions but he has been able to retain some of his trickery down the wings.
The Golden Boy of Jigawa Golden Stars Ali Kalla Maro has made a good impression with darting runs on the flanks and ultimately some goals as well while Eka Unegbe‘s dribbling skills have not gone unnoticed in the colours of doomed Adamawa United. Rivers United’s Rafiu Ishaq, Katsina United’s Joseph Atule and Akwa United’s Wisdom Fernando (although he has had playing time very hard to come by this season) are always nightmares to their markers.
The Top 5 Countdown:
5.. Nelson Esor (Rivers United): This pint-sized attacking midfielder is one of the reasons Rivers United are highly placed on the log. He simply weaves the magic wand whenever United needs it most. The ease at which he goes past opposing players creates opening for the team at crucial periods. Same ability prompts defenders to upend him at dangerous positions in and around the box which has fetched his team penalties and free kicks leading to goals.. He is my Number 5.
4. Anayo Iwuala (Enyimba): Anayo surprised many in his first season in the top flight last season in the colours of Delta Force. He struggled with injury initially when he joined Enyimba this season but he has become a regular under Fatai Osho, terrorising opponents with his incredible dribbling skills. Just ask any Abia Warriors player about this lad.
3. Timilehin Ogunniyi (Sunshine Stars): Omo-Jesu is a left footed winger who stays predominantly on the right for the Owena Whales. Likened to the Dutch winger Arjen Robben; he boasts of an electric pace while going past his markers. He exhibits quick-feet to wriggle his way out of any impending coup on the pitch and has been the main revelation for Sunshine under Kabiru Dogo.
2. Abdullahi Abubakar Aliyu (FC Ifeanyiubah): This youngster has grown into being a regular at the Nnewi-based club this season. Aliyu has the nimbleness that takes him past two to three markers at once. Although he can still be naive in the final third, reminding one of Salomon Kalou in his early days at Chelsea, Aliyu’s playmaking abilities have caught the eyes and brought real entertainment to the modest Nnewi side.
My best players in the League so far.
I challenge @raskytwitty, @FisayoDairo, @mitchokonta and @ralphcgeorge to tell Nigerians their best players in the League so far
— Emeka Nwani (@mekus102) March 30, 2020
1. Ibrahim Olawoyin (Rangers): It is rare for individual players in the league to have such enchanting grip on a fanbase the way Olawoyin has done at Rangers. Perhaps only Pillars captain Rabiu Ali has such magical charisma before the emergence of this star nicknamed Hazard. Any time Olawoyin touches the ball, the Nnamdi Azikwe Stadium crowd expects magic, trailing his moves with echoes of “Onye egwu”. He has many ways of turning his marker into Lot’s wife at any part of the pitch and he is very accountable unlike many other gifted dribblers. His exploits in the Confederation Cup this season has left many foreign clubs hot on his trail and his creativity has been a major fulcrum to Rangers’ renaissance under Salisu Yusuf. Take a look at some of Olawoyin’s action here.
Are you an NPFL follower? Is there one you do not agree with or one you think is left out? Let’s have your take on the comments section.
Photos: @Chuqudi Photography