Since Kanu Nwankwo became the last Nigerian footballer to win the African Footballer of the year award in 1999, no other Nigerian has won the individual award.
The closest Nigerian players to reach the last three since 1996 are Mikel Obi and Vincent Enyeama. While Obi lost to Ivorian Yaya Toure in 2013 despite Nigeria winning the AFCON title that year. Enyeama finished second runners-up behind
However, Samuel Chukwueze seems to be the only Nigerian who has shown potentials of becoming the next player to win the African Footballer of the year Award.
Simon, 20, who plays for Villarreal is arguably the only Nigerian player today who commands a first team shirt in a top flight European club.
It is very difficult for a typical Villarreal line-up to be put in place without the left-footed forward not being on the squad. These are possible traits which winners of the previous awards had shown in the past.
Since joining the Spanish side in 2018/2019 season, Chukwueze has made 34 appearances for club in all competitions and have scored 7 goals.
In his international career, he has made 13 appearances for the Super Eagles, scoring 2 goals. He also played a significant role towards the team’s success at the AFCON 2019 where Nigeria won bronze.
Also Chukwueze’s style of play with his left foot has become so action-packed that he is compared with Dutch player Arjen Roben.
In 2013 when Yaya Toure won the individual award ahead of Mikel, there were cries from some fans in Nigeria alleging that the franco-phone countries robbed Mikel of the title.
Their argument then was that Mikel who won the AFCON title in the year in review should have emerged as African footballer ahead of Toure.
But one fact which we must not set aside is this, the likes of late Rashidi Yekini, Emmanuel Amuneke, Victor Ikpeba and Nwankwo Kanu were outstanding as individual players when they all won the individual award.
In fact, of the four Nigerian players who won have the award five times, only Emmanuel Amuneke won the individual award after winning the AFCON title in 1994.
Kanu Nwankwo won the individual award twice in 1996 and 1999 without Nigeria winning the AFCON in the years in review. Victor Ikpeba won it 1997 when Nigeria did not also win, and same applies to the late Rashidi Yekini who won it 1993.
What gave all these players an edge was basically their individual performance for both club and country and not waiting to win the AFCON title to have an edge.
Samuel Chukwueze is promising, and seems to be on that path towards emerging as next Nigerian to win the prestigious individual award. He has to put in more for both club and Nigeria to enable him win the individual award of the continent.