Monday, December 16, 2013

Greek gifts for Nigerians

 Greece is not your average favourite football destination for Nigerian footballers, even though Nigeria has had some good representation in the past.

Michael Olaitan/ pic courtesy:
 Late Nigerian legend Rashidi Yekini and Haruna Babangida were once in the books of Olympiakos Piraeus and former Super Eagles left-back Ifeanyi Udeze enjoyed time at PAOK, where he was a fans favourite in his four-year stay with the Yellow and Black.

Others like Babajide Ogunsoto and Benjamin Onwuachi also put Nigeria on the map in the land of the Euro 2006 winners as the physical nature of Nigerians were well appreciated by the Greeks.

The cash crunch in certain parts of Europe especially Greece, precipitated a lull in Nigerian players moving to the Greek Super League to play professional football.

But there seems to be a change now, as a band of players are representing Nigeria in the Super League and trying to make a name for themselves in Greece in the 2013-2014 season.

Andrew Randa takes a look at the emerging youngsters and others who are trying to put Nigeria on the map in the Greek top flight.

Abduljeleel Ajagun
 Ajagun comes from a football family and cut his teeth playing street football on the dusty fields of Kaduna in Northern Nigeria.

His breakthrough came when he moved to Dolphins FC, where he began to show his immense talent as an attacking midfielder and occasionally playing from the wings.


 He got called up by John Obuh's Golden Eaglets class of 2009, where he inspired the Eaglets to the final, where they lost to Switzerland at the National Stadium in Abuja as well as being part of the 2011 class of Flying Eagles.

Ajagun, 20, later captained Nigeria's Under-20 team at this years Fifa Under-20 Championship in Turkey, where his overall play and goals caught the eyes of several European clubs, who were keen to add the diminutive player to their squads.

The player, who recently lost his father eventually signed for a four-year deal with Panathinaikos and scored on his debut against Platanias for the greens.

Ajagun is highly regarded at 'Pana' and a lot is being expected from the Nigerian international, who is closely monitored by Super Eagles handler, Stephen Keshi.

Michael Olaitan

Olaitan started his football education in Jos, as a player with Mighty Jets where his skills attracted foreign clubs like St. Etienne and PSV Eindhoven.

However, all the inquiries did not materialise and he eventually moved to Veria in the Greek lower league in 2011 where he distinguished himself in the two years he spent there winning lots of accolades.
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 He came into national reckoning after his sterling displays in the heart of the Flying Eagles at the 2013 Under-20 World Championship in Turkey, leading the line as the Flying Eagles were eventually eliminated by Uruguay.

Olympiakos Piraeus were convinced to splash out on the talented youngster by offering him a contract and he is gradually integrating into the team as he already has an assist to his name and has already played in the Champions League.

"I'm pleased to have signed for such a big club. It's the best place for me to develop," Olaitan told the clubs website ( after signing for the club.

"The club love me and I'll do my best to help them win laurels."
Olaitan is regarded as a huge prospect and his development is carefully monitored both at home and abroad as he continues his football education in Greece.

John Ibeh

Ibeh is an unknown quantity in Nigerian football circles as the Port Harcourt-born striker slipped through the radar before appearing in Europe where his impressive display brought him to limelight.

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The 27-year-old has been a journey man of sorts, as he has played for a plethora of clubs around Europe. He has been with Otelul Galati and Pandurii Targu in Romania as well as Hapoel Tel Aviv in Israel.

The talented midfielder made two appearances for Romanian outfit, Otelul Galati in the Uefa Champions League in the 2011/12 season as he continued to build a name for himself.

Ibeh moved to Greek Super League side, Aris Thessaloniki this summer and will be looking to make a name for himself as he has already chalked up five games in the league.
He is primarily a left-footed midfielder who can play on the wings and also play as a second striker.

Chigozie Udoji

Chigozie Udoji's career has been a roller-coaster from his early days at Bridge Boys in Lagos. He was a youth prodigy as his immense skills earned him plaudits as the next 'Jay Jay' Okocha because of his sublime skills.

He was invited to the Golden Eaglets in 2005 after he had already moved to Bulgaria and signed for Vihren Sandaski where he made 66 appearances and scored 16 goals.

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Udoji, who was born in Lagos, also played for Bulgarian giants CSKA Sofia and has dual citizenship with the name Mitko Georgiev, he also has a Bulgarian passport and has made appearances for their youth teams.

The journey man has also criss-crossed eastern Europe playing in Romania with Astra Ploiesti as well as a short stint in Libya.

His sojourn to Greece saw him team with Platanias and Atromitos and has finally settled at Aris Thessaloniki where his partnership with compatriot, John Ibeh, is expected to bring good tidings for the team from the port town of Thessanoliki.

Maybe this season might be a breakout year for youngsters Olaitan and Ajagun, but seasoned campaigners like Ibeh and Udoji will also want to put in a decent shift in the Greek Super League.

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