The Champions League returns tonight with the beginning of the first series of group-stage games. Both fans of the teams involved and neutral observers alike are excited at the prospect of another terrific season of elite European competition.
Hopefully this year’s tournament can cumulate with a final as dramatic as last season’s showpiece between Madrid rivals Real and Atletic.
But will there be a Nigerian player involved?
As has been the case in recent seasons, while the nation has not been particularly well-represented in the Champions League, several of the four senior players listed for the competition can be confident of travelling deep into the tournament.
In this feature we profile the Nigerian quartet who will be contesting the competition this campaign.
Please note that this article does not include youth players such as Chuba Akpom and Mikel Agu who have been named in their team’s B lists according to Uefa. Similarly, Michael Olaitan is only due to return to action in early November and has not been named in Olympiakos’s squad.
Comment below and let us know which of this four will travel furthest in the tournament this season.
French moneybags AS Monaco make their return to the Champions League after an eight-year absence and will look to mark their comeback with an impressive showing. Le Project down on the Riviera has slowed remarkably following the departures of Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez, but the Red and Whites can boast of a number of seasoned European Cup performers.
They also possess a Nigerian left-back that many of you will be familiar with!
However, while Elderson Echiejile is the undisputed number one in his position for the Super Eagles, he has a struggle on his hands to get any kind of game time in the Principality.
The defender has made only five Ligue 1 appearances for Monaco since leaving Portuguese side Braga in January and has found himself in the shadow of French youth international Layvin Kurzawa.
A thigh injury to his rival may afford Echiejile the chance to impress this week against Bayer Leverkusen at home.
He may only be 21, but Ahmed Musa doesn’t lack experience. The explosive forward already has 40 Nigeria caps while he has already featured nine times in the Champions League.
Last year he was a regular as CSKA Moscow fell short in Group D, being outdone by Manchester City and Bayern Munich and even suffering the ignominy of being topped by Viktoria Plzen.
Unfortunately, the Russians face an even tougher test this term.
Not only are they paired with City and Bayern once again, they were also unfortunate enough to receive AS Roma as the fourth seed.
If CSKA are to escape from Group E, they will need Musa to be at his absolute best. His magnificent showing against Argentina during the World Cup stole the imagination without taking any points, he may need to be even better to get anything out of the ominous opening stage.
After a year of desperation, things seem to be going well for Chinedu Obasi once again.
The forward has overcome his injury concerns—for now at least—and has been recalled into the Nigeria squad be Stephen Keshi, even if the red tape did ultimately complicate his comeback.
The versatile forward should be confident of being given the chance to shine again for the Super Eagles, and an impressive showing in the Champions League would help his chances no end.
Schalke are European Cup regulars and ought to get the better of Sporting Lisbon and Maribor to join Chelsea in the Last 16.
For Obasi, more modest ambitions ought to be the order of the day. He hasn’t, for example, completed 90 minutes in the Bundesliga since April 2012, and played just over half an hour of first team action between March 2013 and February 2014.
If he can stay fit, he can once again be a valuable asset for both club and country.
|John Obi Mikel|
To date, only three Nigerian players have won the Champions League: Finidi George, Nwankwo Kanu and John Obi Mikel.
Only three African players, Seydou Keita, Fotso Geremi and Samuel Eto’o have won the title more than once.
How Mikel would love to join that second, elite collection of players.
It is to his credit that such a possibility remains open to him. At times during this summer he appeared to be on his way out of Stamford Bridge as one of Jose Mourinho’s unwanted, a player made wholly redundant by the successful arrival of Nemanja Matic.
However, Mikel clung on, and while his first-team appearances are likely to be few and far between, he did demonstrate his enduring class with a terrific back heel to set up Diego Costa against Everton.
Super Eagles fans are fast turning on Mikel for his underwhelming displays for the national side, but in this new, young Chelsea side he is one of only seven players still standing from the unlikely Champions League triumph of 2012.
He is also a Mourinho original, one of Jose’s trusted lieutenants from his first stint in West London; it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Mikel given an important brief on big European nights.