Super Eagles players racially abused in the past

Super Eagles players racially abused in the past
Credit: Icon Sport

Victor Osimhen joined the list of the many Nigerian Super Eagles players who have suffered racial abuse during the course of their football careers.

The football world is inundated with the Osimhen's case especially for the fact that it came from Napoli, a club the Nigerian striker has been a positive centre of attraction for the right reasons.

Following a bad performance from Napoli in their game against Bologna last Sunday, 24 September 2023 in which Osimhen missed a penalty in the club's goalless draw, the Super Eagles player caught some expected criticism but no one thought his own club would ever join the pile of critics.

Napoli posted a video on TikTok where they appeared to be mocking their own star striker for the penalty miss, sparking claims of racism especially from Osimhen’s Nigeria fanbase.

Super Eagles player, Victor Osimhen
Credit: Icon Sport

To be fair, the outcry that followed the video in question might be viewed as an overreaction in some quarters but the racist undertone cannot be completely ignored, although unfounded and probably a stretch.

However, the angle of racism in this scenario is backed by the additional context of Italy as a country and their overall treatment of black players. There have been many high-profile cases of racism involving top black players in Serie A.

In respect to that, a video made in such poor taste after a crucial penalty miss from Osimhen, it is understandable that people are not willing to give the benefit of the doubt to rule out racism as Napoli’s motivation in trolling their star forward.

It's actually unthinkable that a top club like that made a video trolling its best player rather than defend and shield him from the criticism knowing how impactful Osimhen was in the end of their 33-year-wait for the Scudetto last season.

The club deleted the video after the backlash from concerned fans who saw that as a bad treatment of the player after what he has done for the club in three years.

There had already been question marks on whether or not Osimhen would ever reach the highest levels of acceptance in Italy despite all the love he gets in Naples, this reaction has further casted a gloomy shadow.

While we wait if the 24-year-old will be suing his club or if he will be open to a transfer away from Naples after this ill-treatment, let us take a look at some Super Eagles players racially abused in the past.

Nigeria Super Eagles players racially abused in the past

Osaze Odemwingie

Former Nigerian striker Osaze Odemwingie hit out at fans of his former club Lokomotiv Moscow in 2010, following racist banners targeted at him after his move to West Brom.

Ex Super Eagles player, Osaze Odemwingie
Credit: Icon Sport

Banner photographs from fans included the image of a banana and read “Thanks West Brom” as they celebrated the sale of Odemwingie to the English club.

Reacting to BBC Sport, Odemwingie said:

“It's a minority group but it's really sad – I have a good relationship with the club but this is a big disgrace, some fans treated me well at the club – only a group of supporters have shown how narrow minded they are to the world.

“Coloured players feel the open racism there and I recall a game against CSKA Moscow when their fans started the sick noises – I wouldn't have any of it and gave it back to them.

“This was widely publicized because photographers had shots of my protest but still nothing was done to curb it.

“Sadly, it's a picture of a minority group in Russia – it really makes you feel sick but that is what it is.

“You can't totally condemn the league or the people but I am a stronger individual, focusing on my career with Nigeria and West Brom now.”

Semi Ajayi

Super Eagles player, Semi Ajayi
Credit: Icon Sport

Super Eagles defender Semi Ajayi received racist abuse on social media after West Brom’s 2-1 loss to Liverpool in May, 2021.

The defender was part of the relegated Baggies’ side that was defeated after a dramatic last-minute header from Alisson Becker, Liverpool goalkeeper.

Taking his Instagram stories that night, Ajayi wrote: “Yet again, I come on Instagram to more racial abuse after a game. Instagram sort it out.”

Simi Nwankwo

In March 2021, Simy Nwankwo, Crotone’s striker also shared screenshots of discriminatory messages sent to him on Instagram after his team’s 3-2 home loss to Bologna. He said this afterwards:

“We can only hope that more efforts will be put in to ensure the general public and not just footballers feel safe on social media platforms.”

Joel Obi

Former Super Eagle Joel Obi was racially abused by Michele Marconi. The incident happened during Pisa's Italian Serie B match against Obi's Chievo on 22 December 2021 which ultimately ended with the Italian being suspended for 10 matches.

Reacting to BBC Sports Africa after the player got the news of Marconi's ban, he said:

“I was satisfied because we have to learn that we live in a society where we have to respect everyone.

“No matter the colour of your skin, we are all equal. I hope he'd learn that humans are equal. Somehow, I also feel sorry for him because he's human and has a family.

“Maybe he intended to say something else but he made a big mistake using those abusive and insulting words towards me.

“Hopefully he'll return as a better man and begin to respect everyone.”

Samuel Chukwueze

Super Eagles player, Samuel Chukwueze
Credit: Icon Sport

Chukwueze, while on duty for his club Villarreal in their 2-4 loss to Mallorca in May 2023, was racially abused by a fan. The now AC Milan player scored in the match to bring the game to 2-2 before Villarreal conceded two more goals to eventually lose the game.

The fan in question was handed a three-year ban from all football stadiums in Spain by La Liga disciplinary body.

Leon Balogun and Anthony Ujah

Balogun and Ujah while playing for Mainz in Germany were both subjected to racial abuse in their game against Hannover in February, 2018.

Super Eagles player, Leon Balogun
Credit: Icon Sport

Balogun posted on Twitter:

“Ujah and I were racially insulted with ape noises among other things as we warmed up in front of the Hannover fan block. I’m shocked that such behaviour exists in 2018 in the Bundesliga, where players of differing backgrounds, skin colours and religions fight daily for their fans.”

The Club president at the time Martin Kind apologized to the players. Kind said:

“I reject such behaviour 200 per cent. Such thoughts have no place at Hannover. We apologize in every form to Mainz and the two players.”

German news agency dpa reported in February 2018 that Hannover has said that between six and 12 people were involved in the racial abuse meted out to the two Super Eagles players.

Victor Osimhen

Prior to last Sunday's TikTok incident, Victor Osimhen has stated in time past that he has been racially abused twice in the Serie A by away fans but said he has always felt the love and support of Napoli fans.

“Since I came to Napoli in the City, I haven’t experienced what they call racism because everyone takes the blacks and whites as brothers unlike some of the other cities I have gone to,” Osimhen said at the press conference after receiving his 2022 Foreign Athlete of the Year award.

“I’ve been racially abused twice, and it’s a bad feeling. But of course, the love from Napoli fans through messages, phone calls and even in the stadium makes me not really think about these things.

Fast forward to 24 September 2023, Osimhen's view of Napoli fans may not change but having watched the scathing TikTok video the club posted last Sunday after his penalty miss in the goalless draw with Bologna, his assessment of how he's loved by the club will no longer remain the same.

Napoli players have been missing penalties in the past, Kvicha Kvaratskhelia missed a crucial penalty in the Champions League quarter-finals last season against AC Milan and no trolling video was made of him.

The treatment of Victor Osimhen has made Nigerian fans conclude he was racially targeted. We hope both player and club find a level ground on this issue which is sensitive enough to mar the club's 2023/24 campaign.

This article was most recently revised and updated 9 months ago

Joseph is a freelance writer who spends most of his time writing engaging football contents. Based in Nigeria, Joseph is a die-hard Real Madrid fan with over 8 years experience in the sports betting space. He has covered football match previews, predictions, and news across leagues in Africa and Europe.