The only Nigerian with La Liga title – was he a Barcelona or Real Madrid player?

The only Nigerian with La Liga title – was he a Barcelona or Real Madrid player?
Credit: @diariARA on X

Meet the Nigerian footballer who won the prestigious La Liga title. But here's the question: Did he play for Barcelona or Real Madrid? Let's find out!

Who is the only Nigerian that won La Liga?

Meet Samuel Gbenga Okunowo, the only Nigerian footballer to secure a La Liga title.

Born on March 1, 1979, Okunowo primarily operated as a right-back throughout his career.

Unfortunately, injuries plagued much of his time on the field, hindering his professional journey.

Despite these setbacks, Okunowo showcased his talents across eight different countries, demonstrating resilience and determination in pursuit of his footballing dreams.

Was the Nigerian player who won the La Liga title a Barcelona or Real Madrid player?

Samuel Okunowo for Barcelona in La Liga
Credit: @thesefootytimes on X

The Nigerian footballer who holds the distinction of being the only one with a La Liga title was a player for Barcelona.

Samuel Okunowo was 18 years old when he achieved this feat during the 1998-99 season with the Catalan giants.

Despite facing challenges during his tenure with the club, Okunowo contributed significantly to Barcelona‘s success, making 21 appearances across all competitions and 14 in La Liga as they secured the prestigious La Liga championship.

Samuel Okunowo's club career

Born in Ibadan, Nigeria, Okunowo's footballing journey began in his homeland, where he honed his skills with local clubs such as Liberty Boys Club and Exide Sparkers during his youth.

However, it was his move to the prestigious FC Barcelona in La Liga at the tender age of 18 that catapulted him onto the global stage.

Joining Barcelona's ranks in 1997, the player found himself competing for a starting spot in the first team, vying with established names like Michael Reiziger.

Despite his talent and potential, opportunities at the Catalan giants were limited, and Okunowo embarked on loan spells to Portugal's S.L. Benfica and Spain's CD Badajoz in search of regular playing time.

Unfortunately, these loan stints failed to solidify his place in top-flight football, and Okunowo's time at Barcelona came to an end in 2002 when he was released by the club.

What followed was a nomadic phase in his career, as he traversed through clubs in Greece, Romania, Albania, and Ukraine, with little impact or lasting success.

The years that ensued saw Samuel Okunowo's perseverance tested as he struggled to find stability in his career.

Trials at various clubs, including Northwich Victoria in England and Odra Wodzislaw in Poland, yielded no fruitful results.

Despite facing repeated rejections and setbacks, Okunowo refused to be deterred, showcasing his resilience and determination to keep his footballing dreams alive.

In 2009, a glimmer of hope emerged as the Nigerian found himself donning the jersey of VB Sports Club in the Maldives.

However, it was a brief stint, and he soon found himself playing for Waltham Forest in England's lower leagues, a far cry from his days at Camp Nou and La Liga.

The turning point in Okunowo's career came in 2012 when he returned to his homeland to join Sunshine Stars F.C. in the Nigerian Premier League.

Despite the challenges he had faced over the years, Okunowo's experience and tenacity shone through as he made a significant contribution to his new team, even finding the back of the net on several occasions.

Samuel's tenure with Sunshine Stars marked the twilight of his playing days, as he eventually hung up his boots in 2013, drawing the curtain on a career defined by resilience, adaptability, and an unwavering passion for the beautiful game.

Gbenga Okunowo: From struggle to hope

Samuel Okunowo
Credit: @FCBjugadors on X

From the time Gbenga joined Ionikos until he left Waltham Forest, he didn't play many games for almost eight years.

It's surprising that Sunshine Stars decided to give a chance to a 33-year-old player with knees that seemed much older, but people in the area still liked him a lot.

He managed to play 30 games for Sunshine Stars before he couldn't play anymore and had to retire from football at the age of 34.

As his football career was ending in 2012, his house in Ibadan caught fire, and Gbenga lost everything.

The fire destroyed all his belongings, including trophies, medals, and documents about his career. He also lost his passport, clothes, and other important things.

Thankfully, Barcelona helped Gbenga after learning about his situation through an online appeal. They came to his aid when he needed it the most.

Now, things have turned around for Gbenga. He's become a scout who is well-known for finding talented players.

He's focused on helping young Nigerian players who have the right attitude and skills.

While he hasn't found a big success yet, Gbenga's determination and drive to succeed mean that we'll likely hear more about him in the future.

Samuel Okunowo
Credit: @Txito76 on X
Years Team Apps Goals
1995–1997 Shooting Stars
1998–2001 Barcelona 14 0
1998–2001 → Barcelona B
1999–2000 → Benfica (loan) 9 1
2000–2001 → Badajoz (loan) 0 0
2001–2003 Ionikos 0 0
2003–2004 Dinamo București 2 0
2004–2005 KF Tirana 0 0
2005–2007 Metalurh Donetsk 2 0
2006–2007 → Stal Alchevsk (loan) 11 0
2009 VB Sports 4 0
2009 Waltham Forest 20 0
2012–2013 Sunshine Stars 30 3
Total 92 4

This table summarizes Okunowo's appearances and goals for each club he represented throughout his career.

International career

Beyond club football, Okunowo also left a mark on the international stage, proudly representing his native Nigeria.

Okunowo's international career commenced in his youth, as he donned the colors of the Nigerian U20 team during the 1999 FIFA World Youth Championship.

Held on home soil, the tournament was a significant platform for showcasing young talent, and the La Liga winner rose to the occasion, playing an instrumental role in Nigeria's journey to the quarter-finals.

Building on his success at the youth level, Okunowo earned his place in the senior Nigerian national team, making his debut in 1997.

Over the next few years, he would go on to represent his country with pride, earning a total of eight caps.

One of the highlights of Okunowo's international career came in 2000 when he was selected to represent Nigeria at the African Cup of Nations and the Summer Olympics.

These prestigious tournaments provided Okunowo with the opportunity to showcase his skills on the global stage, competing against the best teams and players from around the world.

At the turn of the millennium, Okunowo's international journey came to a close, culminating in three appearances for the Nigerian Olympic team.

Honours

  • 1X SPANISH CHAMPION – 98/99 FC Barcelona

This article was most recently revised and updated 1 month ago

Rababe Koussaimi, a 22-year-old journalist, is deeply passionate about the world of sports. She grew up in a footballing environment, supporting both Bayern Munich and Wydad Athletic Club. She began her English journalism career by hosting a podcast for the first English radio station in Morocco. Currently, the Moroccan journalist channels her enthusiasm into writing and conducting extensive research, creating insightful and engaging content for GoalBall Live readers.