Winners of the Premier League: Nigerians who almost won

Winners of the Premier League: Nigerians who almost won
Photo by Icon sport

There are plenty of tears in the North London enclave of Arsenal as the Gunners failed again to become winners of the Premier League.

As the Gunners lament the bitter pain of losing a title they had in their hands a few weeks ago by the tiniest of margins, Manchester City celebrate a record-breaking fourth title in a row.

As Manchester City became winners of the Premier League for the sixth time in seven years, the conquest brings to six the number of titles Pep Guardiola has won within the period.

There is no Nigerian player in the title-winning team or the second-placed side, but let us look at Nigerian players who came close to becoming winners of the Premier League during their time in England.

Winners of the Premier League: Nigerians who finished second

Nwankwo Kanu (Arsenal – 1998/99, 1999/2000, 2000/01, 2002/03)

Nigerians who almost became winners of the Premier league - Nwankwo Kanu
Photo by Icon sport

Perhaps there is something with Arsenal and almost winning the Premier League. The Gunners have finished second on several occasions, gutting many of their fans even to the point of suicide.

Perhaps Nwankwo Kanu would have had more Premier League titles if things had worked for the Gunners.

The former Iwuanyanwu Nationale forward joined Arsenal in February 1999 and contributed six goals from 12 games to the cause as Arsenal failed to become winners of the Premier League.

Arsenal finished second that season as Manchester United went unbeaten from February till the end of the season to beat Arsenal to the title by one point.

Kanu went three seasons in a row, finishing second in the league with Arsenal. The Gunners became winners of the Premier League with Kanu for the first time in 2001/02.

The following season, Arsenal finished second again behind Manchester United, but it was not close (18 points). In 2000/01, Arsenal were behind the Red Devils by ten points.

In those three years, Kanu scored 21 Premier League goals.

Shola Ameobi (Newcastle United – 2002/03)

Nigerians who almost became winners of the Premier league - shola ameobi
Photo by Icon sport

In the 2002/03 season, while Manchester United again became winners of the Premier League, Arsenal was finishing second, with Kanu in tow. 

Only five points separated the Gunners and the Red Devils, but another Nigerian finished third that season.

Shola Ameobi helped Newcastle United to a third-place finish, but they were wide of the target. 

Ameobi scored five goals in 28 games to help the Magpies finish 14 points behind the league winners.

Celestine Babayaro (Chelsea – 2003/04)

Nigerians who almost became winners of the Premier league - celestine babayaro
Photo by Icon sport

Celestine Babayaro was a Super Eagles favourite but never won the Premier League.

The left-back, who also played for Newcastle, came close to winning the Premier League in the 2003/04 season.

Arsenal was the undoing of Chelsea in that season as they became winners of the Premier League, finishing 11 points clear of the Blues.

By the 2003/04 season, Babayaro's career with Chelsea was tailing off, as he managed just six Premier League appearances and scored one goal.

It was the closest he ever came to winning the Premier League.

John Obi Mikel (Chelsea – 2006/07, 2007/08, 2010/11)

Nigerians who almost became winners of the Premier league - Mikel Obi
Photo by Icon sport

John Obi Mikel is, by all metrics, a Chelsea legend. He has won all there is to win in club football except the FIFA Club World Cup and the newly inaugurated Europa Conference League.

On multiple occasions, Chelsea, winners of the Premier League, had Mikel on their payroll two times they won the title. 

Mikel would have won the title five times but missed out on three occasions as Chelsea finished second those years.

Manchester United were winners of the Premier League in the 2006/07 season, and they pipped the Blues to the title by six points.

It was Mikel's first season at Chelsea after the Blues beat the Red Devils to his signature. He made 22 appearances that season.

In the 2007/08 season, Chelsea lost to the Mancs again, but it was closer as just two points separated the pair.  

Mikel was integral to the club's upgrade, making 29 appearances.

Mikel finally landed the Premier League title in the 2009/10 season, but he was back to playing second fiddle in the 2010/11 season. Nine points separated the Blues and the Red Devils, who beat all comers to become the winners of the Premier League.

Mikel played 28 times for the Blues that season. 

Alex Iwobi (Arsenal – 2015/16)

Nigerians who almost became winners of the Premier league - Alex Iwobi
Photo by Icon sport

In the 2015/16 season, fans of the Premier League had all ceded the title to Arsenal, but the Gunners shot themselves in the foot in the season they could have added to their League conquests.

The season was the most unpredictable in the history of the competition.

While Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United faltered, Arsenal had the opportunity to nick the title.

Arsenal lost seven games that season, and despite beating the eventual winners of the Premier League in both legs (Leicester City), they could not string a consistency enough to nick the title.

It was Iwobi's first season with the club, and he managed 13 appearances and two goals as Arsenal finished ten points behind Leicester City.

Odion Ighalo (Manchester United – 2020/21)

Nigerians who almost became winners of the Premier league - Odion Ighalo
Photo by Icon sport

In January 2020, Odion Ighalo ticked off one of the items on his bucket list: to play for Manchester United.

He joined the Old Trafford side from Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua on loan.

It was not a close affair as Manchester City romped easily to the title, with the Red Devils finishing 12 points behind their city rivals.

It was not a memorable stint for Ighalo, despite the club extending his loan stint for another season, but it is something that the former Watford forward will be proud of.

He made 11 Premier League appearances for the club and scored only one goal. 

Finally

The failure of Arsenal for the second time in two years to upstage Manchester City as winners of the Premier League has generated a lot of mixed feelings.

Arsenal's Bukayo Saka may have played for England. However, he's still a Nigerian and many Nigerians share his pain at once again missing out narrowly on winning the Premier League on the final day of the season.

Another honourable mention is Ugo Ehiogu, who refused to play for Nigerian and was capped four times for England.

# Name Position Club Year finished second
1 Nwankwo Kanu Centre Forward Arsenal 1998/99, 1999/2000, 2000/01, 2002/03
2 Shola Ameobi Centre Forward Newcastle United 2002/03
3 Celestine Babayaro Left-back Chelsea 2003/04
4 John Obi Mikel Midfield Chelsea 2006/07, 2007/08, 2010/11
5 Alex Iwobi Midfield Arsenal 2015/16
6 Odion Ighalo Centre Forward Manchester United 2020/21

This article was most recently revised and updated 3 weeks ago

Chooka Izuegbuna is a Sports Journalist with 20 years of experience in print, TV and Radio. He has worked with some of the top media houses in Nigeria, including NTA Network, Channels TV, TVC, Silverbird TV and MITV. Chooka broke his sports reporting teeth with The Game Football Weekly in 2003 as a cartoonist and reporter. Chooka has a passion for football and has been a fan of Enugu Rangers (over 30 years) and Real Madrid (Since 1996).