Taiwo Awoniyi is currently taking the Bundesliga by storm with Union Berlin, continuing a long trend of gifted Nigerian players to make waves in Germany’s top flight.
bundesliga.com shines the spotlight on 10 of the best Super Eagles stars to have laced their boots in the Bundesliga…
Club: Eintracht Frankfurt
Position: Attacking midfield
The first Nigerian to set foot in the Bundesliga was also without doubt one of the finest players the country has ever produced.
Okocha was an unknown quantity when he moved to Germany in 1990 but the Nigerian's magical tricks soon stunned both fans and opponents alike. He started out at Borussia Neunkirchen before joining Eintracht Frankfurt in 1992, and he went on to score one of the best goals in Bundesliga history while with the Eagles.
Up against Karlsruhe in August 1993, the attacking midfielder received the ball on a breakaway and proceeded to toy with none other than legendary goalkeeper Oliver Kahn. The Nigerian maestro turned the current Bayern CEO inside and out and back again, using a series of feints that bamboozled a couple of defenders too. That breathtaking effort was voted Germany's goal of the year for 1993, and it was one of 18 Okocha got - as well as 13 assists - in 90 appearances for Eintracht.
The former Bolton and Paris Saint-Germain player, who left Frankfurt for Fenerbahce in 1996, won both the Africa Cup of Nations and Olympic gold during his career.
Watch: Okocha's wondergoal against Kahn
Lagos-born Akpoborie was already in Germany by the time Okocha rocked up, but he was plying his trade in the lower leagues at the time, with spells at Saarbrücken, Carl Zeiss Jena and Stuttgarter Kickers, among others.
Yet nine goals in 18 Bundesliga 2 appearances for Waldhof Mannheim in the first half of the 1995/96 season caught the eye of top-flight side Hansa Rostock, who signed him in January 1996.
The 12-time Nigeria international recorded six goals and two assists in his first 16 league games for Hansa – including the opener in a 3-1 win away to Okocha’s Frankfurt in April 1996 – to help them to a sixth-placed finish that season. Akpoborie, a powerful, hard-running centre forward, followed that up with 15 goals and five assists across 31 Bundesliga games the following campaign, which earned him a transfer to Stuttgart in summer 1997.
The goals continued to flow, with 21 in 58 league appearances over two years for VfB, and 19 in 39 games across two subsequent seasons for Wolfsburg. He wound his career down with a final season in Bundesliga 2 with Saarbrücken, but to this day he remains Nigeria’s highest scorer and record appearance maker in the Bundesliga with 60 goals in 144 outings.
Having enjoyed their first taste of a prolific Nigerian frontman, Hansa reacted to Akpoborie’s departure by signing Agali a year later. Just 20 at the time, the Okpanam native hit six goals and four assists in 22 top-flight outings in his debut season.
With a powerful 6’4” frame, he was the ideal target man, holding up the ball well to bring teammates into play. Eleven more goals followed over 44 appearances in the next two seasons, plus a further two on his debut for Nigeria in a 3-0 World Cup qualifying victory over Sudan in January 2001.
All of which prompted Schalke to swoop for his services that summer. Fourteen goals in 54 Bundesliga games was Agali’s haul over the next three seasons, at which point he departed for Nice in France in summer 2004, having helped Nigeria earn a bronze medal at the Africa Cup of Nations earlier that year.
After Akpoborie, he is the second-highest Nigerian appearance maker in the Bundesliga with 143, and second-highest scorer in 32.
Another of the biggest names ever in Nigerian football, Oliseh made his mark in Germany too over a number of years. The holding midfielder arrived in Cologne as a fresh-faced 21-year-old in 1995, featuring 24 times to help the Billy Goats finish 12th in his debut season.
And after winning gold at the 1996 Olympic Games, in a team alongside Okocha, he cemented his place in the Cologne side, chipping in four goals and as many assists from 30 appearances.
His displays attracted coveting glances from big European clubs, but after three years away at Ajax and Juventus, Oliseh returned to Germany with Dortmund in 2000.
The 6’0” midfielder had four years in Black-and-Yellow in total, although the last of those was spent on loan at Bochum.
When: July 2009 – July 2010
Martins burst onto the scene as a teenager with Inter Milan in 2002/03, his explosive pace, muscular physique and clinical finishing making him one of the hottest prospects in the game at the time.
Following a spell in England with Newcastle United, he arrived in Wolfsburg in summer 2009, brought in to add competition for places for Edin Dzeko and Grafite, who had just fired the Wolves to the Bundesliga title a few weeks previously.
“He’s good enough that he can come into the team at any moment,” said freshly installed Wolfsburg coach Armin Veh at the time.
Martins proved him right, scoring on his debut off the bench to seal a 3-1 victory in Cologne. The Lagos native found the target the following week too in a 4-2 defeat by Hamburg, and by the end of October 2009 he had five goals from his first nine league appearances.
He struggled with injury after that however, and, finding it difficult to regain his rhythm, only scored once more all season, before departing for Rubin Kazan in Russia in summer 2010. As short-lived as his time in Germany was, Martins is fondly remembered at the Volkswagen Arena - not least for his somersault celebrations - and as one of the most naturally gifted players to have been on the club’s books.
Still just 31, Ujah has spent the best part of the last decade in Germany. After impressing at Norwegian club Lilleström, Mainz won the race for his signature in 2011. A hard-working centre forward, Ujah excels at some of the more unglamorous aspects of the game: holding the ball up, pressing defenders and making runs to open space.
He's handy in front of goal as well though, as evinced by the number of Bundesliga clubs that have signed him. Following two goals in 12 games for Mainz in his debut season, the Ugbokolo native began to show his true colours in 2014/15, hitting 10 goals in 32 appearances for Cologne, and then 11 in 32 the following year for Bremen.
By then Ujah was already a full Nigeria international, having earned his first cap in 2013, although he hasn’t been involved since making the last of seven appearances in a friendly against Niger in September 2015.
Following a two-year spell in China, he returned to the Bundesliga with Mainz in 2018, before switching to Union Berlin a year later. Although not a first-choice forward – largely due to Awoniyi’s emergence, he scored three times in 24 games in 2019/20, and the third-highest scoring Nigerian in Bundesliga history overall with 30.
There must be something in the water in Wolfsburg, where Osimhen followed in the footsteps of Akpoburi and Martins to sign for the Wolves in 2017.
Just 18 at the time, the teenager initially struggled to adapt to his new surroundings and the stark contrast to his homeland.
“When I arrived at Wolfsburg, everything was different compared to what I was used to,” he told Sport1. “The food, the climate, the language, the way people treated me. I thought, ‘will I get through this?’ But if I had stayed in Nigeria, I wouldn’t have been given a chance like the one they gave me in Germany. It was my first time in Europe.”
Osimhen was unable to hit the target in 14 Bundesliga appearances for the Wolves over the course of two seasons – the impressive form of Wout Weghorst not doing him any favours in that regard – but his time in Germany without doubt laid the foundations for the striker to adapt to the rigours of elite-level football.
Born in Berlin to a Yoruba father, Balogun got his first taste of Bundesliga football with Hannover in April 2009. He had subsequent spells at Bremen, Düsseldorf and Darmstadt, and earned his maiden cap for Nigeria in a friendly against Mexico in March 2014.
It was only really at Mainz were the elegant centre-back truly established himself as a top-flight defender though, making 52 appearances across three seasons between 2015 and 2018. Now 33, Balogun has 43 caps for the Super Eagles.
Clubs: Kaiserslautern, Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Mönchengladbach
Position: Defensive midfield
When: 1995-2000 (Kaiserslautern), 2000-03 (Leverkusen), 2003-04 (Gladbach)
Ojigwe may be one of the more unheralded players on this list, but he is nevertheless more than worthy of his place on it.
Born in Aba, he moved to Germany as a teenager and signed for Kaiserslautern in 1995. It took him some time to adapt to life in the German game, but made his Bundesliga debut in 1997/98 against 1860 Munich – the first of 42 top-flight appearances all told.
A terrier-like battler always snapping at the heels of the opposition, Ojigwe transferred to Leverkusen in summer 2000 and was part of the squad that earned three runners-up medals that season after losing the DFB and UEFA Champions League finals, as well as finishing second in the league.
Ojigwe earned seven international caps for the Super Eagles and helped the side finish third at the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations. He eventually retired from the game in 2007 at the age of 31.
Clubs: Mainz, Union Berlin
When: 2019-20 (Mainz), 2020-present (Union)
After joining Liverpool at just 17 in 2015, Awoniyi was sent out on loan to seven different clubs, including Mainz and Union Berlin, before making his move to the latter a permanent one in summer 2021.
If the striker had always hinted at his finishing ability, he unquestionably confirmed it in the 2021/22 season, becoming the club’s all-time top scorer in the Bundesliga over the course of the campaign (14 overall) and helping the side climb as high as fourth in the table.
“We love doing what he [head coach Urs Fischer] is doing, and that was what integrated me into the team quite early,” Awoniyi told bundesliga.com.
Watch: The rise of Taiwo Awoniyi
“I'll also give kudos to my Nigerian big brother, Anthony Ujah, because he helped me a lot in getting into the team, he told me stuff [about] what the coach expected and everything. I think those are part of the things that helped me to get going in the team."
Not only is Awoniyi the main man for Union, especially following the departure of Max Kruse, he now also leads the charge for Nigeria and was a starting member of the team that reached the last 16 of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations. Still just 24, there are plenty more chapters for him to pen in his burgeoning career yet.
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