Stars to watch in the Nigeria League, 2015

Christian Obiozor now plays for Kano Pillars
By Fisayo Dairo

The commencement of the 2014/2015 Nigeria Professional Football League is upon us. Yeah, starting from the weekend of 7th March (Ceteris Paribus), the best twenty teams in the nation will lock horns with one another in what is expected to be a battle of known foes and the relatively unknown.

This piece would focus on the gladiators, yes the real gladiators that make us leave our homes and offices for the stadiums. The PLAYERS!

It is common knowledge that the league was robbed of some of the stars that lit it up last term during the close season. Players like Emem Eduok, Peter Ebimobowei, Osaguona Ighodaro and Gbolahan Salami (who only recently returned to Warri Wolves) were the talking points last season and got rewarded with sumptuous deals abroad.

The questions then are: Are there more stars in the league to watch? Is there any player that is worth my time, "N200 (about $1) and transportation???”

I believe, yes! And to help you in wherever location you may find yourself during the season, here is a selection of TEN (10) players that will make your viewing experience worth the while.

1. Christian Obiozor (Kano Pillars)

Christian is unarguably the in-form player going to the new season. His integration into the Kano Pillars squad since joining from Enugu Rangers in December has been impeccable. His return of 5 goals in six competitive games in 2015 (5 Super 4-Invitational games and 1 Champions League qualifier) can only be bettered by the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Good in the air, can shoot comfortably with both feet and is good on the ball too, this lanky striker is certainly one to watch and his ability to co-exist with a fellow striker - as seen in Rangers last term - will give defenders sleepless nights and football fans enjoyable moments.

Mfon Udoh
2. Mfon Udoh (Enyimba)

Mfon needs no introduction to any league follower. The well proclaimed league record goal scorer found the back of the net 23 times in the league last term.
He would also go on to deservedly win the Player of the Season gong at the League Bloggers' Award in December. Mfon joins Jude Aneke as one of the few top scorers in the league to stay back the season after, even though he would have loved to leave to Al Ahly Nationale in Egypt.
Though I cannot precisely say how long this romance will last, we will enjoy it, regardless.
If class is indeed permanent, then all suggestions of him not living up to last season's standards can be laid aside as we catch a glimpse of this league superstar once the season starts.

3. Oghenekaro Etebo (Warri Wolves)
Oghenekaro Etebo

Etebo is a truly gifted attacker that we can be proud of having in the league. An excellent playmaker and dead ball specialist with a knack for goals. We were unable to see much of him last season but was one of the top performers in 2013, hitting double figures and playing a pivotal role in Wolves' run to the 2013 Federation Cup final.
This season, his relevance to the Olympic Team has made it more certain for us to have him fully concentrated to domestic football and his services will not only be enjoyed by “Waffarians” alone but also every league follower.

4. Christian Pyagbara (Dolphins)

Christian Pyagbara
If there is anyone closer to filling the void created by the exit of one of the stories for last season - Emem Eduok, it has to be the Rivers State born Pyagbara. Dolphins pulled a surprise coup with the addition of this Flying Eagles star. The upcoming season will only be his 3rd in the Glo Premier League but he is already creating an image for defenders to be wary of.
He scored 14 league goals last term in the colours of Sharks last term and his move across town to Dolphins will definitely avail him more opportunity to prove to doubters that he is here over the long haul.
The highlight of his season last year was against Sunshine Stars in Port Harcourt when he scored all four goals in the game.

5. Bobby Clement (Enugu Rangers)

Bobby is relatively new in the business as he is one of the revelations of last season. He made his breakthrough in the second half of last season when he scored six goals for Rangers' oriental rivals, Heartland FC having made his first start in Week 21.
For a young striker, Clement's tenacity is unbelievable as is his composure in front of goal. He can also count himself lucky as he is set to continue his development under Coach Kelechi Emeteole who has "carried him along" to Enugu Rangers. Having lost the duo of Osaguona Ighodaro and Christian Obiozor in the off season, fans of the Flying Antelopes can look up to Bobby Clement for goals in his first full season in the league and trust me, he will not disappoint.

6. Tamen Medrano (Sunshine Stars)
Tamen Medrano

This pint-sized Cameroonian is a joy to watch any day, any time not only in Akure but anywhere across the country. I was able to watch him in three away games last term and his acceptability in all the league venues is fascinating. Nigerians love good football and this former Tiko United star is central to Sunshine Stars' free flowing brand of football.
This will be his 5th full season in Sunshine Stars, nay the league which means he is vastly experienced enough to lead the team in its ambitions. One things has not changed since I first had a thorough look at him against Al Ahly in 2011: His height and finesse. He's as tall as Sergio Aguero and as enjoyable as Luka Modric.
He has also been named Best foreigner in the Nigerian League twice by the League Bloggers Awards, in 2012 and 2014.
Be sure to check him out.

7. Usman Mohammed (FC Taraba)

Usman is a central midfielder who blossomed in the colours of FC Taraba last season. His consistent contributions combined with the likes of Olabisi Samuel, Olusola Ajala and the defensive duo of Obinna Nwokolo and Emmanuel Njoku were crucial in keeping Taraba up.
Usman's control of his team's midfield with relative ease no matter the nature of the pitch is superb while his ball retention skills and passing accuracy is top notch to say the least.
Coach Tony Ogharanduku has to be grateful if he's able to keep this lad for another season because he is an embodiment of character and leadership.
And when next you see Enyimba's Bobby Sokari, ask him why his playing time with the Olympic Team has been limited. If he doesn't mention Usman Mohammed in his defense, Abeg! Don't believe him.

8. Samson Gbadebo (Lobi Stars)
In his debut season in the Premier League last term, Gbadebo was one of the few shining lights with troubled Nembe City.
It was no surprise when Lobi Stars came calling during the mid-season break and against all odds, he established himself as not only a regular in the team but a favourite among Katsina-Ala fans. He racked up a couple of man of the match awards in the team's home games and can only grow to a greater extent under new coach Justin Tenger.
At a time when the league is desperately craving for young centre backs, Gbadebo is gradually working his way up as one to dominate the league with his physical presence and intelligence.

9. Junior Gata (Kwara United)

The Harmony Warriors are back in the elite division after what I termed an unfortunate relegation in 2013. I am thrilled by the prospect of having the effervescent fans of United taking over the social media and most importantly the Kwara State Stadium in Ilorin once again.
One of the stars that will surely dazzle is Junior Gata, a rising youngster who has already been dubbed the new Ronaldo. Gata surely has enough room to operate as a toddler with his pace and trickery down the flanks. The season seems to have started quite early for Ilorin fans and they have seen a little bit of what Gata will offer during the NNL Super Four decided between February 23 and 25.

10. Emmanuel Iwu (Heartland)

Emmanuel is one of the award winners at the last League Bloggers Award in Lagos. He is a young, agile and athletic goalkeeper who is only into his second full season in the league. The Taiye Academy (remember Kelechi Iheanacho) product who will be remembered in Aba for keeping a clean sheet against Enyimba made up to ten appearances for the Naze Millionaires last term despite the stiff competition for places.
In the new season, with Chinedu Udeh off to Abia Warriors, Iwu will most definitely enjoy more playing time if he stays fit as he competes with an elder statesman Ebele Obi (Mikel's elder brother) for the team's number one slot.

Many more stars are here, many more stars will be birthed but do not wait to be told the story like last season. Do not wait till they dazzle in the green and white colours of our national teams. Be part of those that saw them first and I assure you that you will get full value for your money.

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