The Goal Nigeria Player of the Year award, which launched in 2012, has assumed pride of place in the Nigerian footballing circle.
Born of a desire to celebrate excellence and achievement, it recognises the nation’s most influential and successful footballer in the preceding year, as fans cast their votes and make their voices heard.
The winner of the 2015 award will be only the third ever to have the honour, and for the first time since it was launched, there is certain to be a new winner, as none of the two previous winners have been nominated in the year under review.
John Obi Mikel
2012 was a landmark year for Super Eagles lynchpin John Obi Mikel, the award’s inaugural winner, as he joined a very exclusive club of Nigerian greats. The Chelsea man became only the third Nigerian – after Kanu Nwankwo and Finidi George – to win the UEFA Champions League, starring as the Blues snatched an improbable victory on a magical night in Munich.
The decision of club legend Roberto Di Matteo to place his trust in Mikel within a disciplined team shape was repaid in massive rearguard actions against Barcelona in the semifinal and Bayern Munich in the final. No one was more deserving for the award of Goal Nigeria Player of the Year.
John Obi Mikel
Having claimed the inaugural award, Mikel seemed to go from strength to strength. Whereas, his memorable club exploits were rewarded the year before, in 2013 it was all about his performances on the international stage.
First came the Africa Cup of Nations, as the Super Eagles ended a 19-year wait for supremacy on the continent, beating Burkina Faso in the final in Johannesburg. Mikel was imperious in midfield, and also starred at the Fifa Confederations Cup.
By the end of the year, Nigeria secured a ticket to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, capping a great year for Mikel, who was an unused sub in Chelsea’s victorious Europa League final.
Enyeama’s excellence in 2014 encompassed both club and international football. Having come within minutes of puncturing the long-standing Ligue 1 clean sheet record, his heroics earned him the Marc-Vivien Foe award for best African player in the French top-flight, and he placed second in the Ligue 1 Goalkeeper of the Season stakes.
At the World Cup, Enyeama similarly excelled, keeping two clean sheets in four games, and was undoubtedly Nigeria’s best player. Whatever misgivings anyone might have had about his importance to the national team were dispelled as Nigeria dropped four points in his absence, thereby failing to qualify for the 2015 Afcon.
In all, it was a standout year for Nigeria’s greatest-ever goalkeeper.