Onuachu pips Iheanacho to top Nigeria's European season rankings

Gerrard: Rangers title isn't me making up for Liverpool lows (0:58)

Steven Gerrard explains why he won't compare his managerial success to his playing career at Liverpool. (0:58)

May marked the end of a remarkable season in Europe, and Nigeria's players made the most of their chances after the chaos of the previous, COVID-interrupted season.

From goalkeepers to midfielders and all the way up to forwards, Super Eagles players were making plenty of noise in Europe, letting their game speak for them and putting them in the best possible shape to give head coach Gernot Rohr more than a little headache when he considers his selection choices.

Our final player rankings for the season looks at the totality of the campaign, and which players, over the course of the period under review stood head and shoulders above all others.

1. Paul Onuachu, Genk/BEL

There can be no question about who Nigeria's top player of the 2020/2021 season is. After a modest 2019/2020 season where he only managed 11 goals in total for both club and country, the beanpole striker caught fire this term.

Onuachu popped out for a total of 37 goals across all competitions for club and country, including a haul of 33 goals from 38 league appearances to make him Africa's top scorer in Europe's top 10 leagues.

That also made him the first African to hit the 30-goal mark in the 118 year history of the Belgian top flight.

He was deservedly named Belgian Professional Footballer of the Year to go with the Jupiler League's Golden Shoe.

As good as those club goals were, it was his international breakout that proved most pleasing for Nigeria fans. Since scoring on his debut in a friendly against Egypt in 2019, Onuachu found it tough to buy himself a goal in Nigeria colours.

That drought saw him overlooked somewhat by Gernot Rohr until his club form helped him force his way back in. And when it rained, it poured. Onuachu scored two decisive goals in two games to bring himself right back into the Super Eagles conversation just when he looked dead and buried.

2. Kelechi Iheanacho, Leicester/ENG

Half a season is all it took for 'Seniorman Kelz' to finally explode and show exactly what Nigeria fans knew he was capable of.

Frozen out for the first half of the season, it was not until late 2020 that Iheanacho finally got his chance in the Premier League. Prior to that, his only appearances had been in the Cup. But injuries in the Leicester squad saw him rotated in and Iheanacho snatched the opportunity.

But it was at the turn of the year that he really came into his own, scoring goal after goal with near unerring regularity, as main man Jamie Vardy faltered.

Such was his form in 2021 that in March, he was voted Premier League Player of the Month after a run of five goals in six games.

Iheanacho finished the season with 19 goals and 7 assists from 39 appearances in all competitions, and one off those strikes -- against Crystal Palace -- ended up as the Foxes' Goal of the Season.

3. Simy Nwankwo, Crotone/ITA

Sadness and joy can hardly be better reflected than in Simeon Nwankwo's 2020/2021 story.

To score 20 goals in Serie A is tough enough. To do so playing for the team that finished second from bottom is remarkably incredible. But Simy Nwankwo managed it.

For perspective, the player in the bottom six with the next closest tally in goals is Torino's Andrea Belotti with 13 goals.

Although his team were relegated, it is hard to see Simy going down with them again next season.

4. Wilfred Ndidi, Leicester City/ENG

If there is one player who was a near constant fixture in this season's rankings, it is Wilfred Ndidi. That is the measure of his consistency, when he was fit and available.

Unarguably Nigeria's best active midfielder, the Foxes man provided the fulcrum for Leicester's charge up the table, and their eventual triumph in the FA Cup, dominating in the win over a Chelsea complete with N'Golo Kante.

It was also against Chelsea that he scored his only goal of the season, a left-footed effort that sailed in to open the scoring and give Leicester the win.

5. William Troost-Ekong, Watford/ENG

There were not just a few people who questioned William Troost-Ekong's decision to leave Udinese in the Italian Serie A to drop down a division and play in the English Championship.

But the Super Eagles assistant captain was vindicated in the end, as Watford finished strongly to secure automatic promotion to the Premier League.

Troost-Ekong was a constant fixture in the side, his 32 appearances counted as the second highest among the club's defenders. Only Kiko Femenia, with 37, had more.

He was just as consistent with Nigeria, playing amongst a rotating cast of partners in central defence as injuries, suspensions, and tactical tweaks forced players to miss out.

6. Samuel Chukwueze, Villareal/SPA

He may not have played in the UEFA Europa League Final against Manchester United, but Samuel Chukwueze was on hand to celebrate and show off his winner's medal on the field. And deservedly so.

The 22-year-old was an important component of Villareal's run to the Final and barring an injury in the semifinal against Arsenal, would have started that Final.

Despite mid-season surgery, Samu came storming back to contribute to the Yellow Submarine's run up to the apex of Europe's second tier competition, and was just as decisive with Nigeria, scoring and assisting as the Super Eagles cantered to African Nations Cup qualifying with two games to spare.

7. Zaidu Sanusi, Porto/POR

Zaidu Sanusi has emerged as one of the gems of the season for Nigeria. Few knew about him when he moved from Santa Clara to Porto at the beginning of the season, but a series of outstanding performances later, and he may not be long with the Portuguese giants.

Sanusi was a key fixture with Porto as they made a deep run in the UEFA Champions League, with the highlight of his season being his opening goal and man of the match performance in Porto's 2-0 win at Olympic Marseille.

But for that goal, his personal battle with Cristiano Robaldo in Porto's two-legged defeat by Juventus would count just as strongly.

8. Maduka Okoye, Spart Rotterdam/HOL

What a breakout season this has been for Maduka Okoye. The 21-year-old joined Sparta Rotterdam at the top of the season, and immediately established himself as the first choice goalkeeper, going on to make 29 appearances and keeping 12 clean sheets.

More impressive than the shutouts were some of the saves he pulled off, even in games where his team conceded. The highlight would have to be the five he pulled off against PSV Eindhoven, including a penalty kick, although there was little he could do about the rebound.

He was still rated Sparta's player of the game and his good form helped the club finish eighth in the Eredivisie.

9. Joe Aribo, Rangers/SCO

Joseph Aribo, along with team mate Leon Balogun, were among the Nigerian players to win league titles this term.

Aribo was an influential part of that run to a remarkable record-breaking league title win with the Gers.

His seven goals from 31 games were joint highest with Ianis Hagi among the club's midfielders, although the Nigerian played two games less.

10. Victor Osimhen, Napoli/ITA

At the beginning of the season, Victor Osimhen would have been expected to finish at the top or near it on this list.

But a topsy-turvy season, featuring injuries and a bout of COVID after a controversial trip home, has seen him barely feature. Only an impressive late burst at the business end of the season spared his blushes.

Osimhen struggled to get his engines running at the beginning of the campaign after joining from Lille. But once settled in after his troubles in 2021, the forward exploded for 8 goals and two assists in the second half off the season to finish 10 and three for the season.

He added two goals and four assists for the Super Eagles to keep himself firmly rooted as Nigeria's leading forward.