Chukwueze's Europa title the highlight of Nigeria's season

Burley: Solskjaer is a serial loser & out of his depth (1:17)

Craig Burley doesn't mince his words after Manchester United's Europa League final defeat to Villarreal. (1:17)

Samuel Chukwueze's Villareal produced one of the fairy tale upsets in European football history when they bunkered down for 120 minutes before despatching three-time continental champions Manchester United to claim the UEFA Europa League trophy.

Hamstrung by injury, Chukwueze sat out the final in Gdansk, Poland, where he watched from the stands as his Villarreal teammates mounted a heroic defensive effort to keep out United, then put away their penalty kicks with machine-style efficiency in the shootout to ]emerge champions.

The win meant that Chukwueze not only claimed the first club title of his European career but also added to a bumper year for Nigerians, who have mopped up trophies in Europe this season. The title also comes with the additional benefit that the 22-year-old will compete among some of the best players in the world in next season's UEFA Champions League.

Chukwueze's triumph was the cherry on a morale-boosting season for Nigerian players in Europe.

The duo of Leon Balogun and Joe Aribo commenced the haul by winning the Scottish Premiership title with Rangers, and they were joined in the trophy grab by Leicester City's Kelechi Iheanacho and Wilfred Ndidi, who won the FA Cup in England after defeating favorites Chelsea 1-0.

In Belgium, David Okereke's Club Brugge edged Paul Onuachu's Racing Genk to claim the Jupiler League title after a battle that went down to the wire. Onuachu's Genk were fourth in the regular season before finishing second to Brugge in the Championship playoff, helped by the Nigerian's phenomenal goalscoring.

There were also those who claimed titles away from the top-tier competitions.

Peter Olayinka, who only recently earned a recall to the Super Eagles, claimed another Czech Republic league title with Slavia Prague and will be confident of getting through the qualifiers to return to the UEFA Champions League group stage.

Rabiu Ibrahim and Ezekiel Henty were league champions with Slovan Bratislava in Slovakia, while Believe Atiemwen won the Croatian Cup with Dinamo Zagreb.

For some of those who did not win, there was the satisfaction of securing qualification to Europe or promotion to the top league.

The happiest of those would no doubt be Super Eagles assistant captain William Troost-Ekong, whose decision to drop down from Udinese in Italy's Serie A to Watford in the English League Championship proved to be inspired.

The Hornets made an immediate return to the Premier League, with the defender leading a resolute regard action and describing the achievement as better than playing in the Olympic Games or World Cup.


Numbers alone might not tell the full story of Chukwueze's season, as five goals and eight assists from 40 games are not rivictory p-roaring statistics. But the youngster was a regular facilitator of danger for Villareal, earning and keeping his starting spot in the first team. Injury was the only reason his name did not show up as one of the first in the starting line-up.

And he finished a remarkable season with a Europa League medal around his neck despite missing the final after injury in the semifinal against Arsenal.

That trophy was the biggest won by a Nigerian this season, and Chukwueze more than earned his place on the podium.


Iheanacho: Everywhere I look Nigerians are scoring!

Kelechi Iheanacho is amused by the number of Nigerian strikers currently in goal scoring form across Europe.

In England, FA Cup is no small accomplishment and not many Nigerians have had the honor. Daniel Amokachi, Celestine Babayaro, Nwankwo Kanu, John Utaka, Mikel Obi and Yakubu made up the Mount Rushmore of Nigerians in the FA Cup before Leicester won the trophy for the first time in the club's history.

Iheanacho and Ndidi now joined that rarefied list, doing so with outstanding performances as integral parts of their improbable team.

The win was even more satisfying for Iheanacho, who, really, should feature in the comeback column. Written off by just about everyone at the beginning of the season, Iheanacho stormed back in the second half of the campaign with goals and assists as an all-round confidently visionary player who helped to keep Leicester in the hunt for honours as their limited squad was cut down by injuries.

Few can argue that Seniorman Kelz is the biggest winner of the season.

If there is any player who can go toe to toe with Iheanacho on this column, and also to rival him in the comeback column, it has to be Onuachu.

Dismissed after a torrid time with Nigeria, the forward erupted with 33 league goals from 38 games for Club Brugge and scooping end-of-season awards.

And while he again started his second coming to the Super Eagles with a dry spell, his recall saw him hit form and there is no doubt his place at national level is all but secure barring a catastrophic loss of form.

Despite missing the league title by a whisker, Onuachu was pleased with the consolation of the Belgian Cup.

The Comeback Kid

At the start of the season, Victor Osimhen was the name on all Nigerian lips after a record-breaking transfer to Napoli from Lille.

Such was the hype surrounding the transfer and the expectations of him that there where even whispers of comparing him with, wait for it, Diego Maradona.

Whether it was the weight of those expectations, or something else, but Osimhen started slowly in Naples, scoring a measly two goals in his first six games. And then a shoulder injury -- sustained while on international duty with Nigeria -- kept him out for nearly two months; that translated to seven games missed.

And just when he was making his way back, a trip to Nigeria resulted in a positive test for COVID-19 and another four games missed.

He failed to score in five games when he returned to action, and then he sustained a head injury that cost him another two games.

All of this meant that Osimhen had just two goals and one assist tally from the opening 24 league games of the Serie A season.

He showed his quality by rattling off eight goals in the last 14 games of the campaign, but Napoli missed a place in the Champions League on the very last day of the season.

Breakout Stars

Maduka Okoye was expected to be a stop gap when he made his debut for Nigeria, but Francis Uzoho got injured and the temporary fix turned into a permanent solution; all down to Okoye's performance. He was also voted Goalkeeper of the Season in the Netherlands.

Zaidu Sanusi was equally just as unknown a quantity, even when he joined Porto, but a remarkable run in the UEFA Champions League, including THAT goal and a handbags with Cristiano Ronaldo put him firmly in the spotlight; not to mention his peerless performances for Nigeria.

Few had heard of Lorient forward Terem Moffi at the beginning of the season, but he scored in six consecutive games and it was time to take notice. By the end of the Ligue 1 season in France, he had scored 14 goals and earned himself a call up to the Super Eagles.

If Moffi was "unknown", Abraham Marcus can perhaps claim the title as Nigeria's biggest breakout star of the season. Playing for Feirense in the Portuguese second division, the young forward from Port Harcourt earned himself plaudits with 11 goals, six MVP awards and one Player of the Month award.

The Unfortunate

Kenneth Omeruo must be wondering what is going on. The defender was relegated from La Liga with Leganes at the end of the 2019-20 season, and he missed almost half of the 2020-21 campaign for various reasons as they sought an immediate return to the Spanish top flight. The latest of his absences came at the business end of the season, with the playoffs looming.

For Moses Simon, it is just as bad. The forward has shone as the star of Nantes in France, but his side has been poor and now goes into a playoff to ensure survival in Ligue 1.

Alex Iwobi's campaign can only be described as a yo-yo season. The Nigeria midfielder missed the early parts of the season with illness before recovering to insert himself into Everton 's starting line up only to gradually fade again; he did not feature in five of the Everton's final 10 games of the campaign.

Ahmed Musa also did not enjoy the best of seasons. The Nigeria captain was without a club for nearly six months before returning home to join Kano Pillars. A move to Newcastle United fell through due to finance problems, but he holds expectations of returning to Europe when the new season kicks off.