With the Nigeria Professional Football League 2021/22 season full of excitement and anticipation, is set to kickoff, it might be difficult for us to know where we should focus our attention on.
League champions Akwa United will be looking to retain their place at the top of the pile while Kano Pillars and others look to narrow the gap in a competitive season. Just like many other years in the NPFL, lots of promising talents always emerge and hope to prove their worth for a whole host of reasons.
Battling for CAF Champions League, Confederations Cup and staying in the Nigeria top flight league, shows that there are lots of incentives for all teams – not forgetting the highly anticipated return of fans back to stadiums which will add more fuel to the fire.
In this post, we at Lodgexpress have made use of data-driven insights to identify and analyse exciting stars to watch in the 2021/22 NPFL campaign.
For easy read, we will narrow it down to five players each page for a total of twenty-plus players to watch.
1. Cletus Emotan – Abia Warriors
Emotan, last season while he was at Rivers United, was largely utilized as a central midfielder, but he is also comfortable in a defensive role, whether as the single pivot or as one half of the double pivot at the base of midfield.
He is most suited when playing in a three, as a deep-lying playmaker responsible for progressing play through the thirds, and favours adopting positions in the inside channel, providing a passing link between the central defenders and wide players.
Should opponents make any attempt to counter at a time when a full-back is out of position, Emotan’s deeper positioning means he is capable of providing cover and delaying attacks while teammates take back their positions.
He will be a joy to watch this season for Abia Warriors and will hope to reciprocate his impressive form last season for his new employers.
2. Evans Iyebi-Ogbonda – Akwa United
The 19-year-old Nigerian left back was arguably the best player for FC Ifeanyi Ubah last season in the Nigeria Professional Football League, finishing his debut season on a high with an impressive 14 assists to his name.
Since signing for Akwa United in the current transfer window, Evans has developed into a well-rounded full back who is both strong defensively and aerially, as well as being a powerful runner who offers a potent attacking threat from the left flank.
Evans Iyebi knows he will have a very special task in Kennedy Boboye’s defensive tactics and his positioning in the backline always takes into account the distance between him and the heart of the defender closest to him.
Perhaps it was the uniqueness of his positioning intelligence that boosted his interception rate last season which reached 4.48 per game and his quick feet along with the audacity to engage the ball-carrier to make an intervention after which, he turns defence into attack making him an excellent fit in the team.
3. Ezekiel Bassey – Akwa United
An all-round attacker, Akwa United new signing Ezekiel Bassey can flourish in any position upfront; be it as a supporting forward or also as a solitary striker.
A fantastic dribbler, the 25-year-old also has a strong right foot and is known to have an eye for long-range goals. Possessing a strong positional brilliance, Bassey is currently among Akwa United’s most lethal finishers and is known for his movements in opposition penalty boxes.
Also an ice-cold frontman, the Promise Keeper’s man is known to dominate in counter-attacks and link-up play due to his speed.
Although sometimes Bassey is usually deployed as a centre-forward, he is a versatile frontman who is capable of playing in several offensive positions; indeed, during last season, while playing for his Egyptian side, El Qanah SC, Bassey also demonstrated his creative capabilities in a more withdrawn, central role behind another striker, which frequently saw him operate as either a second striker or attacking midfielder.
The ex Barcelona man is also capable of playing as a winger. Being a fast, talented, creative, two-footed, and technically gifted striker, with good dribbling skills, pace, agility, acceleration, movement, and an eye for goal, Bassey’s playing style, physical build, and appearance have made him one of Lodgexpress’ players to keep an eye on next season.
4. Adewale Adeyinka – Akwa United
Despite his imposing physique and commanding stature, which make him effective at going after crosses and a commanding presence inside the box, Adeyinka is an extremely agile and athletic goalkeeper, who is renowned in particular for his outstanding reflexes, acrobatic saves and excellent shot-stopping abilities, as well as his positional brilliance, leadership, and ability to organise his backline.
Rated as one of the best goalkeepers in Africa and Nigeria due to his performances since joining current Nigeria Professional Football League champions, Akwa United, Adeyinka is also known for his speed off his line and anticipation as a shotstopper, which makes him clear the ball away from danger, as well as his ability to get to ground quickly to parry or collect the ball, attributes which also make him particularly adept at stopping spot-kicks.
As a result, he has developed a reputation as an exceptional penalty-kick saving specialist, having made an impressive record of six penalties save in his last ten between 2018 and 2021.
He was one of the brain behind Akwa United’s title winning campaign after keeping a record 17 cleansheet before being named the season’s best shotstoppers ahead of the likes of Ojo Olorunleke, Theophilus Afelokhai and Stanley Nwabali.
5. Ubong Friday – Akwa United
Akwa United’s ability to produce exciting attacking players has been well documented in recent times and Ubong Friday certainly fits right into the category.
The winger having enjoyed a stellar 2020/2021 campaign with Akwa United under Kennedy Boboye, where he clinched the league title as the teams skipper, looks set to proceed on to a bigger challenge of retaining the title and continuing in his blistering form from last term.
Ubong Friday, usually being deployed as a wide player, is able to operate on either flank. He is a perfect description of a modern-day prototypical winger.
He makes use of his ability with the ball at his feet alongside his pace to punish defenders, the combination of the two succeeding in stymieing opposition fullbacks.
Being a player who is not shy of a challenge, Ubong Friday also relies heavily on unpredictability.
Having demonstrated his considerable talents last season which saw him notch six goals and provide further five in 31 outings, as well as improving all if not most facets of his game, it is somewhat inevitable that Ubong will soon move on to a bigger club outside Nigeria in a short time.
As exciting and interesting as this is, we must take pause here and continue later tomorrow, stay tuned for Part B of NPFL 2021/2022 season players to watch according to Lodgexpress.