Nwaneri, Iwobi, Saka: What happened to Nigeria’s Premier League wonderkids?
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Arsenal starlet Nwaneri became the youngest ever Premier League player this weekend, when he made his Gunners debut in their 3-0 thumping of Brentford.
At 15 years and 181 days, Nwaneri is comfortably the youngest player to feature in the top flight, and the latest in the long line of Nigerian wonderkids who stepped foot in the world’s greatest league.
What became of Nwaneri’s predecessors after they—like him—burst onto the scene at a young age?
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Crystal Palace’s youngest ever Prem player, Ndah made his Premier League bow for the Eagles as they were smashed 5-0 by Liverpool in November 1992.
He was just 17 years and 340 days at the time, and would go on to make a further 27 appearances in the top flight.
Now 47, the London-born striker arguably enjoyed the best years of his career with Wolverhampton Wanderers, even bouncing back to score goals in the top flight.
Injuries ultimately curtailed his progress—and prevented him from making his Super Eagles debut in 1999.
Being Jay-Jay Okocha’s nephew, and representing Arsenal—beloved in Nigeria—there was a genuine thrill among Super Eagles supporters when Iwobi made his Gunners bow in 2015.
He was still only 19 when he made his debut against Swansea City, having first joined the North Londoners when he was still at primary school.
Arsenal nearly released the player twice, but he’d eventually go on to make 100 league outings before signing for Everton.
His form under Frank Lampard in recent months has offered optimism that he can reach the heights that were once expected of him.
The Nigerian scouser made his Everton debut just shy of his 18th birthday, bursting onto the scene as a striker who appeared to have it all.
A month later—in May 2006—he scored his first Prem goal, and would add several more before the year was out.
Injuries ultimately limited his progress, although he’d remain in the top flight for the next decade, representing West Bromwich Albion and Sunderland.
Many hoped Ibe could become Nigeria’s next big thing when he made his debut for Liverpool only days after he turned 17 years and five months.
He made 41 league outings for the Reds before being sold to Bournemouth for a whopping £15 million, and never came close to repaying that transfer fee across four years on the south coast.
He’d subsequently move on to Derby County—playing just once—and is now in the Turkish second tier with Adanaspor.
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One player on this list who could still realise his potential, Shoretire made his debut for Manchester United less than three weeks after his 17th birthday and later won the club’s Young Player of the Year award for 2020-21.
Now 18, he’s made just two league outings for the Red Devils since his debut, although he may add to that number soon, with Erik ten Hag reportedly having vetoed a loan move away from Old Trafford for the wonderkid.
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The attacker made his debut for Sunderland at 17 years, three months and 25 years, playing just once in the 2016-17 season as the Black Cats tumbled out of the top tier.
He represented both the Wearsiders and Swansea City in the Championship before going on to represent Groningen and Genoa.
He’s currently back in Sweden---the land of his birth—and despite having represented the European nation at U-21 level, he remains eligible for Nigeria.
When Saka made his Arsenal debut before he was even 17 years and four months, there was much excitement among Super Eagles fans that he’d ultimately go on to represent the West African giants.
Ultimately, he opted for England, and has gone on to become the most successful player on this list, making over a century of league outings for the Gunners.
He’s also set to represent the Three Lions—and Nigeria—at the World Cup later this year.