On Friday, the nominees for the 2021 Ballers Awards were revealed to the press in a private event in Ikeja, Lagos.
Organised by Naija Footballers, a content production brand and digital football platform founded in 2017 by entrepreneur Gbenga Salu, the Ballers Awards is an annual event which aims to honour and appreciate the exemplary achievement of Nigerian footballers in the preceding year.
Now in its fourth year, the awards seek to fill the void created by the lack of recognition of the hard work Nigerian footballers put into their craft. It has, in its three previous editions, built up a cachet in the Nigerian footballing industry, with the likes of Napoli striker Victor Osimhen, Leicester City midfield lynchpin Wilfred Ndidi, and Genk goal machine Paul Onuachu recognised for their exploits both in Europe and in the colours of the Super Eagles.
The 2021 edition will feature 16 categories in total, compared to the 12 awards handed out in 2020. The awards for ‘Goal of the Year’ and ‘Best Local Based Player’ will make returns after their conspicuous absence in the previous edition, and for the first time there will be a ‘Fans Favourite Baller’ nod.
Osimhen and Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho lead the way with four nominations apiece across various categories, Anthony Nwakaeme’s eye-catching performances in Turkey for recently-crowned Trabzonspor have earned him a nomination for the ‘Forward of the Year’ gong, while the ‘Baller of the Year – Female’ award will see Benfica’s Christy Ucheibe duke it out with four others, including four-time African Women’s Footballer of the Year Asisat Oshoala.
There is also recognition given to media practitioners in the sporting sphere for their contributions to the growth of the game in Nigeria. For the first time, this award will be split into different categories – with print media distinct from broadcast and photography.
The nominees will be put through a rigorous examination by a crack jury, with the date for the award ceremony to be confirmed in the coming weeks.
Revelation of the Year
Anayo Iwuala (Esperance, Tunisia), Calvin Bassey (Rangers, Scotland), Monday Gift (FC Robo, Nigeria), Raphael Onyedika (Midtjylland, Denmark), Abraham Marcus (Radomiak Radom, Poland)
Fans Favourite Baller
Victor Osimhen (Napoli, Italy), Asisat Oshoala (Barcelona, Spain), Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City, England), Ola Aina (Torino, Italy), Maduka Okoye (Sparta Rotterdam, the Netherlands), Joe Aribo (Rangers, Scotland), Ahmed Musa (Fatih Karagumruk, Turkey)
Goalkeeper of the Year
Maduka Okoye, Adebayo Adeleye (Hapoel Jerusalem, Israel), Francis Uzoho (Omonia Nicosia), Adewale Adeyinka (Akwa United, Nigeria)
Defender of the Year
Leon Balogun (Rangers, Scotland), William Troost Ekong (Watford, England), Zaidu Sanusi (Porto, Portugal), Olisa Ndah (Orlando Pirates, South Africa)
Midfielder of the Year
Joe Aribo, Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City, England), Frank Onyeka (Brentford, England), Innocent Bonke (Lorient, France)
Forward of the Year
Victor Osimhen, Anthony Nwakaeme (Trabzonspor, Turkey), Paul Onuachu (Genk, Belgium), Kelechi Iheanacho, Umar Sadiq (Almeria, Spain)
Baller of the Year – Male
Paul Onuachu, Joe Aribo, Victor Osimhen, Kelechi Iheanacho
Baller of the Year – Female
Rasheedat Ajibade (Atletico Madrid, Spain), Asisat Oshoala, Chiamaka Nnadozie (Paris, France), Uchenna Kanu (Tigres, Mexico), Christy Ucheibe (Benfica, Portugal)
Most Promising Baller
Afolabi Yusuf, Monday Gift, Afolabi Kehinde Timothy, Ajani Waheed, Ibrahim Bala
Coach of the Year
Kenedy Boboye (Plateau United), Diepreye Telbowei (Bayelsa United), Fatai Osho, Gernot Rohr
Humanitarian of the Year
Asisat Oshoala, William Troost Ekong, Odion Ighalo (Al-Hilal, Saudi Arabia), Ahmed Musa
Super Eagles Goal of the Year
Kelechi Iheanacho v Liberia (second goal); Paul Onuachi v Lesotho, Victor Osimhen v Lesotho, Leon Balogun v CAR
Best Local Based Player
Silas Nwankwo (Mjallby, Sweden), Olisa Ndah, Anayo Iwuala, Charles Atshimene (Leixoes, Portugal), Adeleke Adekunle
Jimmie Akinsola (Supersport), Brenda Shima, (AIT), Hindsight Podcast (YouTube), Kenny Ogunmiloro (BCOS TV)
Ikenwa Nnabuogor (Score Nigeria), Shina Oludare (Goal.com), Omoniyi Feranmi (Premium Times), Ojora Babatunde (OJB Sports)
Best Sports Photography
Ayodele Ibidapo, Victor Modo, Justina Aniefiok, Christopher Onah