This week, our series on Nigerian stars, who played in their numbers for foreign clubs, continue with Belgian side Gent the focus, writes ‘JOHNNY EDWARD
In January, Gent signed one of Europe’s fast-rising talent in Gift Orban and the 20-year-old has since gone on to be the most prolific Nigerian player at the club. Over the years, De Buffalos have been represented by a number of Nigerian-born footballers during their 123-year existence.
The first Nigerian player to grace the Ghelamco Arena was Eguavoen when he arrived from ACB Lagos in July 1986. Three months later, he made his debut for the club and it was a game to forget for the defender as Gent lost 1-0 to Club Brugges.
His second followed a month after in Gent’s 2-1 home win over KSC Lokeren. He went on to score his first goal for the club against VAC Beerschot in Gent 2-1 loss away three months later.
Eguaveon, the current Technical Director of the Nigerian Football Federation made 63 appearances, scoring six times. He later moved to the KV Kortrijk after five years at the club.
Five months after joining Gent from Norwegian second-division side Stabaek, Orban is already enjoying a superb breakthrough campaign, having scored 19 goals in 19 matches for the club.
Orban’s standout moment of his fledging so far is the 20-year-old scoring a record-breaking three-minute hat-trick in the second leg of Gent’s Conference League triumph over Istanbul Basaksehir in the last 16. Three days earlier, the Nigerian forward had scored four goals in a 6-2 win at Zulte Waregem, making him the first Gent player to achieve that feat in the 21st century.
His breakthrough campaign has also seen him help cement Gent’s spot in the Europa Conference League for next season, scoring five times in three play-off matches for Gent.
He is also in the running for the Ebony Shoe award and he is two goals shy of equaling Moses Simon’s goals record at the club. Simon is all time Nigerian top scorer at the club with 21 goals and Orban is two goals shy.
Gent snapped up Moses Simon on a three-year contract in 2015 after his brilliant spell at the Slovakian club AS Trencin saw him have a hand in 27 goals in 38 games.
The Nigerian became an instant hit at the club as he helped Gent secure their first league title in the history of the club that same year. Simon scored 11 goals and made four assists in 25 games for the Buffalos who won the Jupiler title that year. His second season was not as memorable as his first six months as he could only manage three goals and four assists in 41 appearances.
After 21 goals and 18 assists in 136 appearances for Gent, Simon departed for Levante, where an underwhelming campaign for the Spanish side led him to spend a season on loan at Nantes in 2019 before he made the move permanent. He is ranked as the ninth most expensive transfer out of Gent.
Samuel Kalu also joined Gent from AS Trencin and spent 18 months at the Ghelamco Arena. His first six months at the club was memorable as the Super Eagles winger enjoyed a rich vein of goalscoring form for the Buffalos. He scored six times and made nine assists in 23 games as Gent finished third. He scored a total of 10 goals in 55 appearances before leaving for French Ligue 1 club Bordeaux for a fee of €8.5m. The move made him the third most expensive outgoing transfer from Gent.
The Nigerian midfielder spent three seasons and featured 95 times for Gent before his departure, having previously turned out for Leixoes and Estoril in the Portuguese league. He departed the club in 2019 for PAOK Salonika for €3.5m.
Awoniyi spent the 2018/19 season on a season loan at Gent from Liverpool. The loan spell was his fourth from the Reds since he joined from Imperial Academy in 2015.
His arrival at the Ghelamco Arena increased the number of Nigerians at the club to four. Anderson Esiti, Samuel Kalu and Moses Simon were the other Nigerian players at the club at that time. The Nigerian forward however failed to settle in well at the club and was recalled by his parent club. Despite scoring three goals before his departure, Awoniyi failed to score a league goal just three goals in 22 appearances.
Other Nigerian players who donned the Blue and White jersey of Gent but made less than 20 appearances for the club are Peter Anosike (1), Etim Esin (1), Ibrahim Rabiu (8), Peter Olayinka (0), William Troost-Ekong (8), Blessing Anyanwu (19), Reuben Yem (0), Philip Azango (1), Rabiu Baita (0), Segun Atere (2), Omo Monday(1), Ode Thompson (2), Chinonso Emeka (1) and Adewale Oladoye (10) and Abdulrazak Ekpoki (3).