While Prince Albert II may be Monaco’s sovereign, today we’re celebrating the birthday of another “prince,” Victor Ikpeba, who turns 48 today. The Nigerian striker, who won a Ligue 1 title in 1997 playing alongside Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet and a host of other stars, may not be the most legendary name from that team, but his contributions to their triumph are fondly remembered by the club’s fans. Indeed, only Sonny Anderson scored more goals in the league that season than Ikpeba, and he was also the team’s leading scorer in the competition as they reached the semifinals of the UEFA Cup.
Spotted by Arsène Wenger
Born in Benin City, Nigeria, Victor Ikpeba came to Europe at a young age, signing for the Belgian club RFC Liège after impressing in the 1989 U-17 World Cup in Scotland with his country. Despite Nigeria exiting in the quarterfinals, his play impressed scouts from the Belgian side, and he would make his mark there, winning a Belgian cup and the Ebony Shoe as the country’s best African-born player.
His strong play eventually caught the eye of Arsène Wenger, and he joined AS Monaco in 1993, at the age of twenty. A brilliant combination of pace, versatility, and a poacher’s eye for goal, Ikpeba was the complete package for the legendary manager.
Winning the Africa Cup of Nations
A regular starter almost immediately, he played an important role for the team, opening his account with an incredible back-post header against Toulouse. His confidence and scoring numbers soon increased as well, even as his first season was interrupted by the Africa Cup of Nations.
On commence avec 𝐕𝐢𝐜𝐭𝐨𝐫 𝐈𝐊𝐏𝐄𝐁𝐀 🔴⚪️
1m74, et alors ? @V_Ikpeba s'envole 🚀 !
⚽️ 𝗙𝗜𝗥𝗦𝗧 𝗚𝗢𝗔𝗟 – 1/18 ✨ pic.twitter.com/COOJoVW10x
— AS Monaco 🇲🇨 (@AS_Monaco) October 6, 2020
After winning that competition with Nigeria, he returned to Monaco but the appointment of Jean Tigana to replace Wenger, along with the arrival of Anderson from Marseille, meant that the next two seasons were challenging for Ikpeba. It was only after winning Olympic gold with Nigeria in 1996 that he really hit his stride, helping the Principality side to their first title in a decade the following season.
A French league title
Following that league win, in which he played a starring role, he was named the African Player of the Year, which earned him the “Prince of Monaco” nickname from Nigerian sports minister Emeka Omeruah. It was a deserved title, as he scored 22 goals across all competitions that season. In the league alone, he would set a goalscoring record among Nigerian players in France, finding the net sixteen times.
He continued to shine for the club the following two seasons, finishing just behind Trezeguet in the team’s scoring charts and helping them to a Champions League semifinal in 1998.
Signing for AS Monaco, his proudest moment in football
In 1999, after six seasons at AS Monaco, he left to join Borussia Dortmund, and had spells at Real Betis, Al-Ittihad, and played again in Belgium with Charleroi before retiring in 2006.
Now living in Lagos, where he works as a football pundit, Ikpeba remembers his time at AS Monaco fondly. He recently told Nigerian outlet Punch that one of his proudest memories in football was signing his first contract with the Club… on June 12! Today is a special day indeed for the “Prince” — Happy Birthday, Victor!