The EPL is home to many of the top players in the world, attracting the best talent from every continent. So who are the 10 best players from the continent of Africa to ever grace the Premier League. By Umar Ahmed.
African nations have provided the English Premier League with a great number of quality exports since its inception, with virtually every team currently boasting at least one African player on their squad’s roster. This list features our top ten African players to have graced the English game. The continent of Africa is blessed with so much talent that some notable omissions had to be made in order to limit our list to justif if ten names. The criteria for selection are:
- Players who turned out for their indigenous national teams. (The likes of Patrick Vieira, Claude Makelele, George Boateng and Marcel Desailly were omitted from the list entirely since they played for foreign sides.)
- Players who have had major impacts on the English Premier League as a whole, regardless of their respective clubs. The list focuses on the consistent performance of individual players at a high level with League title wins acting as a bonus. Awards and honors won outside of the EPL and stature of the players were not considered factors for this list. (One of the greats, George Weah, is also excluded due to his brief loan spell at Chelsea in 2000.
Honorable Mentions: John Obi Mikel, Emmanuel Adebayor, Mark-Vivian Foe, Frederick Kanoute, George Weah, Christopher Samba, Geremi, Steven Pienaar, Alex Song, Mark Fish, Bruce Grobbelaar, Demba Ba, Joseph Yobo, Titi Camara, Stephane Sessegnon, Victor Moses, Papa Boupa Diop, Salomon Kalou, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Celestine Babayaro, Noureddine Naybet, Daniel Amokachi
“Feed the Yak and he will score”. That was a popular chant echoed by supporters of Portsmouth, Middlesbrough, Everton and Blackburn during his time at each club. Yakubu Aiyegbeni was a deadly poacher in front of the goal, famed for his strength and his trademark butterfly celebration; he is among an elite selection of players to have scored more than 100 Premier League goals, becoming only the second African to accomplish such a feat. He ravaged opposing defensive schemes for nearly a decade of Premier League football and still remains Portsmouth’s record scorer in the Premiership with 28 goals. He has also one of the few players to ever score four goals in a League game, doing so both against Middlesbrough in 2003 and Swansea City on December 3rd, 2011.
Lauren Etame Mayer was an important member of the Arsenal Invincibles side that went unbeaten for the entire ‘03-‘04 season. The ex-Cameroonian international right-back played for six years with the Gunners and then had a three-year spell at Portsmouth. Equally capable as a right-sided midfielder, Lauren was adept at both sides of the field, often combining stellar defensive work with marauding runs down the right flank. He won two Premier League titles and four FA Cups trophies during his successful time with both Arsenal and Pompey. Often an unsung hero, his longevity and consistency at the top level guarantees him a spot on the list.
8. Lucas Radebe
The Legendary Leeds United and South African centre-back captained the Elland road, appearing over 200 times for the club between 1995 and 2004. Radebe, whom Nelson Mandela once proclaimed to be his ‘hero’, was an elegant defender who was graceful on the ball yet furious in the tackle. He led Leeds to several top 4 finishes in the Premiership, which saw the Yorkshire club qualify for the Champions League, eventually reaching the semi-finals in 2001. He was a loyal player evidenced with the fact that he only ever turned out for two clubs in his whole career; Kaiser Chiefs and Leeds United. A great personality on and off the pitch, Lucas Radebe set high standards of professionalism for other African players to follow.
7. Tony Yeboah
Although he only lasted two seasons at Elland Road, the former Leeds man became an instant cult hero in the Premier League. The second Leeds player to feature on this list, Yeboah was renowned for his trademark scorchers from long range. He struck an impressive 32 goals in the 66 games his time at Leeds and became ever-present in Goal of the Season competitions which he won in ‘95-‘96; a testament to the quality of his strikes. In his second season at Elland Road, he was voted Player of the Year; becoming the Yorkshire club’s first-ever non-British Player of the Year. The Ghanaian legend had a brief but influential impact on the English game, immortalising himself into Premier League folklore.
6. Jay-Jay Okocha
So good they named him twice. Augustine Jay-Jay Okocha was a dazzling playmaker who upon joining upgraded Bolton Wanderers in 2002, upgraded the club to heights previously uncharted, with Bolton reaching the league cup final in 2004 and competing in the now defunct UEFA Cup. The former Bolton captain had it all, step-overs, skills, free kicks, long range belters and even dance celebrations to match. The mercurial Nigerian was a leader in a cosmopolitan side, always played the game with a smile on his face and was a joy to watch. The Premier League certainly misses his charisma.
5. Yaya Toure
The African Player of the Year is a true world-class specimen, capable of playing almost anywhere on the pitch, Yaya has been the dominant catalyst in Manchester City’s rise from obscurity to Premier League glory.
The present African Footballer of the Year is the total package; excellent touch, great two-feet, powerful surging runs, beautiful goals, physical power, passing ability from all ranges, leadership and so much more.
The younger Toure can switch from a defensive role to an attacking one seamlessly, with his versatility as a blessing rather than a curse compared to most other players.
Since joining Manchester City in 2010, he has led them to success in the Premier League and FA Cups where he played a major impact in each triumph. His late double against Newcastle United on 6th May 2012 proved to be the tipping point in the title race against Manchester United. Still in his prime, Gnegneri Yaya Toure can continue to blossom for the Citizens and hopefully one day move higher up this list.
He has won the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Cup, three FA Cups, two Premier Leagues, Olympic Gold and twice African Footballer of the year. Introducing: Nwankwo Kanu. ‘Papillo,’ as he is fondly called back home in Nigeria, was an exceptionally gifted attacker during his premier league hey-day. Voted the 13th greatest ever player in Arsenal’s history back in 2008, he struck impressive strike partnerships with the likes of Henry and Bergkamp at Highbury during a trophy-laden era at the club. The lanky forward also featured for both West Bromwich Albion and Portsmouth after leaving the gunners. Capable of jaw-dropping tricks, sublime assists and classy finishes, he will be forever remembered for his famed hat-trick at Stamford Bridge on 23rd October 1999.
3. Michael Essien
Michael Kojo Essien nicknamed ‘The Bison’ was unarguably the epitome of a world-class box-to-box midfielder during his early days at Chelsea. He was the perfect complement to a midfield that already boosted Claude Makelele and Frank Lampard when he joined from Olympique Lyonnais in 2005 for £24.4 million, making him the highest paid African player at that time.
The 2006 BBC African Footballer of the Year is noted for his tough tackling style, energetic bursts from deep, physical presence and wonder-strikes; he was nominated for the Ballon d’Or, African Player of the Year and several other accolades. A player capable of taking the game by the scruff of its neck, Essien has two Premier League titles, three FA Cup medals and a League Cup triumph to his name. Although still at the Bridge, his powers have waned no thanks to recurring knee injuries, but as they say, “form is temporary, class is permanent”.
2. Kolo Toure
A member of the Arsenal Invincibles during the ‘03-‘04 season, Kolo has been a consistent rock at the back throughout his reign in the Premiership for the likes of Arsenal, Manchester City and presently Liverpool. The elder Toure was originally signed as a striker by Arsenal way back in 2002 for £150,000 and then converted into a defender by Arsene Wenger, where he would form a water-tight partnership with Sol Campbell at the back. Capable of playing as a right-back, defensive midfielder or even as an emergency forward, Kolo Toure was a seemingly unspectacular but thoroughly consistent member of multiple League and FA Cup medal-winning clubs, both at North London and Manchester. A tremendous leader evidenced by the fact that he captained both Arsenal and Man City on numerous occasions; he will be expected to provide Liverpool with a winning mentality and invaluable experience.
1. Didier Drogba
Didier Drogba is undoubtedly the greatest African product to have ever graced the Premiership. Built like a tank, the ‘Drog’ dominated defenders through his tenure at Chelsea with his finishing ability standing second to none. Great with both feet and a fantastic header of the ball, Drog was also capable of powerful free kicks and outstanding link-up plays with his supporting cast. Signed by Jose Mourinho for £24 million in 2004, the big Ivorian would always come alive in the big games with Arsenal, one of his perennial conquests. His match winning abilities saw him win the league title thrice at the Bridge and twice claiming the Golden Boot in the ‘06-‘07 and ‘09-‘10 seasons. Didier is also the first African player to score 100 Premier League goals. A living legend, the UNDP Goodwill Ambassador is the clearly the right man to conclude this list.