It wasn’t so long ago that it was relatively rare for an African player to find themselves at Europe’s elite football clubs. It was predominantly at World Cups taking place every four years that watching eyes could marvel at the silky skills of African players.
There were stand out exceptions to this though, George Weah famously won the Ballon d’Or in 1995 whilst lighting up Serie A, playing up front for AC Milan.
Nowadays though, the European leagues are fortunate enough to be the end destination for a whole host of African talent. Not only are these players making stand out cases to be the best players in their respected teams, but also to be the best players in their entire leagues.
Take the Premier League in England for example, the world’s most popular and most watched league, where two of the last three years PFA Player of the Year Award has gone to African players. Here, then, are concise insights on five players who are tearing it up at the top.
Andre Onana – Ajax
In fairly recent history it was mostly taken as gospel that a goalkeeper at one of the giants of European football had to be a veteran of the position. Think of Edwin Van der Sar turning up at Manchester United to see out the end of his career, or Gianluigi Buffon retaining his crown at Juventus well into his late thirties. It’s a trend that in the modern era of football is thankfully being bucked, allowing young, gifted goalies to make their mark between the sticks.
One player who is seizing this opportunity with both hands is twenty-three-year-old Cameroonian international, Andre Onana who plays for Ajax. His competent presence and agile shot-stopping ability helped drive the young Ajax team to the semi-finals of the 2019 Champions League.
The team were unable to repeat their feats in this year’s competition, though, and went out in the group stage to be parachuted into the Europa League, But with Onana’s capable hands, they are certain to be one of the favorites to go all the way and grab the trophy.
Kaliouda Koulibaly – Napoli
Twenty-eight-year-old towering center-back, Kaliouda Koulibaly has been a commanding force at Serie A giants Napoli since 2014. The Senegalese international was born in France, but chose to represent the nation of his parents and helped the side get to the final of the 2019 African Cup of Nations.
He is a player who has garnered attention from his time in Italy, due to his incredible reading of the game and the ability to always seem to be in the right place at the right time to extinguish any danger. With Napoli going through such a tough season this year, both on and off the pitch, Koulibaly is touted as wanting out of Italy, and the two main targets appear to be Paris Saint Germain and Manchester United. Whichever destination he eventually ends up in, they will have attained a real gem of a defensive footballer.
Wilfred Ndidi – Leicester City
What a season Nigerian international Wilfred Ndidi is having. In fact, Ndidi and his powerhouse tackling and exceptional skill at intercepting opponents passes have helped move Leicester into the top four, a position that barely anyone would have predicted before the season.
This fantastic form has resulted in the team having consistently short odds on betting sites. The way that he mops up any danger and breaks down opponents’ play can’t help but draw comparisons to fellow Nigerian, John Obi Mikel. Fingers crossed that he has half the career of the former Chelsea great.
Unfortunately, Ndidi has just recently been sidelined and is expected to be out for a few weeks, and Leicester will be doing everything they can to get him off the treatment table and have him back marshaling the side.
The twenty-three-year old’s excellent performances in the league have interested the likes of Arsenal, who are rumored to be thinking of splashing the cash to bring the steely twenty-three-year-old to North London.
Sadio Mane/Mo Salah – Liverpool
You can’t mention African players competing at the top of European leagues and not talk about the incredible duo of Senegalese Sadio Mane, and Egyptian Mo Salah, who have both already fired Liverpool to Champions League glory last season, and now look set to finally claim the Premier League title for the Merseyside team, a feat that will end thirty years of hurt.
The twenty-seven-year-old Mane has been smashing in goals for first Southampton, then moved to Liverpool in 2016, where he has risen to the challenge of playing for a top team.
Salah, who is also twenty-seven, came to Liverpool from Roma in 2017 and immediately had a season where he couldn’t stop scoring, netting thirty-two times in total.
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Philomena Ngozi Christopher-Oji was born to the family of the late Michael and Cecilia Ojeogwu of Ubulu-Uku, in Aniocha South Local Government Area, Delta State. She had her primary and secondary education in Nwanoli and Ezemu Girls College, in Ubulu-Uku, before she proceeded to the Delta State University, Abraka, where she studied English and Literary Studies.