Two from Napoli and Senegal’s dominance. Africa’s best players right now
Sadio Mane’s move from Liverpool to Bayern Munich could remain one of the loudest of the current transfer window. And it’s a good excuse to talk about Africa’s strongest players. Once it was Drogba, Eto’o and their peers. Now times are changing. And Africa continues to generate football stars. Let’s take a look at those of them who are above the rest in overall class and have also shown the best form of late.
Last season was Zaha’s most prolific at club level. He scored 15 goals in 37 games for Crystal Palace. The Abidjan-born player has long been linked with rumours of top clubs, yet he remains in place. Many factors come into play here, from Crystal Palace’s reasonably good financial conditions to Zaha’s reluctance to risk losing his practice. Zaha remains an explosive agile forward, but has added to that in recent years with increased efficiency in the penalty area and in front of goal.
The Nigerian has stability and a combination of characteristics important to a forward, from speed to power and scoring flair. In the last four seasons, he scored on average every two games. And he has not only played for Napoli, but also for Lille. That shows stability regardless of the team. Therefore, Tottenham, Arsenal and Bayern are interested in Osimhen. Last season in Serie A, Victor scored 14 goals in 27 games and Napoli do not want to lose him. 11 goals in 21 games for Nigeria is also impressive and speaks volumes about stability.
Usually Dutch football becomes a donor for English football. But in this case it’s been the other way round. Allaire moved to Ajax from West Ham United in January 2021, a transfer that was the most successful the Amsterdam club have seen in a long time. He was phenomenal for Amsterdam, scoring 47 goals in 66 games in all competitions. His goalscoring exploits in the Champions League were astounding. Incidentally, Allaire was born in the suburbs of Paris, but chose the Côte d’Ivoire national team in 2020 after playing for the Ivorians at youth level.
Another Côte d’Ivoire representative who consistently and regularly delivers stars not just at African level, but also at world level. Whereas other African countries “shoot out”, the Ivorians have at least a couple or three stars at all times, in every generation. Kessier was an integral part of Milan’s championship season, playing 31 games in Serie A last season. It’s not hard to see why Barcelona were so keen to acquire him. He is a true all-rounder in midfield, capable of contributing in any phase of the game. And he is still only 25 years old. Remarkably, he has already played 58 games for the national team, having made his debut at the age of 17.
It is not often that African goalkeepers become one of the continent’s top stars. Mendy dilutes the ranking. “Chelsea spent £22m on him in 2020 and it quickly paid off – the Senegalese was instrumental to the Blues’ Champions League success in 2021. You could now call Edouard one of the best goalkeepers in the world. He contributed to Senegal’s Africa Cup win in February and helped the Senegalese qualify for the World Cup the following month. The former Rennes goalkeeper is now in great form.
He is only 23, but has already played for four top clubs: Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Inter and PSG. The attacking-minded winger can play on either flank, deeper or higher as required. The Moroccan is extremely agile and often the brightest player in the field. A useful technician for the club and the national team.
No team in Europe’s top five leagues has scored more goals than Manchester City in the 2021/22 season. And it was Marez who was the top scorer for the English champions in all competitions. The Algerian midfielder scored a total of 24 goals. The full-backs have studied Marez’s style of play but it is difficult to stop him. However, there is a fly in the ointment. The national team’s season did not go well. Algeria failed in the African Cup and did not qualify for the World Cup in Qatar.
This central defender is considered good enough to play for almost any top club in the world. That’s why he has been seriously hunted. But Napoli have always managed to fend off challengers, and Koulibaly has been with the club for eight seasons. He may not have won major trophies at club level, but for Senegal Kalidou was African Cup triumphant – a real titan in the national team. Koulibaly is physically strong, dominant in the air, with excellent long-range passing and ball control.
You can already tell that African football is particularly star-studded at the moment for Senegal’s brightest generation. In fact, Senegal’s victory in the last African Cup sort of underlines this, making the statement more official and underpinned. Mane has been superb during his seven years at Liverpool. And the Reds are unlikely to replace him easily, despite trying. For Jurgen Klopp’s team, Mane was the ideal performer: hard-working, energetic, dynamic and technical. He also displays leadership qualities, but mostly in the national team.
But Liverpool had enough charismatic leaders without Mane. One of them is Salah, who would still logically be named as the best African player right now. Last season, the PFA named him as the league’s best player, although Liverpool did not take the title, limiting themselves to winning both domestic cups and second place in the APL and the Champions League final. The Egyptian scored 31 goals in 51 games in all competitions. But it is not even so much his value in goals. He is much of the spice, creating Liverpool’s attacking game.