The Premier League has long been an attractive destination for some of the best players from around the world and Africa has produced some of the greatest players to ever play the game. Here are my picks of the top 10 African players who have played in the Premier League.
10. Yakubu- Portsmouth (2003-2005), Middlesbrough (2005-2007), Everton (2007- )
Fans can often be heard screaming ‘feed the Yak and he will score’ and this is exactly what has happened in his Premier League career so far. Yakubu has scored 103 goals during his 7 years in the Premier League. A clinical finisher from anywhere inside the box, Yakubu made a name for himself at Portsmouth where he scored 36 goals in 77 appearances. He then moved on to Middlesbrough and then to Everton where Yakubu finds himself now. His first season at Everton was a huge success with the Nigerian scoring 21 times for the Toffees. It was his most prolific club season to date and he became the first Everton player to score more than 20 goals in a season since Peter Beardsley achieved the feat in 1992.
9. Frédéric Kanouté- West Ham United (2000-2003), Tottenham (2003-2005)
Kanouté has gained a reputation at current club Sevilla as one of the continent’s greatest strikers but he honed his game in England with West Ham United and Tottenham. Kanouté is the complete centre forward; he possesses great technical ability, is good in the air and has electrifying pace. He has many similarities with Thierry Henry, another player who was playing in North London at the same time as Kanouté but got infinitely more acclaim than the Malian.
8. El-Hadji Diouf- Liverpool (2002-2005), Bolton (2004-2008), Sunderland (2008-2009),Blackburn (2009- )
Love him or hate him, El-Hadji Diouf has certainly made a name for himself in the Premier League. Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier signed the Senegalese striker before Senegal’s impressive World Cup run. Diouf hit the ground running at Anfield, scoring a brace in Liverpool’s third game of the 2002-2003 season against Blackburn. However, this was to be his crowning achievement in a Liverpool shirt as his stint on Merseyside was a disaster. Diouf only managed to score 8 times in 80 games for Liverpool.
Since his Anfield nightmare, Diouf has slowly managed to establish himself as a Premier League regular, helped no end by the faith shown him by Sam Allardyce who coached Diouf at Bolton and now at current club Blackburn Rovers.
7. Lucas Radebe- Leeds United (1994-2005)
Not many people can say that Nelson Mandela has referred to them as “my hero” but Lucas Radebe can count himself as one of the very few. The Leeds United defender is a legend at Elland Road and was the rock at the heart of the Leeds defence during the glory days at the club. He was made captain in 1998 and led the club to a fourth place finish in the 1998-1999 season and a third place finish and a semi-final run in the Champions League the following year.
A commanding leader, Radebe will be remembered just as much for his off the field efforts as his successes on it. He has been a strong advocate for charities in South Africa and around the world and he was honoured for his charitable work this year by the PFA when Radebe was awarded the PFA Merit Award for 2010.
6. Kolo Touré- Arsenal (2002-2009), Manchester City (2009- )
Kolo Touré came to Arsenal something of an unknown but left as one of the best defenders in the Premier League. He arrived at Arsenal from Ivorian club ASEC Mimosas who have produced a number of quality Ivorians who currently play in the Premier League including Salomon Kalou, Emmanuel Eboué and Touré’s brother and teammate at Manchester City Yaya Touré.
Arsène Wenger took Touré under his wing and moulded the young Ivorian into the commanding centre-back that he has now become. Touré was transferred from Arsenal to Manchester City for around £24 million and has become vice-captain and a first team regular at Eastlands.
5. Kanu- Arsenal (1999-2004), West Brom (2004-2006), Portsmouth (2006- )
Kanu is the most decorated African player in Premier League history having captured a Champions League winner’s medal, UEFA Cup medal, two Premier League medals and three FA Cups medals in his 17 years in the game. He lit up the Premier League with his languid style of play which won him many admirers. He was voted into 13th place in Arsenal’s 50 greatest Gunners poll ahead of players like Pat Rice and David O’Leary.
4. Tony Yeboah- Leeds United (1995-1997)
Yeboah makes the number 4 spot on account of his penchant for the spectacular. The Ghanaian will forever be remembered as a scorer of some of the most ferocious goals in Premier League history. His goals against Liverpool and Wimbeldon are the two that stick out in my mind as Yeboah lashed two piledrivers in off the bar with his supposedly weaker right foot. He was a frequent sight in the BBC’s Goal of the Month competitions and is the only player to have won the contest twice in succession, achieving the feat in September and October 1995.
3. Jay-Jay Okocha- Bolton Wanderers (2002-2006)
A player so good, they named him twice. The Nigerian was a consummate showman in his time in the Premier League. He wowed the Reebok faithful with his outrageous skills which at times beggared belief. I’m sure if Okocha was Brazilian or Argentinean, people would be hailing him as the one of the most skilful players to ever play the game.
2. Michael Essien- Chelsea (2005- )
Since joining Chelsea from Lyon in 2005, Michael Essien has arguably become the most complete midfielder in the modern game. The Ghanaian powerhouse can do it all. He can tackle, shoot, pass and run. He could probably do open-heart surgery if he wanted to. The Bison’s all-action displays in the heart of Chelsea’s midfield have won Essien admirers at Stamford Bridge and beyond.
1. Didier Drogba- Chelsea (2004- )
Drogba finds himself on top of the list due to his importance in establishing Chelsea as a perennial title challenger. The Ivorian’s goals have helped Chelsea to three Premier League titles, two League Cups and two FA cup triumphs. The mere sight of Drogba is enough to strike fear into the opposition defense. He has cut out the petulance that threatened to mar his game and his performances on the pitch have improved because of it. Last season was simply awesome for Drogba as he bossed the league’s defences on the way to 29 league goals. This season has started much the same way with 4 goals from 3 games. Unfortunately for the rest of the league, Drogba has shown no signs of slowing down.
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