With the first ever African World Cup coming up this summer I thought it would be a good time to hail the best African players to grace the Premier League. As always, this is based on my own viewpoint and in no particular order.
Jay Jay Okocha, Bolton Wanderers & Nigeria
Ok, I said this was in no particular order but Jay Jay is probably my favourite African player to grace the Premier League. He had power and speed, as well as the skill of a Brazilian and the Nigerian was always willing to have a crack at goal. He scored some absolute screamers in his time at the Reebok, including a 30 yard drive in a 1-0 victory over West Ham (a massive game in terms of the relegation battle that season) and a stunning free kick against Aston Villa in the League Cup. He may have occasionally been a bit selfish and wasteful, but that was all part of his charm and Jay Jay ‘so good they named him twice’ Okocha had to be on this list.
Tony Yeboah, Leeds United & Ghana
Yeboah was one of the first African players to make a real name for himself in the Premier League and he is still held in high regard at Elland Road. He had a decent strike record, but he is perhaps best remembered for some truly remarkable goals. I recall a particularly special strike against Wimbledon where he took the ball down after it had been knocked back and forth in the air a bit, controlled it, beat a man and then slammed his shot home from outside the box – priceless.
Didier Drogba, Chelsea & Ivory Coast
It was seen as a bit of a risk when Chelsea forked out a £24million transfer fee to prise Drogba from Marseille but looking back that figure now seems a bargain. He is among the best in the business and he has continued to improve and impress while at Stamford Bridge. One thing I like about Drogba is his ability to hit a free kick, I’m not sure if this is something he has practised and perfected at Chelsea but they seem to have got better since he has been there and his commitment to the cause can’t be questioned.
Kolo Toure, Arsenal/Manchester City & Ivory Coast
Toure is the first defender in the list and he can be an absolute rock. He probably hasn’t matched the same level as quality shown at City as he did at Arsenal but he is still top quality and can be one of the best central defenders in the league.
Michael Essien, Chelsea & Ghana
Essien is basically a complete midfielder and is a vital cog in the Chelsea machine. He can pass, shoot, tackle and drive the play forward as well as perform on the big occasion. His goal in the Champions League semi-finals against Barcelona was a special moment and proof that nothing phases the Ghanaian midfieder. Essien is injured at the moment with a ligament problem and you get the feeling if he was playing week in, week out, Chelsea may have a bit of breathing space at the top of the league.
Lucas Radebe, Leeds United & South Africa
With South Africa hosting the tournament I had to have a South African in the list and Radebe was the best by some way in my opinion. He was an excellent defender and helped Leeds to the semi-finals of the Champions League in his time at Elland Road. Radebe also demonstrated great loyalty during his time in Yorkshire, spurning offers from Manchester United and AC Milan to stick with Leeds. They loved him so much in Leeds he even had a beer named after him by a local brewery ‘Lucas Radebeer’ – apparently, it’s a decent tipple too.
Emmanuel Adebayor, Arsenal/Manchester City & Togo
Adebayor can be somewhat of an enigma and he will occasionally drift in and out of games, but when he is on form he is unstoppable. When Thierry Henry left Arsenal Adebayor stepped up to the task and cemented himself in the Gunners starting eleven, and he has put in some quality displays in a City shirt despite injury problems this season.
Nwankwo Kanu, Arsenal/West Brom/Portsmouth & Nigeria
A little bit like Adebayor, Kanu stepped up when a striking star departed Arsenal. The Nigerian made a name for himself following Nicolas Anelka’s decision to move to Real Madrid over 10 years ago. Perhaps his best moment in an Arsenal shirt came when he scored a second half hat-trick against Chslea to secure a 3-2 win, when the Gunners had been 2-0 down. He was a part of the West Brom side who became the first club to beat the drop when bottom of the table at Christmas and was vital in Pompey’s FA Cup success, scoring the winner in both the semi-final and final.
Mark Fish, Bolton/Charlton & South Africa
Another South Africa, Fish was an absolute rock for both Bolton and Charlton making over 100 appearances for both sides. He was a very composed defender who was good on the ball and he was a real leader at the back.
Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Portsmouth/Middlesrough/Everton & Nigeria
Yakubu has notched up over 100 goals in his time in England with three different clubs. He is a quality striker and always a nuisance for any defender. Injuries have hampered the Nigerian over the years but whenever he is on the pitch he can be a threat.
If you think I’ve missed anyone out or disagree please let me know in the comments box below. There are a few names who I considered but opted against – Steven Pienaar, El Hadji Diouf and Benni McCarthy among them, should these three have made the list?
Written by Gareth Freeman, a sports writer who blogs about Cheltenham 2010, Premier League football and Racing tips.