Africa has produced many great footballers over the years, some of them have gone on to become absolute legends of the game. Many of these players come from a poor background but it never stopped them from going on to take the game at its highest level. Here, we have ranked out the top 10 African players to play in the Premier League. So, let’s get started.
10) Emmanuel Adebayor
Known for his controversies more than football, Emmanuel Adebayor began his Premier League journey with Arsenal in 2006. He played 104 games for the Gunners and scored 46 goals before moving to Manchester City in 2009. During a match between Manchester City and Arsenal, Adebayor scored a goal and he ran almost the entire length of the field to the Arsenal supporters and celebrated in front of them causing an angry reaction from the Gunners fanbase. Adebayor joined Spurs in 2011 on a loan deal where he scored 17 goals in 33 appearances and Tottenham decided to sign him on a permanent deal. He played for the Spurs for three season where he scored only 18 goals in 59 appearances before he was shipped to Crystal Palace where he scored only one goal in 12 appearances. Adebayor ended his Premier League journey by moving to Istanbul. Though, Emmanuel Adebayor didn’t win any trophies in his 10-year spell in the Premier League, he became the second highest African goal-scorer in the Premier League.
9) Sadio Mane
Sadio Mane began his Premier League journey in 2014 when he moved Southampton from RB Salzburg. Mane scored 25 goals and 14 assist in 75 appearances for the Saints. The Senegalese was a key player in their 2015/16 season when the Saints finished at 6th position in the League table (above Liverpool and Chelsea). Mane moved to Liverpool in 2016 which was a move questioned by many pundits but the Senegalese proved them wrong by scoring 13 goals and 5 assists in his debut season for the Reds. Now, forming a partnership with Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino the front three of Liverpool have put them on the top of the league table in a bid to win their first Premier League title in 29 years.
8) Jay-Jay Okacha
Considered one of the best Africans of all time, Okacha was so good that the fans named him twice ‘Jay-Jay’. Okacha became the most expensive African player in history when Paris Saint-Germain signed the Nigerian for £14 million in 1998. During his 4-year spell at PSG, the Nigerian played 84 matches and scored 12 goals. Soon, he realized his Premier League dream and moved to Bolton Wanderers in 2002 on a free transfer. His first season was hampered by injuries but Jay-Jay played a crucial part in surviving the relegation battle by scoring seven goals for the club. Okacha became a fan favorite and his heroics earned him the ‘BBC African Player of the Year’ award and also the ‘Nigerian Footballer of the Year in 2003’. The following season, Okacha was given the Captain’s armband following Gudni Bergsson’s retirement. The manager’s faith in his captain was rewarded well when Bolton reached their first cup final in nine years. Okacha left the club in 2006 in order to move to Qatar.
7) Nwankwo Kanu
Nwankwo Kanu is one of those players who prove that football is more than just stats. Kanu started his Premier League journey with Arsenal in 1999. The Nigerian managed to score 43 goals and 17 assists in his time with the Gunners but his influence in the Arsenal side was much more than that. Kanu’s best moments with the Gunners include a second half hat-trick in fifteen minutes against Chelsea to turn a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 victory, that game made him an instant hero among the Gunners fans. Kanu was also named the African Footballer of the Year for the second time in 1999. The Nigerian became very popular among the fans for his two-fingered salute which he later explained was based on the team’s nickname – “The Gunners”. Kanu won the double in 2001-02, the FA cup and a member of the ‘Invincibles’, the Arsenal side who finished the 2003-04 season of the Barclays Premier League undefeated. The Nigerian managed only 10 appearances in 2003-04 season due to the emergence of Thierry Henry and then he moved to West Bromich Albion where he managed 9 goals in 58 appearances. He later switched to Portsmouth FC and played a key part in the 2008 FA Cup winning side. Kanu was also named the Man of the Match in that game.
6) Kolo Toure
A 20-year old youngster who came to Arsenal to fulfill his dreams, Kolo Toure joined the Gunners from ASEC Mimosas in 2002. Toure was mainly a utility player for the Gunners in his first two seasons. It was in the ‘Invincibles’ season when he began to emerge. Toure formed a partnership with Sol Campbell and played all but one game in the entire season. He was known for his bursts from centre back to break the lines and operated more as an attacking threat rather than a defender. The Ivorian moved to Manchester City in 2009, where he was joined by his younger brother Yaya Toure a year later. They went on to help City win their first Premier League title in 44 years. In 2013, Kole Toure moved to Liverpool where he missed out on becoming the first player to win the Premier League with three different clubs after Liverpool conceded their lead. Finally, Toure ended his Premier League journey by moving to Celtic in 2016.
5) Riyadh Mahrez
Riyadh Mahrez has experienced quite the journey in England. Mahrez joined Leicester City from Ligue 2 side AC Le Havre in 2014. Mahrez scored three goals and assisted five goals in 19 appearances to help the Foxes gain promotion to the Premier League. The following season Mahrez was a key player for the Foxes in surviving the relegation battle. The best of Riyadh Mahrez came in the 2015/16 season when Leicester City were crowned the Premier League champions. Mahrez scored an impressive 17 goals and 11 assists in that campaign. The Algerian was awarded the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award as well as the African Footballer of the Year award in 2016. The 27-year old switched to Manchester City in 2018 and is now a key player in Pep Guardiola’s side.
4) Mohammed Salah
Nobody might have expected to see Mo Salah in this list, after his forgettable spell at Chelsea. The Egyptian joined the Blues in 2014 from FC Basel at €16.5m where he played just 19 games scoring two and assisting four goals. Soon, he was sent on loan to Seria A clubs Fiorentina and Roma before making a permanent switch to Roma in 2016. Mo scored an impressive 34 goals and 24 assists in 83 appearances for the Giallorossi and the emergence of the Egyptian was being noticed from the Merseyside in England. Salah joined Liverpool in 2017 where he got another chance to prove himself in the Premier League. The Egyptian took the opportunity well and scored 32 goals in his first season with the Reds. Salah also became the first African player to score 30 goals in a single Premier League campaign. He also played a crucial part in helping Liverpool reach the UEFA Champions League Final. Salah has been named African Footballer of the Year for the second time in his career in 2018, PFA Players’ Players of the Year 2017-18, PFA Fans’ Player of the Year 2017-18, Premier League Player of the Year 2017-18 and the list goes on but right now, there is only one trophy Mo Salah wants to win and that is the Premier League trophy.
3) Yaya Toure
The heartbeat of the title winning Manchester City team, Yaya Toure knew how to perform in big games. The Ivorian joined Man City in 2010 from Barcelona, a year after his brother Kolo Toure signed from the Citizens. Toure has played 230 games for the Citizens scoring 59 goals and 35 assist, an impressive stat for a midfielder. Toure has always been a big game player, always knew when to score, he scored the winner in the 2011 FA Cup final, was named Man of the Match in the 2012 Community Shield, scored a wonderful goal in the 2014 Capital One Cup final, scored the winning penalty in the same tournament two seasons later. Toure won 3 Premier League titles, 3 English League Cups and a FA Cup during his time with the Citizens. Toure was also named the African Footballer of the Year four consecutive years (2011-14), BBC African Footballer of the Year – 2013, 2015 and also Man City player of the Year 2013-14 when he became the second ever midfielder to score 20 goals in a single Premier League campaign. Toure ended his wonderful journey in the Premier League in 2018 when he joined Olympiacos on a free transfer.
2) Michael Essien
Not the only Chelsea legend in this list, Michael Essien was one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the club’s history. Essien signed for Chelsea from Lyon for a £24.4 million fee which made him the most expensive signing of the Blues at that time. The Ghanian was an instant success as the Blues won back-to-back Premier League titles. Essien was named BBC Footballer of the Year in 2006. Essien is known for his tough-tackling style as well as the ability to score screamers. He was awarded the Chelsea Goal of the Year award on two occassions (2006/07 vs Arsenal and 2008/09 vs Barcelona) and the Chelsea Player of the Year 2006/07. The Ghanian was a key part of the 2009/10 squad who won the double and also a part of the 2012 UEFA Champions League winning squad though he was mostly on the bench. The following season, Essien went on loan to Real Madrid and finally switched to AC Milan, ending his legendary spell with the Blues. Essien was the kind of player who was not afraid to throw himself in a tackle, gain possession quickly and make an inch-perfect pass the next second. His tough tackling style earned him the nickname “The Bison”.
1) Didier Drogba
Arguably the best signing of the Roman Abramovich’s era, Didier Drogba has won it all in his time with Chelsea. Drogba signed for the Blues in 2004 for a record £24 million fee which made him the most expensive Ivorian player in history. He helped the Blues win their first League title in 50 years in his debut season. The next season they won the league title again. He was named the African Footballer of the Year in that season. The Ivorian won his 3rd Premier League title in 2010 where he was the top scorer with 29 goals. In May 2012, Drogba became the first African player to score 100 premier League goals. Drogba also scored the equalizer in the 2012 UEFA Champions League final in Munich and also the winning penalty in the shoot-out against Bayern Munich to help Chelsea win their first Champions League trophy. He left the club in 2012 to join Galatasaray on a free transfer only to return in 2014 when he won the Premier League title again with the Blues. “Do not judge him now. Judge him when he leaves the club” – stated Jose Mourinho when he signed Drogba in 2004. Mourinho’s belief in Drogba paid off big time and the Ivorian is now regarded as a club legend for his heroics.
So, this ends our list of Top 10 African players to play in the Premier League. Did we miss out on someone?