Many still ponder whether one African country will be brave enough to take continental advantage and win Africa her first World Cup this summer. All five of Africa’s representatives in South Africa took part in this year’s bi-annual African Nations Cup in Angola, but it was a team not going, Eygpt, who won the tournament.
For the love of the game many African players have made huge impacts at all levels, imperious in many of the world’s top divisions for decades. Eusebio, a living legend was born in Maputo and his statue standing in front of Benfica’s Estadio da Luz tells his story. And then there was Mario Coluna, and the late Sabastiao Lucas da Fonseca well known as Matateu, Africa have had them all ranked and rated among the best.
Great players by great names come and go but the greatest always stays glued and tacked to our memories. Many exemplary players are out to emulate and supersede heroes and idols, therefore determining and naming greatest players always triggers endless debates.
Born in Africa or not, place of birth does not count but caps do. Eusebio, Patrick Vieira and many more could not therefore be considered. Here are the best African top ten players of all time:
1. George Oppong Weah (Liberia)
George Oppong Weah is a three times African Footballer of the Year, and the only African to date to win the European Footballer of the Year and FIFA World Player of the Year awards. Weah is a man of many qualities. No wonder he traded football for politics after a glorious career in Europe.
Under Arsene Wenger at Monaco Weah won the league championship in his first season and a French Cup in 1991, scoring 67 goals in 102 club appearances, before moving to Paris Saint-Germain in 1994. With another league title in Paris under his belt he attracted the attention of Italian giants AC Milan where his strength and speed terrorised defenders in Serie A and Europe. He subsequently had a stint in England before retiring.
Weah impressively served his country with distinction, winning 60 caps and scoring 22 times in a career that saw him as a player, financier and motivator of his team.
2. Albert Roger Mooh Milla (Cameroon)
At the age of 38, Albert Roger Mooh Milla’s charismatic and vivid display changed the entire image of African football. Cameroon dazzled the entire planet in the World Cup of 1990 and Milla’s meritorious corner flag wiggly hips won him thousands of fans.
Two time African Player of the Year in 1976 and 1990 respectively, Milla enjoyed European football in France, with spells of note at Saint-Etienne and Montpellier. Roger Milla was brilliant, explosive, entertaining and won titles for both club and country in a golden career that lasted 26 wonderful years.
No wonder at the age of 42 he scored a goal that saved Cameroon embarrassment against Russia at the World Cup finals in the USA.
3. Samuel Eto’o Fils (Cameroon)
Three times African Footballer of the Year, Eto’o has never missed out on a place in the top 10 and he is this year’s hot favourite following a remarkable campaign with Barcelona before moving to Internazionale.
At Barcelona Eto’o won almost everything a player can dream of and his illustrious career regularly hit the heights. A record breaker cum-record holder Eto’o is a 2000 Olympic gold medallist and African Nations Cup all time top scorer with 18 goals. All these are reasons why he is the most recognised African footballer of recent years.
Still only 28, his abilities could yet see him crowned Africa’s best ever.
4. Abedi ‘Pele’ Ayew (Ghana)
Abedi Ayew was one of the most accomplished players of his generation, technically gifted and with a good eye for goal.
Starting at Real Tamale United in his native Ghana, Pele enjoyed a successful European adventure that included Niort, Marseille, Lille and Torino. In 1993 he became the first African player ever to win the UEFA Champions League while with Marseille.
From 1991 to 1993 Pele was African Footballer of the Year. He represented Ghana at international level between 1982 and 1998, playing 73 times and scoring 33 goals.
5. Augustus ‘Jay- jay’ Okocha (Nigeria)
Unsung hero, ball juggler Jay-jay Okocha is arguably African’s best player ever not to win the coveted African Player of the Year award, although the British Broadcasting Corporation named him the best African player of the year in 2003 and 2004 respectively.
After four years in Germany and a spell in Turkey, Okocha became Africa’s most expensive footballer in 1998 when Paris St-Germain paid $24M to secure his goals and skills following a very excellent World Cup.
In 2002, Okocha joined Bolton Wanderers on a free transfer and led the team to a League Cup final in 2004, in the same season they finished eighth. The following season Bolton finished sixth and qualified for the UEFA Cup for the first time. Okocha became renowned for superb long range strikes and delighted fans in England with his power drives.
Internationally the Nigeria star played in three World Cups and five African Nations Cups, winning one. He was also part of the Olympic team that took gold at Atlanta in 1996.
6. Hossam Hassan (Egypt)
Hossam Hassan is one of the most decorated footballers Africa can proudly boast. At Al Ahly Hossam won every title in the domestic and continental game.
The striker served his country with brilliant goals and admirable leadership, a quality that made him probably Egypt’s most recognised footballer in African Nations Cup tournament history.
With 169 international appearances he is currently the world’s fourth most capped player and the second most capped in Africa just behind his compatriot Ahmed Hassan. Hossam took part in five African Nations Cup finals winning two, the last coming in 2006 at the age of 40.
7. Rabah Madjer (Algeria)
Rabah Madjer was the reason Algeria won the 1990 African Nations Cup on home soil. In Europe the striker had a well endorsed astonishing career at FC Porto, helping the club to become one of the most recognised outfits in European competitions. His unforgettable elegant back-heeled goal against Bayern Munich in a European Cup final also allowed the Portuguese side to claim the famous trophy.
Madjer is the only African player to win the defunct Intercontinental Cup, being named man of the match against Penarol of Uruguay, scoring the winning goal in extra-time to secure Porto the trophy, and add to his two Portuguese league titles.
The Algerian played in two World Cup finals, 1982 in Spain, and 1986 in Mexico, before becoming African Player of the Year in 1987. In Portugal, Madjer enjoyed an illustrious career with Porto, briefly interrupting it with a stint at Valencia. Eventually he headed to Qatar before retiring in 1992.
8. Thomas N’kono (Cameroon)
Thomas N’kono spent almost a decade guarding the posts at Espanyol in the Spanish top division but many will definitely remember his exuberance and magnetic reactions between the posts for the Indomitable Lions.
N’kono played at the World Cups of 1982, 1990, and was a squad member with the 1994 World Cup team. In African Nations Cup competitions the goalkeeper was ever present and was also awarded African Player of the Year in 1982.
The Cameroonian was probably one of the most accomplished goalkeepers in the game and surely the finest Africa has ever produced.
9. Mahmoud El-Khatib (Egypt)
Mahmoud El-Khatib was sensational, his explosive runs and phenomenal goals in world football lasted 18 years. He won an amazing 11 Egyptian league titles and six Egyptian cups with his only club Al Ahly, and was a record five times Egyptian footballer of the year. African footballer of the year in 1983, El-Khatib was voted second best African footballer of the century in a poll by the (CAF) Confederation of African Football, just behind Roger Milla.
The Egyptian possessed speed, power and excellent ball control that made him the deadliest striker in his country’s history. He played in six African Nations Cups and won one in 1986.
10. Michael Kojo Essien (Ghana)
At the FIFA World Under-17 championships in New Zealand, Michael Essien was arguably the best player in the tournament, but Ghana could only manage bronze.
Spotted and wanted he went to France where he won league titles and a lot of individual honours. In 2004, Chelsea offered Lyon a staggering £24M and after days of hard negotiations the Blues got their man.
Essien is a versatile midfielder whose burning desire to succeed strikes fear in the the opposition every time he plays. His equal abilities to defend and score rocket goals make him one the best box to box midfielders around in modern football. Unforgettable long range efforts in the Champions League and Premier League alike are evidence of his qualities.