Ranked! The 15 best African players in Premier League history

Jamie Roberts
FourFourTwo

15. Tony Yeboah

Anyone who's ever watched a highlights reel of the Premier League’s early years will know all about the Ghanaian with a pneumatic drill for a right foot. His glorious strike for Leeds against Liverpool in 1995, almost breaking a crossbar in the process, made him an instant star in England.

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Yeboah only spent a fleeting two-and-a-half years in the Premier League after joining from Eintracht Frankfurt, where he'd twice finished as the Bundesliga's top scorer. Yet he managed to bag three hat-tricks for the Yorkshire outfit and was a regular contender in the goal-of-the-month competitions, ending up with 32 goals from 66 games for the Whites.

14. Lauren

Ranked! The 15 best African players in Premier League history
Ranked! The 15 best African players in Premier League history

Along with Kolo Toure, Lauren was a key part of the back four in Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles side, playing 47 games across all competitions in 2003/04. The full-back spent six years in London before becoming a squad regular at Portsmouth.

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However, it’s his consistently solid performances  – 242 of them - in the red and white of Arsenal that earn him his place on this list. The former Cameroon defender arrived in England for £7.2m – then a big fee for a defender – from Mallorca, and after an injury-plagued first season, went on to replace Lee Dixon as Arsenal’s first-choice right-back. Well done that man.

 

13. Lucas Radebe

Ranked! The 15 best African players in Premier League history
Ranked! The 15 best African players in Premier League history

The South African centre-back played over 250 times – without ever scoring in the Premier League – during his 11-year spell at Leeds. Thankfully, he was pretty good at keeping the goals out.

He originally failed to hold down a starting berth at the heart of Howard Wilkinson’s defence, but when the manager was replaced by George Graham, his career in England flourished. He went on to captain Leeds as they finished as high as third in the Premier League in 1999/2000, qualifying for the Champions League (they would reach the semi-finals the following season).

Radebe received high praise from Alex Ferguson even after he turned down a move to Old Trafford, and was also said to be a sporting hero of his compatriot Nelson Mandela.

12. Kolo Toure

Ranked! The 15 best African players in Premier League history
Ranked! The 15 best African players in Premier League history

The elder of the Toure brothers holds the distinction of winning the Premier League with two different clubs. The Ivorian defender, who began as a central midfielder and apparently slide-tackled Arsene Wenger on the training ground before signing for Arsenal from ASEC Mimosas, was part of the Invincibles side that went through the 2003/04 season unbeaten in the league.

After over 300 games for the Gunners, the centre-back left to enjoy spells at Manchester City – where he added his second title in 2011/12 – and Liverpool. His personality won fans over wherever he went, even as the quality of his defending declined.

11. John Obi Mikel

John Obi Mikel
John Obi Mikel

The Nigerian midfielder originally made headlines in England when he was photographed in a Manchester United shirt at a press conference in 2005, before a year-long transfer saga between the Old Trafford club and Chelsea ensued. The then-teenager eventually joined the Blues in 2006 for £16m – £4m to his club Lyn in Oslo, plus a further £12m to the Red Devils.

He was worth it, though: Mikel went on to play 374 times for the west London outfit over an 11-year period, winning two Premier League titles, four FA Cups, a Champions League and more. He may not have been the superstar that many others on the list are (or were), scoring only six goals, but his calm and composed style were a great asset to Chelsea throughout his time in England.

10. Yakubu

Ranked! The 15 best African players in Premier League history
Ranked! The 15 best African players in Premier League history

The Nigerian forward had a low-key end to his career in England, enduring three scoreless games for Coventry in 2017, but his performances for Portsmouth and Middlesbrough made him one of the most feared Premier League strikers of the mid-2000s.

With chants of “Feed the Yak and he will score” bellowing from the terraces, the Nigerian often obliged. He quickly became a fans’ favourite at both clubs, notching 36 goals for Pompey before his £7.5m move to the Riverside led to 35 strikes for Boro – with whom he reached the 2006 UEFA Cup Final.

Everton broke their transfer record to take him to Goodison for £11.25m in 2007. A prolific first season produced 21 goals, but injuries hampered him after that. The Nigerian's time in England’s top flight came towards its end with a strong loan at Leicester (in the Championship), then a fine 17-goal campaign at Blackburn in spite of relegation. He left the Premier League just five strikes short of 100 goals.

9. Sadio Mané

Ranked! The 15 best African players in Premier League history
Ranked! The 15 best African players in Premier League history

The 26-year-old Senegalese winger made his name in England after joining Southampton from Red Bull Salzburg in 2014. Like many others before and after him, his performances – including an astonishing, record-breaking hat-trick in two minutes and 56 seconds against Aston Villa – led to his £34m move to Liverpool in summer 2016.

Mané has reached new heights with Jurgen Klopp’s Reds, having marked his first season at Anfield with the club's player-of-the-year award following 13 goals in 27 Premier League outings.

Although his second campaign produced fewer goals domestically, there were 20 overall as one prong of Liverpool's formidable frontline alongside Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino. Ten of those strikes came en route to the Champions League final, where the Reds suffered defeat to Real Madrid.

Mané is now considered among the Premier League's most dangerous players, and is fast rising up a list like this. The league title is next in his sights. 

8. Jay-Jay Okocha

So good they named him twice, according to Bolton fans. Memories of the north-west club in the early 2000s are usually centred around Okocha’s dazzling footwork; both with the ball and while dancing with Big Sam.

The Nigerian was a marquee signing for Allardyce’s men when he arrived on a free from PSG, and his star quality was apparent from the off: Okocha regularly impressed alongside fellow big-name stars including Ivan Campo and Youri Djorkaeff, helping transform Bolton from relegation candidates to European challengers. In 2004/05 they finished a highest-ever sixth. 

During his four years at the Reebok, the midfield maestro provided Bolton fans with plenty of glorious memories – in particular, a corking winning goal against West Ham in 2003.

7. Nwankwo Kanu

Similar to his former team-mate Dennis Bergkamp, Kanu spent his early career at Ajax, endured an abbreviated stint in Italy with Inter, then flourished at Arsenal. While the languid Nigerian forward isn’t as feted as Bergkamp, Kanu’s £4.15m transfer to Arsenal in 1999 proved great value.

He played 197 games during his spell at Highbury, helping the club win two Premier League titles and a pair of FA Cups. His finest individual moment was a 15-minute hat-trick against Chelsea which helped the Gunners turn a 2-0 deficit into a famous victory.

After leaving Arsenal in 2004, Kanu had successful spells at West Brom and then Portsmouth, where he scored the only goal of the 2008 FA Cup Final to deliver the trophy for Harry Redknapp's side. Not bad for a 45-year… sorry; a 31-year-old, as he clearly was at the time.

6. Emmanuel Adebayor

Ranked! The 15 best African players in Premier League history
Ranked! The 15 best African players in Premier League history

The Togo striker’s reputation has been tarnished by off-field antics, but his ability shouldn't be doubted. Adebayor made his name in England with Arsenal following a 2006 move from Monaco, peaking in 2007/08 with 30 goals across all competitions.

A bitter transfer saga followed as Adebayor sought a move to newly moneyed Manchester City, however, much to the disgust of Gunners. As was his wont, he fanned those flames by running the length of the pitch to celebrate in front of Arsenal supporters after netting against the Londoners in a 2009 4-2 City win.

After a spell on loan at Real Madrid – where he won the only trophy of his career (2010/11 Copa del Rey) – Adebayor annoyed Arsenal fans once more by joining local rivals Tottenham, where he spent a relatively successful four years and scored 42 times in 113 appearances.

Unfortunately for Crystal Palace, the 6ft 3in forward couldn’t replicate his scoring prowess at Selhurst Park in 2016, leaving with just a solitary goal to his name in 15 outings. He did enough to record 97 Premier League goals, though – the second-highest total by an African player.

5. Mo Salah

Mo Salah
Mo Salah

Ninety-seven goals, you say? Pah. That's the approximate number Salah scored in 2017/18 alone en route to winning the Premier League Golden Boot with a record haul. OK, so it was actually 32, but the Egyptian finished with an astonishing 44 in his debut season at Anfield following an initial €42m transfer from Roma. 

Salah actually scored in 24 of the 36 Premier League games he turned out in – another record – as Liverpool finished fourth but reached the Champions League final. Cruelly, the forward was forced off through injury in the Kiev showpiece as Real Madrid marched on to a third straight title. 

It was a far cry from his ill-fated spell at Chelsea from 2014-16, when Salah was afford only 13 Premier League appearances and was eventually shipped off for a paltry €15m. Suffice to say, he's a completely different animal in 2018.  

4. Riyad Mahrez

Ranked! The 15 best African players in Premier League history
Ranked! The 15 best African players in Premier League history

On his day, the Algerian winger is a joy to watch. Mahrez was an integral part of the Leicester team that shocked the world by winning the Premier League in 2015/16, becoming the first player from his nation to bag a winner’s medal in England’s top flight. The PFA Player of the Year award was worthy recognition for a return of 17 goals in 37 Premier League appearances.

Before joining the Foxes, Mahrez was reportedly warned by friends and family that the style of football in England wouldn’t suit his game – but he has improved astonishingly after arriving from Ligue 2 in 2014.

A move to Manchester City was just reward for that fine form with Leicester, who couldn't stand in Mahrez's way any longer after initially turning down the Premier League champions' late advances in January 2018. An initial transfer of £60m was fair for one of England's most exciting players who deserves regular Champions League football once more. 

3. Michael Essien

Ranked! The 15 best African players in Premier League history
Ranked! The 15 best African players in Premier League history

The Ghanaian is held in such high regard back home that they have erected a statue of the midfielder – albeit one that can rival the (sadly departed) monstrous Cristiano Ronaldo bust for its strangeness.

When he signed for Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea from Lyon in 2005 for £24.4m, Essien was the club’s most expensive signing. By 2007, the tenacious midfielder had become the west London outfit’s first ever African player of the year, and scored their goal of the season in the same campaign with a thunderbolt against Arsenal at Stamford Bridge. 

His career in England came to an end after nine trophy-laden years, when injury dragged him down the pecking order. But Chelsea supporters will reminisce over the midfielder’s galvanising performances for a long while yet. 

2. Yaya Toure

While England had the Neville brothers, Ivory Coast have the Toures. No doubting who the best player of that quartet was.

After joining his older brother Kolo in Manchester City in 2010 following a successful spell at Barcelona, box-to-box midfielder Yaya began to dominate, bagging eight goals and eight assists in his first season in England. The former Barça man established himself as something of a set-piece sensation before his City career began to peter out, and departed in 2018 with 79 City goals to his name – 24 of them coming in a majestic 2013/14 season, when he won the second of his three Premier League titles.

Recent history wasn't kind to Toure – partly his own doing – but in years to come he should be remembered for what he was: one of the finest midfielders in Premier League history. 

1. Didier Drogba

Ranked! The 15 best African players in Premier League history
Ranked! The 15 best African players in Premier League history

The Ivorian powerhouse struggled to win over fans at the beginning of his Chelsea career after signing from Marseille for £24m in 2004. But by the time his first spell with the Blues came to an end in 2012, the striker had notched 157 goals in 341 games and was regarded as one of the club’s greatest ever players.

After he returned to west London for a season in 2014/15, the 6ft 2in striker added a fourth Premier League title to a medal collection that also includes four FA Cups, three League Cups and the Champions League – the latter achieved thanks first to his late equalising goal which took the 2012 final against Bayern Munich to extra time, and second via his winning penalty in the shootout. 

Drogba goes down as one of the defining strikers of the Premier League; a big-game player who changed the way strikers of his type were thought of. He was well deserving of his king-like exit: Chelsea team-mates carried him off the pitch in his final performance at Stamford Bridge.

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