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All-time XI: The best African players to have ever played in the Premier League

On the back of countless memorable moments via the Touré brothers, Didier Drogba, Mohamed Salah, and Jay-Jay Okocha, African footballers have had a major influence on the on-going story of the Premier League since its inception

Due to the current international break, 101 Great Goals wanted to pay homage to the many foreign players that have helped build the Premier League into what it is today. Next up on memory lane is a broader look at the continent of Africa and the wealth of talent that has graced the top flight of English football.

As a region that somehow remains on the periphery of the footballing world, Africa continues to produce immensely talented footballers that regularly find their way to the pinnacle of the beautiful game in Europe at some of the world’s biggest clubs while starring in the biggest competitions on offer; including the Premier League.

From the very inception of the league, players the likes of Tony Yeboah (who painfully did not feature in this XI) were at the forefront of a league that became more and more popular, and technically gifted, on a yearly basis. Much of that progression is owed to a cadre of world-class talent that largely continues to fall short of the respect they deserve.

GK: Bruce Grobbelaar (Liverpool, Southampton)

A lack of goalkeeping options has been the only unfortunate feature when it comes to Africa’s influence on the Premier League, but despite that, Bruce Grobbelaar deserves recognition as one of the best to ever gatekeep for Liverpool in the club’s history during his thirteen-year stint. Though he only featured in the Premier League for three seasons between Merseyside and the south coast, Grobbelaar’s legacy is undeniable.

RB: Lauren (Arsenal, Portsmouth)

Cameroonian international Lauren was a mainstay at Arsenal during his six seasons in north London after arriving in 2000 from RCD Mallorca where he was the club’s first-choice right-back for two years, and that influence translated to the Gunners expertly. His presence on the right side of Arsène Wenger’s back four led to seven major honors, including going Invincible in 2003-04.

CB: Lucas Radebe (Leeds United)

An absolute rock in the heart of Leeds United’s back four across eleven seasons at Elland Road, South African star defender Lucas Radebe was at the very core of the Yorkshire outfit’s high water mark in the Premier League era under David Moyes as part of a side that challenged both on the home front as well as on memorable European nights. He will be adored forever in that part of England.

CB: Kolo Touré (Arsenal, Manchester City, Liverpool)

LB: Celestine Babayaro (Chelsea, Newcastle United)

One of Nigeria’s most notable left-backs along with Michael Emenalo and Ben Iroha, Celestine Babayaro enjoyed a lengthy career in the Premier League for eleven years after arriving at Stamford Bridge by way of RSC Anderlecht in 1997. Babayaro was not always first choice for the Blues, but for three seasons he was a key part of their side before ultimately moving to Newcastle in 2004 where he spent another three seasons.

CM: Michael Essien (Chelsea)

If you’re a Chelsea fan, the presence of Michael Essien in the heart of the Blues midfield was always a welcomed and reassuring sight. One of the best central players to ever emerge from Ghana, Essien was already a top-class player when he arrived in the Premier League after impressing for Olympique Lyonnais. The proud owner of multiple goal of the year awards, he was at the core of Chelsea’s emergence as a superpower.

CM: Yaya Youré (Manchester City)

The other half of the Touré brothers, Yaya spent his entire eight-year Premier League stint with Manchester City; and what an eight years it was. Highlighted by a 2013-14 season that saw him hit 20 league goals en route to one of three league titles during his tenure, the four-time African footballer of the year is one of the most influential figures to ever ply his trade at the Etihad Stadium.

CAM: Jay-Jay Okocha (Bolton Wanderers, Hull City)

One question that many fans love to mull over is who is the best technician the Premier League has ever seen, and there are quite a few names to consider. Jay-Jay Okocha is one of them. After starring for Paris Saint-Germain, the Nigerian midfielder took his talents to Bolton Wanderers and was the chief architect under Sam Allardyce’s tricky outfit that so often bested bigger fish. His ability when on the ball was sublime. A true magician.

RW: Mohamed Salah (Chelsea, Liverpool)*

Still chugging along at Anfield as the undisputed face of Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool, Egyptian icon Mohamed Salah’s first taste of football in England fell well short of where he is today after failing to get a real chance at Chelsea. Upon his return in the wake of developing while in the Serie A, Salah emerged as arguably the most feared attacking player Liverpool has seen in the last 30 years on the back of 129 goals across six seasons.

LW: Sadio Mané (Southampton, Liverpool)

No longer deploying on the opposite flank from Mo Salah and off the left shoulder of Roberto Firmino, Senegalese sensation Sadio Mané is quite possibly his country’s greatest-ever player in terms of the CV he has built since his arrival on the continent. Though his time with RB Salzburg and Southampton was noteworthy, Mané achieved true stardom while at Liverpool and was key to their success under Jürgen Klopp.

CF: Didier Drogba (Chelsea)

For many, the buck stops with Didier Drogba when it comes to Africa’s greatest-ever export to have found his way to the Premier League. For some, Drogba is on par, or a level ahead, of Thierry Henry, and while I think that is blasphemous to suggest, there is no denying that the Ivorian goalscorer was immense for Chelsea in big moments that resulted in over 100 league goals and eleven domestic honors, as well as a Champions League win.

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Andrew Thompson

US-based Football writer. German football guru with a wealth of experience in youth development and analysis. Data aficionado. Happily championing the notion that Americans have a knowledgeable voice in the beautiful game.

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