We all know Yaya Banana, Gilles Yapi Yapo, Emmanuel Eboue and Gael Bigirimana are African players to watch out for this season. But, believe it or not, there are more salivating names out there. Here, Salim Masoud Said takes you through some not-so-well-known African players to watch out for this season; a mixture of new signings and/or those who could make an earth-shattering impact. On with it:
Karim El Ahmadi (Feyenoord to Aston Villa for £2m)
One ‘El of a player. The Karim of the crop. If Aston Villa start shouting “****ing El!”, or a variation of that expletive, then it won’t be because Karim El Ahmadi is playing badly. Last season, Villa bored everyone to moribund as Alex McLeish sought to complete step 2 of his mission to relegate every club in the midlands, albeit, fortunately (as Villa hold a fond place in my heart), to no avail. New manager Paul Lambert has vowed to reimburse Villa fans for the soul-destroying football of last season by promising to inject some catwalk football.
Certainly, the signing of El Ahmadi from Feyenoord speaks volumes of his intentions; for here is a player blessed with the absolute effortlessness in possession of the ball that not only makes him instantly stand out, but could potentially be positively contagious to the rest of the team. Nicknamed ‘The Governor’ in Holland for his ability to keep the ball with regal entitlement in midfield, and also being a superb reader of the game, there has been glowing praise from Lambert and team-mate Barry Bannan during pre-season. “It’s as if he’s playing by himself sometimes, really, because he’s so casual on the ball but he rarely ever gets caught on it,” Bannan told the Birmingham Mail. “He’s nice to watch, he’s easy on the eye the way he plays.”
Sofiane Feghouli (Valencia)
Part of a phalanx of young French attacking midfielders who have been dubbed ‘The New Zinedine Zidane’ since the great man’s pre-eminence, Feghouli seemed destined to wither away amidst the perils of promise and hyperbole. Perhaps he is still destined for failure, but things are looking up. The French-born Algerian enjoyed a breakthrough campaign last season for Valencia with some impressive performances in the Europa League, where they reached the semi-finals, and in La Liga. He started to add goals into his repertoire (which included a goal on his Algeria debut in February) and proved his competency whether it was through the centre or down the right flank, particularly noteworthy was his fantastic delivery with crosses and the way he noxiously combined with Ricardo Costa to cause damage down the wing with neat flicks and tricks.
With the departure of coach Unai Emery, who he considered very important to his development, from Valencia to Spartak, it will be interesting to see how the Algeria international is utilised and the standard of his performances from here on in. With Sochaux’s Ryad Boudebouz, he is one of Algeria’s biggest hopes in a side which has lacked creativity over the past two decades.
Youssef El Arabi (Al Hilal to Granada for an undisclosed fee)
A technically-gifted striker who has the poacher’s knack of goal pick-pocketing, yet is unorthodox in the sense that he has great composure on the ball and a wonderful first touch. The French-born Moroccan’s biggest strength is he is protean; he’s capable of spearheading the attack, has had stints on the wing and has even played in midfield at times. He pinpoints that versatility and composure on the ball down to his futsal career (he was the France U-21 futsal captain at the zenith of it).
When he made the switch from futsal to amateur football, his hometown club Caen were quick to offer him a contact when they spotted him playing for amateur club USON Mondeville. Although Caen were relegated in his debut season as he acclimatised to the rigours of professional football, he would repay their faith with two fantastic seasons after that; firstly, firing them back to Ligue 1 and, secondly, to solidify their Ligue 1 status in 2010/2011 with 17 goals. Just when seemed on his way to a better league, with teams such as Genoa interested in acquiring his services, he followed the roots of his name (and a hefty pay package, one presumes) and joined Al Hilal in Saudi Arabia. Whilst he has continued his prolific goal-scoring there with 17 goals in 23 matches for the Saudi outfit, it’s a record which few will respect due to the standard of the league. A summer move to Granada, then, is an opportunity to resurrect his career and make his name in a league which is the protagonist of technical football; somewhere where he should feel right at home.
Zouheir Dhaouadi (Club Africain to Evian for free)
A rapid left-winger who combines Maghrebian flair, hard-nosed Tunisian efficiency and an eye for goal. Whilst the Pizzazz Gold Medal for Tunisia has been won by Youssef Msakni in recent years, Dhaouadi has been the humble blue-collar worker in the background. For while his compatriot dazzles with explosive outbursts of trickery; Dhaouadi perfectly measures them in tiny amounts over the course of a game. It’s fitting, then, that the boy has signed for Evian for two reasons: 1) his style of play is pure for those who value the equilibrium between application and skill 2) he’s not a bottler (sorry). The Tunisian, who left previous club Club Africain in acrimonious circumstances after refusing to sign a new deal, was the best player at the African Nations Championships – a tournament for domestic-based players of each country – finishing with 3 goals as the Carthage Eagles showed the muscle of their domestic football to lift the title in Sudan. He was equally impressive in Tunisia’s impressive opening game 2-1 win against North African rivals Morocco as he tucked in slightly from the left in their unconventional 4-3-1-2 system.
Jean-Jacques Gosso Gosso (Orduspor)
Not a new signing, but he feels like it. The greatest player you’ve never heard of, or maybe you have, but I’m generalising here. In an Orduspor side that has been instilled with a doctrine of mind-numbing, bone-chilling football by the cosmopolitan Hector Cuper, Jean-Jacques Gosso Gosso provides the only sniff of entertainment in the form of his thuggish, rough-necked modus operandi. If you can’t catch Orduspor matches, then cross your fingers and pray that we see the African football hipster’s Footballer of the Year in the phosphorous colours of the Ivory Coast, manning the right wing with his intransigency, endearing unconventionality and those alluring white boots. If Ivory Coast fail to beat Senegal in the play-off for the Africa Cup of Nations, I may very well cry.