60 Greatest African Players: 50-41

Salah Assad was one of Algeria's stars at the 1982 World Cup

50. Segun Odegbami
Career Span: Unavailable-1984
Nationality: Nigerian
International Caps: 46 (23 goals)
Position: Right-Winger
 
Nicknamed  ‘Mathematical’ for the precision of his traits - the economic use of his pace and the methodological accuracy of his goals as well as his pinpoint crosses. Boasting a degree in Engineering, in many ways, Segun Odegbami engineered the rise of Nigerian football on the international scene. Initially, he played a key role when Shooting Stars became the first Nigerian side to win a title on the continental stage – the 1976 African Cup Winners Cup. In 1978, Nigeria would qualify for the Cup of Nations and Odegbami would score three goals as Nigeria finished third.

Two years later, he would engineer the Green Eagles, as they were then known, to their first ever Cup of Nations title, scoring two goals in the final. His methodological accuracy was showcased in the final as he out-jumped, out-thought and out-fought the Algerian defence. Certainly, Odegbami displayed the assets of an unorthodox winger, scoring 23 goals in 46 caps, the 2nd highest goalscorer of all-time for the Nigeria national team.

49. Mohamed Timoumi
Career Span: 1972-1990
Nationality: Moroccan
International Caps: Unavailable
Position: Central midfield, Left midfield
 

There was a time when Morocco was the Brazil of Africa. Jose Faria, Morocco’s Brazilian coach at the 1986 World Cup, described Moroccan football as ‘vivacious, played in the Carioca style (a South American samba-like dance) with emphasis on short passes and individual skills.’ No Moroccan player embodied that description better at the time than Mohamed Timoumi, one of the most eye-catching African players of all time.

In 1985, Timoumi would lead Moroccan army outfit FAR Rabat to an African Champions League title, dazzling spectators with symphonic pizzazz and razzmatazz. Timoumi was undoubtedly the star in an unremarkable team which was tailored to suit him, but his showmanship was used in efficient doses; with the divine combination of entertaining the crowds and the aim of an end-product at the end of it all. To put it simply, he was unplayable on his day. (Think Ronaldinho at his peak.)

Prior to the 1986 World Cup, Anver Versi described Timoumi as ‘undeniably gifted, with superb, tight ball control, an acute sense of distribution and speed which confounds all but the very best of defenders. Those who can keep up with him must then cope with his physical power as he shields the ball. Most who do so are lost when he makes of his dazzling high-speed runs.’

Unfortunately, his fitness heading into the 1986 World Cup was touch-and-go, and yet, despite not being at peak fitness, Timoumi would deliver a sumptuous performance against England; his lofted, making-it-easier-than-it-looks passes finding the tireless running Aziz Bouderbala and his sheer pizzazz puzzling the grit of the English midfield in the Mexican humidity.

48. Benni McCarthy
Career Span: 1995-
Nationality: South African
International Caps: 79 (31 goals)
Position: Striker
 

Now plying his trade in his homeland with Orlando Pirates, Benni McCarthy is a frustrating case of a player with abundance of talent but who has, ultimately, wasted it. At his peak, or when on form, Benni McCarthy was one of the most lethal African strikers. The South African introduced himself on the international stage at the 1998 Cup of Nations, finishing the tournament as joint-top scorer with Hossam Hassan with 7 goals at the tender age of 20 as he was named Player of the Tournament. Success would come at his Dutch giants Ajax with two Eredivisie titles but his disappointing spell at Celta Vigo would see him end up at Porto.

At the Portuguese giants, he played an important role in Jose Mourinho’s 2003-2004 Champions League triumph, his brace against Manchester United ultimately contributing to the red devils going out via away goals; his goal to complete the brace a phenomenal header that arched into the top corner of the goal after leaping like a hummingbird.

Achieving all he could with Porto, he would move to Blackburn for £2.6m and impress in his first season in the Premier League, finishing second in the goalscoring charts in 2006/2007 with 18 goals, just 2 behind the top scorer Didier Drogba. An ill-fated spell at West Ham where he suffered with his weight would see him miss out selection for the Bafana Bafana for the 2010 World Cup on home soil. Despite that, and coupled with not playing for his country for much of the last decade, McCarthy is still his country’s record goal-scorer with 31 goals in 79 games. When managers could get the best out of him, through doses of love and need, McCarthy was a very good striker.

47. Stephen Keshi
Career Span: 1979-1997
Nationality: Nigerian
International Caps: Unavailable
Position: Centre-back
 

Belgian side Lokeren boasts being the ultimate home for African footballers. Their first African signing was Stephen Keshi in March 1986, when he made his debut in a 3-0 win over Lierse. The intransigent Nigerian was part of the beginning of Nigeria’s golden era in African football in the 1980s – making a substitute appearance in the Nigeria’s 1980 Cup of Nations final victory – and then became captain when the country’s golden generation flourished on the world stage in the early 1990s, winning the 1994 Cup of Nations under his influence.  For much of the 1980s and 1990s, Keshi was ‘Mr Dependable’ for the Super Eagles, solid at the heart of their defence, usually behind the equally reliable Uche ‘Gentle Giant’ Uchechukwu.

Nowadays celebrated as one of the African stars who has successfully made the transition from player to coach, Keshi’s coaching career actually began in his playing days. Known as ‘Big Boss’, he was leader of a group of players who would influence the tactics and team selection of the irascible Clemens Westerhof, the Dutch coach of the Nigeria national team.

46. Lucas Radebe
Career Span: 1989-2005
Nationality: South African
International Caps: 70 (2 goals)
Position: Centre-back
 

“You are my hero,” Nelson Mandela famously told Lucas Radebe. The off-the-pitch story of Lucas Radebe is incredibly remarkable – in short, he was born in a Sowetan township, had a life of crime in his teenage years, was shot in the back at 21 (this short version does not do it justice) – and it’s a mixture of his remarkable story, his loyalty and his humility which has made him one of the world’s most loveable footballers. But even if one looks at his on-the-pitch story, Radebe is one of the most accomplished and consistent African defenders to have graced the British game.

Brought to Leeds in 1994 by Howard Wilkinson for £250,000 along with compatriot Phil Masinga, Radebe was the least rated of the two and, at first, struggled to settle in Yorkshire. All in all, Radebe made just 180 league appearances in 11 seasons, though that wasn’t because of abject performances, no, that was due to the fragility of his knees. When he was anywhere near fit, though, he was a majestic and consistent defender possessing the positional nous as well as the ability to squeeze every ounce of ability out of those that partnered him, whether it was average defenders such as Robert Molenaar or young starlets such as Rio Ferdinand and Jonathan Woodgate. He formed a formidable partnership with Mark Fish at the heart of the Bafana Bafana defence in their 1996 Cup of Nations triumph and was also part of the team finished runners-up in their attempts to retain the trophy two years later.

By the beginning of the 1998-1999 season, the South African was named the Leeds United captain and was widely recognised as one of the best centre-backs in the Premiership, even spurning the advances of Manchester Untied when they came calling. As Leeds skipper, Radebe saw the Whites finish 4th in 1998-1999 and 3rd in the following season and made the odd appearance in Leeds’ run to the Champions League semi-final in 2001.

45. Yakubu Aiyegbeni
Career Span: 1998-
Nationality: Nigerian
International Caps: 58 (21 goals)
Position: Striker
 

As the adage goes: “Feed the Yak and he will score.” The robust striker is the Nigerian player who has had the biggest impact – and certainly been the most consistent – in the English Premier League, yet he is often overlooked because he doesn’t possess the flair of Nwankwo Kanu or the pizzazz of Jay-Jay Okocha.

Yet few African strikers who have graced the Premiership can match him for his opportunism inside the area. He has scored 98 goals – only one African, Didier Drogba, with 100 goals, has scored more – even though he has never played for the ‘big’ clubs of the Premiership. The only period of inconsistency was after a serious injury at Everton, a period which made him drop a division to Leiceister City where he recaptured his form. Just as everyone had ruled him out, Yakubu made a comeback with Blackburn in the Premiership and has scored an impressive 14 goals for the relegation-threatened Premiership side this season.

‘The mark of a goalscorer is his goal ratio. Not how many goals but how many goals does he score per chance. Normally, when he gets a chance, he hits the target. His goal to chance ratio is up there with the best,’ enthused Blackburn manager Steve Kean on Yakubu earlier this season. ‘If you can get quality service into him, there’s no better finisher.’

He has regularly featured in the Nigerian sides which have flattered to deceive over the last decade or so, and that may one of the reasons why he doesn’t get the adulation he deserves (not to mention his horrific miss against South Korea at the 2010 World Cup), but his goalscoring record at international level is also more than respectable with 21 goals in 58 appearances, the third highest goalscorer of all-time for the Nigerian national team.

44. Japhet N’Doram
Career Span: 1988-1998
Nationality: Chadian
International Caps: 36 (13 goals)
Position: Attacking midfielder, Striker
 

George Weah is widely regarded as one of the greatest African players never to play in a World Cup, but at least he did play in the 1996 and 2002 editions of the Cup of Nations. Spare a thought for Japhet N’Doram, one of the most consistent African players of the 1990s, who never even played in a Cup of Nations for his country, Chad.

When Nantes won Ligue 1 in 1995, the prolific Patrice Loko was the star but he was aptly supported by a terrific cast which included Claude Makelele (a wonderful box-to-box midfielder back then), the crafty Reynald Petros, Christian Karembeu and N’Doram. With his thick long legs and imposing frame, you could be excused for mistaking N’Doram as just another powerfully-built African striker, but appearances can be deceiving. Playing as an attacking midfielder, N’Doram supplied an array of supremely composed finishes and defence-splitting assists which were executed with silky smooth swagger as the modest Nantes swaggered to victory.

After the departure of Loko to Paris Saint Germain, N’Doram was entrusted with the goalscoring burden for Les Canaries and was moved further up. Playing as a striker, he duly delivered, scoring 15 goals in 24 matches, as well as being integral to Nantes on their journey to the semi-final of the Champions League, valiantly losing against a formidable Juventus team.

43. Wael Gomaa
Career Span: 1995-
Nationality: Egyptian
International Caps: 106 (1 goal)
Position: Centre-back
 

At club level, the Egyptian’s medal collection has been staggering: 4–time African Champions League winner, 6 –time Egyptian League winner. The detractors will, quite rightly, question the level of club football he is playing at, but Wael Gomaa has been equally impressive at international level. Gomaa has been the defensive lynchpin for the Pharaohs, aerially dominant and undeterred by the household-named, European-based attackers he has faced.

He has been an ever-present figure, not missing a single minute, in the 2006, 2008 and 2010 Cup of Nation triumphs. He has shown supreme comfort in the 3-man and 4-man defensive systems The Pharaohs have deployed during those hat-trick of triumphs. The terrible thing is that Gomaa and the rest of the Cup of Nations-conquering team have, bafflingly, consistently failed to qualify for the World Cup and as a result there will always be question marks over their ability.

42. Ahmed Faras
Career Span: 1965-1979
Nationality: Moroccan
International Caps: Unavailable
Position: Striker, Attacking-midfielder
 

Spending his entire career with his native club Chabab Mohammeddia, Ahmed Faras was the all-rounder, his head or a combination of his exquisite left foot and peripheral vision made him an invaluable player to his club and country in the 1970s. Indeed, despite being an attacking midfielder, Faras scored 42 goals for his country. Unfortunately, in his only appearance in World Cup, in the 1970 edition, he’d play in a team that was told to stifle their flourishes with the onus on tactical discipline, with Faras in particularly singled out by Yugoslav coach Blagoje Vidinic.

For the best part of the early 1970s Faras languished between 2nd and 5th in the African player of the year polls before eventually becoming  the first North African to win the France Football African Footballer of the Year in 1975. The crowning moment of his career, however, would come after his superb performances at the 1976 Cup of Nations, captaining Morocco to Cup of Nations glory as he finished the tournament with 3 goals.

41. Salah Assad
Career Span: 1975-1989
Nationality: Algerian
International Caps: 68 (18 goals)
Position: Left-winger, Attacking midfielder
 

Uncharacteristically, the West Germany team of 1982 was overconfident in the lead-up to the fixture against the so-called minnows of Algeria. The moustached, Patrick Battiston-clattering goalkeeper, Harald Schumacher, predicted that his team would score between four and eight times against the North Africans. Algeria’s left-winger, Salah Assad, meanwhile, was trailed by a German journalist asking how he regarded his battle  with Germany’s Manfred Kaltz, supposedly the finest right-back in the world at the time. “Come back and ask me after the game,” replied Assad. Kaltz had been quoted as saying he knew little about Algeria.

Algeria would provide Kaltz with all the knowledge he needed in a shock 2-1 win. Fiercely determined, the speedy Assad would wreak havoc with the help of midfielder Mustapha Dahleb as they manned Algeria’s left wing and provided two assists. Their repetoire would involve one extraordinary passage of play. Deep in his own half and under pressure, Assad lobbed the ball over the German player who was pressuring him. The ball found Dahleb, who played keepy up with the ball a few times before heading the ball over back to Assad, who collected it on the other side and went on his way.

There was more to Assad than sheer acceleration. He had the vision and spatial awareness to also hurt defences through the centre. Indeed, in the final group match against Chile, Assad would impress again. Playing through the centre due to an injury to Lakhdar Belloumi, he scored two goals in the first half hour as Algeria went on to record a 3-2 win.

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