The African wing of SFG returns after publishing their first batch on Tuesday. Resident writers James Bennett, Sam Crocker, Maher Mezahi and Salim Masoud Said are joined by regular contributors Lotfi Wada, Abdul Musa and Jimmy Aidoo.
90. Solomon Jabason
Al Merreikh (SUD) / Nigeria / Midfielder
One of Al Merriekh’s unsung heroes, Jabason has played a vital role in Al Merriekh’s historic 2015 season. Coming in from Ahly Benghazi in December 2014, Jabason was Al Merriekh’s best foreign signing, dictating the midfield in most games he’s played in, displaying strength, stamina and great composure on the ball that have made him a very important player for the team as well as fan favourite. French manager Diego Garzitto has also used him in a unfamiliar centre-back role at times where he also performed very well.
Wise when in possession, aerially dominant and blessed with a superb range of passing, the 24-year-old has all the qualities to lead Al Merriekh to more success in coming years as well as push for a national team call up with the Super Eagles of Nigeria.
Jabason has featured in every game for Al Merriekh in the 2015 CAF Champions league and only missed out on 3 games in the league/cup due to injury. Throughout the season he picked up four Man of the Match awards and managed to score three goals despite being a very defensive minded player.
Targets in 2016 for him would be to carry on his good performances to help Al Merriekh retain the title as well as push further for the quest of continental glory. This will surely increase his chances of a national team call up as well as a bigger move to Europe where he dreams of playing.
Highlight of the Year: Equaliser versus ES Setif in Algeria (group stages of the 2015 African CL)
A towering header to secure his team a very important draw which in the end helped qualify Al Merriekh to the semi finals with ES Setif missing out. AM
89. Moses Simon
Gent (BEL) / Nigeria / Winger
The journey from playing football barefooted on the dusty, bumpy makeshift pitches of Jos, Northern Nigeria, to the well-maintained and manicured green pitches of the pristine stadia of European football has been one remarkable story Moses Daddy-Ajala Simon would look to pour out in the black-and-white splurges of a bestseller, having its own dedicated shelf in many bookshops worldwide in some time to come. It is a script only the passion and drive for the world’s most popular sport could write.
Ambidextrous and deceptively powerful for somebody who stands at just 168cm, the 20-year-old loves to operate from either end of an attacking trio. He is speedy, direct and assiduous when he pulls on his jersey and takes to the field. His work-rate has earned him his manager’s faith at the Jupiler Pro League outfit KAA Gent – featuring all but one game so far for his team this term; scoring thrice in the process and directly contributing two other goals.
Moses started his football back in Nigeria with GBS academy from a tender age of eight in 2003 and his remarkable returns at the junior side secured him a Flying Eagles (Nigeria U20 side) call up in 2013. He built his CV from there with a move to AS Trencin in January 2014. After good twelve months, Belgian side KAA Gent came calling and on January 7, 2015 he signed the dotted lines, keeping him there until the summer of 2018.
Tottenham Hotspurs are reportedly watching the highly-rated Nigerian wide man who scored seven times last season to help Gent win the Belgian Pro League. He seems to have sauntered his way into Sunday Oliseh’s Super Eagles in recent times and appears to be one of the youngsters the coach will be looking to build his team around.
Highlight of the Year: Continuing consistency over the years
If his performances over the last couple of years are anything to go by, then there is a presaging parcel of optimism for football fans going forward that Moses is more than prepared to wow us for a while. JA
88. Nabil Dirar
Monaco (FRA) / Morocco / Winger
Very few players survive the lucrative petrodollar takeovers we have seen at clubs like Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, and Monaco.
When Dmitry Rubovlev purchased Monaco in December 2011 the club from the Principality were straggling at the foot of Ligue 2. Nabil Dirar was the Russian billionaire’s signing of intention just a month later.
Despite myriad behavioural incidents, which included spitting in an opponent’s face, refusing to celebrate a teammate’s goal, and skiving fan day at Club Brugge, Monaco forked over 6 million euros for Nabil Dirar.
Dirar furthermore soiled his reputation in Morocco after proclaiming that he would represent Belgium in international play, only for it to later emerge that such a feat would be impossible since he had represented the Atlas Lions at youth level.
It’s a testament to how much Nabil Dirar has grown in the last three years, that not only has he managed to hold his own in the midst of Monaco’s megastars, but has also established himself as a leader in Leonardo Jardim’s squad.
In 2015, Dirar contested 38 matches in five different competitions. The Moroccan winger helped Monaco to a third placed finish in Ligue 1, the quarterfinals of both the Coupe de France and the UEFA Champions League, and the semi-finals of the Couple de la Ligue.
Dirar also turned a page with Moroccan supporters, performing valiantly in friendly and competitive matches. The 28-year-old winger took part in qualifying matches against Libya and Sao Tome e Principe, scoring a crucial goal on the archipelago.
This year, Dirar even played in defence; his end-to-end, unremitting playing style permitting Jardim and Badou Zaki to deploy him at right fullback with positive results. For the remainder of 2015/2016 Dirar will look to continue his decisive play, having notched six assists in the first half of the season.
Highlight of the Year: Captaining Monaco to a famous win over Arsenal
When he captained an inexperienced Monaco side to that shocking 1-3 victory against Arsenal in London. MM
87. Nasr El-Din El-Shigail
Al Hilal (SUD) / Sudan / Defensive Midfielder
Nasr El-Din El-Shigail, affectionately known as “Mr Consistency” in Sudan, has played a pivotal role in Al Hilal CAF Champions League run playing over 50 games for club and country in 2015. In fact El-Shigail has played 90 minutes in every game for Al Hilal in 2015 except on two occasions where he was rested.
As well as his vital defensive contributions El-Shigail likes to wander forward from time to time and has managed six goals this season with two of those coming in the African Champions League. Aerially dominant, very good on the ball and can perfect the old fashioned slide tackle, El-Shigail is considered the best defensive midfielder at the moment in Sudan with eight consecutive years of experience playing for both Al Hilal and Al Merriekh.
The latter released the player in 2011 after he picked up a fatal knee injury that kept him out for 7 months. Al Hilal agreed to sign the player in the summer of 2012 helping him with the rest of his treatment and now he has come back stronger than ever, being the first player on the team sheet in every game for every manager since his arrival.
One of the most disciplined players in the country, never missing a training session for any reason, El-Shigail’s professionalism is one that not many can match, especially in Africa. Coupled with his good performances week in week out, it is a pity he peaked in the latter stages of his career otherwise he would definitely merit a move abroad.
Now the big target for him is to carry on his good performances and guide Al Hilal to continental glory with the rest of his teammates in the 2016 edition of the Champions League competition.
Highlight of the Year: His goal versus Smouha in the last group stage match of African CL
His goal was crucial as it guided Al Hilal to the semi finals. His effort came in the 76th minute of the game levelling terms and without it Al Hilal would have been knocked out of the competition. AM
86. Javier Balboa
Al Faisaly (KSA) / Equatorial Guinea / Attacking Midfielder
The poster boy of the month that the people of Equatorial Guinea will never forget, President Obiang owes Javier Balboa a hell of a lot of thanks. Driving his team forward in a tropical storm of tricks, swivels and swirls, Balboa almost single-handedly fostered the intense nationalistic atmosphere that dominated every stadium in which the hosts played in, with his showmanship and capability to produce moments of pure magic creating the noise around him that allowed Equatorial Guinea to reach the unlikely stage that they did in the tournament.
Known simply as “that guy who used to play for Real Madrid” prior to the tournament, he was focussed upon beforehand based on little else but the fact that he had an accessible history. In a malaise of obscurity, Balboa was one of the few to have a Wikipedia page, with a couple even remembering during his fleeting time with one of the Spain’s premier sides. But there were times where he didn’t look a million miles away from Real standard.
Winning a free kick around 30 yards out in the quarter-final against an “uptight” Tunisia side, after a typical jink and jaunt that made him such crowd favourite, pure, undeniable football magic occurred. He curled the free kick past Aymen Mathlouthi in the Tunisia goal in the 102nd minute to give Equatorial Guinea an unlikely lead over the North Africans, as they saw out the remaining 18 minutes for a famous victory.
He spent the whole tournament riling up the crowd with his cheeky flicks and showy tricks; often totally unnecessary in the context of the game, but absolutely vital in geeing up the people in the stands into a big Nzalang frenzy that scared the opposition into defeat.
Since moving to Saudi Arabia at the start of the season, Balboa will never have a memorable club career – but frankly, it just doesn’t matter. What he produced during those weeks at AFCON 2015 will go down in the folklore of African football for generations to come.
Highlight of the Year: Extra time winner v Tunisia
Scoring the winning free-kick against Tunisia in the AFCON quarter-final. An unbelievable moment. SC
85. Kermit Erasmus
Orlando Pirates (RSA) / South Africa / Attacking Midfielder
Kermit Erasmus looks to have finally settled into his own. He has now become an integral cog in the Orlando Pirates team that narrowly lost out on the CAF Confederation Cup last year. He was one of South Africa’s most promising youngsters in their appearance at the FIFA U20 World Cup in Egypt in 2009 but hasn’t quite lived up to the billing since then. He has, however, now started giving everybody who identified his talent back then a renewed hope and a reason to feel their judgements didn’t betray them seven years ago.
He is agile and exciting to watch. He’s got the knack of making the spectacular look easy. His eye for picking a pass is undeniable and he can score as well. Comfortable playing either as the secondary striker or from the left wing, he managed an inspiring 15 goal tally in all competitions in the calendar year 2015 with some 8 assists in 45 games he featured in over the period for the ABSA Premiership side.
SuperSport United, Feyenoord (Holland) and SBV Excelsior are teams on his CV; he’s currently tied down by Orlando Pirates to a contract that will see him feature for them until the end of the 2015/2016 football season. After that, given his form for Orlando Pirates, it may just be time for another bite at the cherry in Europe.
Highlight of the Year: A good 12 months
2015 has been a great year for Erasmus by any metric and he will be looking to either match it or improve on his numbers going forward. – JA
84. Franck Kom
Etoile Du Sahel (TUN) / Cameroon / Defensive Midfielder
Like his colleague Aymen Balbouli, Franck Kom had mixed fortunes with Etoile du Sahel and the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon.
After playing just 70 minutes with the Indomitable Lions in their entire AFCON 2015 campaign, in which was his first real campaign with his homeland, Kom came back to El Hamra with higher ambitions and hunger to erase a tame, unmemorable national team performance.
Like the combative and tireless midfielder he is, Kom was an instrumental member of ES Sahel’s second place in the league. His performances improved match-by-match in the CAF Confederation Cup until a horrific injury in a friendly game versus French giants Olympique Marseille cut him out of the final group stages games and Etoile du Sahel’s historic five-goal win over Zamalek.
The midfielder would be fit enough to take part to the final stages of the competition where his engine was much needed to apply Faouzi Benzarti pressing and win the midfield battle home and away.
Highlight of the Year: Both legs of the Etoile du Sahel-Orlando Pirates CAF Confederation Cup final
The diminutive Lion upped his game at the moments his team needed it most. In the first leg the Cameroonian helped El Hamra to win the midfield battle and didn’t mind to move forward to create danger.On the return leg in Sousse Franck focused mainly on the defensive work to ease the pressure on his teammates. LW
83. Adama Tamboura
Unattached / Mali / Left Back
If SFG were to make a Best XI comprising of the last three editions of AFCON, Adama Tamboura would be a shoo-in at left back and one of the first names on the teamsheet. The heavy-shouldered Malian has been one of AFCON’s outstanding performers in the course of the last three editions, making SFG’s team of the tournament twice, and only narrowly missing out in the latest edition due to the emergence of the faultless Baba Rahman.
Defensively, Tamboura hasn’t always covered himself in glory – in the semi-final of AFCON 2013, Victor Moses gave him a terrible time as Nigeria thrashed Mali 4-1. Against Ivory Coast, though, the Denmark-based full back delivered one of the best defensive performances by a full back at the tournament.
Helped by the explosive wing play of Bakary Sako, we certainly saw a different, more restrained side to Tamboura in the 2015 tournament. Consistently faced-off with some of the continent’s best wingers – Max Gradel, Ibrahima Traore, and Benjamin Moukandjo – he simply had to be more considered defensively. Indeed, he had to sacrifice his trademark surges forward, a key feature of his and Mali’s game, in order to control Gradel and the relentless right-sided raids of Serge Aurier in Ivory Coast’s 3-5-2 formation in their 1-1 draw.
The year has ended on a low after being released from Hobro in late December following a short spell to cover an injury crisis. You would imagine that his consistency at international level hasn’t gone unnoticed and that clubs will be willing to take a chance on him.
Highlight of the Year: Nullifying Serge Aurier at AFCON 2015
An excellent defence performance versus Ivory Coast. Tamboura committed 8 tackles during the game, more than any Mali player and twice more than anyone in the defensive line, five clearances and, untypically for a Mali player, committed just one foul. SMS
82. Aymen Mathlouthi
Etoile du Sahel (TUN) / Tunisia / Goalkeeper
A year where Aymen Mathlouthi, better known as Balbouli (due to his chubby physique), won the Tunisia Cup and reached CAF Confederation Cup semis with his boyhood club Etoile du Sahel. However, the one-man team had very different stories with both Les Aigles de Carthage and ES Sahel during the calendar year.
The year began badly for the Tunisian custodian as he and his colleagues left the AFCON in the quarters following a general average tournament on the pitch. That tournament would turn out to be the polar opposite of Balbouli’s journey in the colours of ES Sahel.
With some remarkable performances and superb saves, Balbouli was a key member of ES Sahel exploits at national level (their return to CAF Champions League and their Tunisian Cup triumph) and at a continental level where ES Sahel won the CAF Confederation Cup.
After missing the first leg of the final due to injury he came back stronger as ever in the return leg in his den of Stade Olympique de Sousse to help El Hamra to clinch its second CAF Confederation Cup, adding to the title they won in 2006.
Highlight of the Year : Etoile du Sahel-Orlando Pirates CAF Confederation Cup return leg
Mathlouthi kept going strong under Etoile du Sahel shirt and after a brilliant local campaign he stood up as one of their best performers in their quest for African glory.Balbouli hit his peak in 2015 during the CAF Confederation return leg where with his experience and his reflexes denied Orlando Pirates several clear cut chances and led his boyhood club to African glory.
It was certainly a very special title for Balbouli as, with five titles, he became one of Tunisia most titled players at continental club level. LW
81. Seydou Doumbia
CSKA Moscow (On Loan) (RUS) / Ivory Coast / Striker
An out-of-sorts year for the Ivorian marksman but it still doesn’t stop him from making this list. A transfer to AS Roma in Serie A finally saw a long overdue move to one of Europe’s major leagues come to fruition, but Doumbia found it difficult force his way into the starting XI for the Giallorossi and has gone back to CSKA Moscow on loan.
The chronic back problem which made Sabri Lamouchi axe him from the World Cup 2014 squad, fearing he would not be able to handle the intensity of a flurry of games in such a short time span, still persists and, given his lack of starts this year, appears to be worsening. It has not resulted in a severe diminishing returns in front of goal, but, for all the goals, it is understandably alarming to blue-chip clubs that rightly see him as a huge financial risk.
Direct, dead-eyed and always playing with a smile on his face, when fit and inevitably firing there is no doubt that he is one of the best African strikers around, as his three goals in the Champions League for CSKA Moscow have illustrated this season.
Doumbia is slowly and surely starting to establish himself for the Ivory Coast national side after Didier Drogba’s retirement, vying for the shirt with Wilfried Bony. The fight for that forward role will continue in 2016 as neither seem suited to leading the line on their own apart from when playing against very specific opposition tailored to their strengths, and they have shown few signs that their styles complement each other well enough to play together as a front two.
Highlight of the Year: Leveller against Guinea at AFCON 2015
Les Elephants were a man and goal down in their opening game of AFCON 2015 and in dire need of a goal to lessen the enormous pressure on them with tougher-looking group stage games to come. Coming off the bench, Doumbia proved why an exceptional case should have been made for him at World Cup 2014 despite his injury problems – his quality as a striker means he can always make an impact off the bench. Played through the Guinea defence by a deft ball over the top by Bony, he finished low past Naby Yattara to salvage a point. SMS