The African wing of SFG returns with their latest cohort of players as the countdown continues from 60 to 51. Resident writers James Bennett, Maher Mezahi and Salim Masoud Said are joined by regular contributors Theo Sakyi and Jimmy Aidoo. We’re also joined by specialist contributor Toke Theilade, the Editor-in-Chief of the excellent Russian Football News .
60. Diafra Sakho
West Ham (ENG) / Senegal / Striker
It was always unlikely that Sakho would continue the form with which he started the 2014-15 season in. Scoring in six consecutive Premier League games is a rare feat and anything after that was always likely to underwhelm, especially with Andy Carroll, West Ham’s prize asset, returning to action (eventually). But despite this, he remains an important part of the Hammers squad, chipping in with the occasional goal.
Sakho started 2015 in a similar vein to how he ended 2014, scoring the opening goal in West Ham’s 1-1 draw with West Bromwich Albion on New Year’s Day. However, he picked up an injury in that game which had seemingly left him out of the running for a berth in the Senegal squad for the Africa Cup of Nations. Despite this, he came off the bench in their FA Cup tie with Bristol City on 25th January, scoring the winning goal; the Senegalese FA were none to impressed and West Ham were fined for selecting him.
Further goals came against Tottenham and Sunderland, but he picked up a thigh strain in April which ruled him out of the rest of the season. Outgoing manager Sam Allardyce warned against a recurrence; his words today seem prophetic, after Sakho suffered further thigh injuries this season.
He began the 2015-16 season well with two goals against FC Lusitans in the Europa League, but in the second leg of the tie he was given a red card after just 14 minutes for an off-the-ball incident. His Premier League tally currently stands at three goals, coming against Liverpool, Manchester City and Norwich, but he has had two spells on the sidelines due to that troublesome thigh, the first in early November sustained in training, and the second coming soon after while playing against West Brom.
After the latest recurrence, he had an operation in December, which will likely sideline him until March; hopefully this will cure the problem, as the last thing West Ham need is another injury-prone striker.
Highlight of the Year: Brace against FC Lusitans
Though it might have been against vastly inferior opposition, Sakho’s only brace at West Ham against FC Lusitans demonstrated his main abilities: the first a header from close range, and the second a simple finish after finding space in the penalty area from 12 yards out. JB
Sir Alex Ferguson famously said that Fililpo Inzaghi was born offside. If Malick Evouna was not born offside then he was certainly conceived offside. The Gabonese striker was adjudged to be offside at a comical number of times at AFCON2015, and with a large chunk of those calls nowhere even near borderline the rawness of the then 22-year-old was apparent.
Though just 5’10”, there’s the powerful, battering-ram side to Evouna which has made him one of Africa’s most feared strikers in the last three years, coming to prominence at Morocco giants Wydad Casablanca. Blessed with a predatory instinct to isolate defenders and pressurise them into mistakes, or destroy them for pace or power, he can also force his way through several defenders with precise, coldblooded touches before finishing.
The 19 goals he scored for Wydad Casablanca in the 2014-2015 season – finishing as the Moroccan League’s top scorer as Wydad won the league – meant a move to one of Africa’s mega-clubs was increasingly becoming a question of when. He hasn’t wasted time in coping with the pressures of playing for the biggest club in Africa, Al Ahly, with 5 goals to his name already this season. The target now is to establish himself as the best striker in Africa.
Highlight of the Year: Perfect end to his Wydad career
A league medal and the golden boot. Not a bad way to say goodbye. SMS
58. Cedric Bakambu
Villareal (ESP) / DR Congo / Striker
The fact that the DR Congo striker has played for three clubs in the three years, moving from the French league to the Turkish league and then onto the Spanish La Liga, may hint of impulsiveness or commitment issues or, considering he’s 24, someone set to embark on a peripatetic career.
It was relegation with Sochaux which saw Bakambu end up with Bursaspor. and within a season it was clear that he was too good for that level. Villareal came calling in the summer and Bakambu has shown that a brief foray into the Turkish league hasn’t made him lose any career momentum.
Forging a fantastic fraternal bond with fellow new signing Roberto Soldado in attack, the 24-year-old has recorded 8 goals so far this season for the Yellow Submarine. His hold up play and ability to bring others into game, through an array of neat touches and cute passes, have showcased a player who brings more to the team than just the raw data of goals and assists. His physique isn’t impressive at first glance, but his explosive direct running and shoulder-barging of centre backs show a player who also enjoys the aggressive side of the game and who can easily embarrass back-lines if he is not well contained.
The former French youth international – and one of the stars of their European U-19 triumph in 2009 – has opted to go with his heart and play for DR Congo at international level. With Dieumerci M’Bokani the only forward able to provide reliable top class quality, DR Congo coach Florent Ibenge has wasted no time in calling up Bakambu.
Highlight of the Year: Unsettling Sergio Ramos and Pepe
Not many strikers in the world can say they unsettled both Sergio Ramos and Pepe. Bakambu didn’t score on the day but he did notch an assist and caused trouble throughout for the Real Madrid defence, nutmegging Ramos at one point, during a deserved 1-0 win in December. SMS
57. Mame Biram Diouf
Stoke City (ENG) / Senegal / Striker
Stoke City’s signing of Diouf on a free from Hannover in the summer of 2014 has undoubtedly been one of the best bargains of the last couple of seasons. The Senegalese striker has so far accumulated 16 goals since his return to England, 15 of which have come in the Premier League, and in the process has largely displaced the experienced Peter Crouch in the Stoke line-up.
Diouf began the year in Equatorial Guinea at the Africa Cup of Nations. He has considerable competition for his position for Senegal, with Dame N’Doye, Moussa Sow, Papiss Cisse, Demba Ba and Diafra Sakho all jockeying for a starting role, but Diouf was selected for the first game, scoring the game-changing equaliser against Ghana before Sow won them the game. However, the tournament would ultimately be a disappointment for the team, after a draw and a defeat saw them eliminated, but Diouf started all three games.
After his return to England, a season-ending injury sustained by Bojan Krkic led Mark Hughes to turning to Diouf to spearhead the attack. He ended the season strongly with seven goals in his last 13 appearances, including decisive equalisers against Aston Villa and Southampton which again spurred his side to victory, and two goals against Liverpool on the final day which took his tally to 12 league goals for the season.
He began 2015-16 in similar form, scoring two goals in his first three appearances including a late equaliser against Tottenham. He then added the winning goal against Bournemouth a month later, but has since been on a considerable dry spell, in part because Bojan has returned to action and displaced him from the starting line-up, leading only to fleeting appearances off the bench. He also spent time away from football in October after the death of his mother in the 24th September stampede in Mecca. It is therefore understandable why his form has been patchy of late.
Highlight of the Year: His double against Liverpool
Scoring two goals in the 6-1 demolition of Liverpool on the last day of the 2014-15 season must have been enormously satisfying for Diouf, a former Manchester United player. JB
56. Mohamed El Nenny
Basel (SWI) / Egypt / Defensive Midfielder
Mohamed El-Nenny completed a move to Arsenal this week. The transfer made headlines in Egypt, and injected optimism in a cynical sporting public which usually holds forays abroad in suspicion.
Egyptian football fans are right to be excited by the announcement. Most Egyptians who couldn’t hold their own in Europe had well-documented attitude issues. Ahmed Mido, Hossam Ghaly, Amr Zaki. El-Nenny is the Jekyll to their Hyde.
El-Nenny is a quiet, soft-spoken, leader on and off the pitch. His play reflects his personality. Unless you are actively looking for his tufty afro bobbing around the belt of the pitch, you might miss his most important contributions.
El-Nenny is what the post-modern pundit calls a controller. A midfielder that sets the tempo with his passing. You can count on the young Pharaoh to make the most passes and take the most touches in most matches he partakes in. El-Nenny also has a good motor and can cover lots of ground over 90 minutes. One aspect of his skill set El-Nenny improved recently is his long-range shooting. The 23-year-old has scored six goals this season for Basel and many have come from outside the box.
The purchase of El-Nenny should work wonders for Arsenal. Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta have, at times this season, been liabilities. The injured Francis Coquelin hasn’t been replaced, and the Gunners have dropped points as a result. El-Nenny will be able to play alongside Coquelin, Aaron Ramsey, or even Santi Cazorla.
All eyes will be on North London and El-Nenny to see how Wenger’s latest signing will adapt to life in England starting next week.
Highlight of the Year: Signing for Arsenal
Traditionally speaking, Egyptian footballers tend to fail in Europe. El-Nenny will try to join Mohamed Salah and Ahmed El-Mohamady as part of a new generation of Egyptian players who are successfully making the jump across the Mediterranean. MM
55. Victor Wanyama
Southampton (ENG) / Kenya / Defensive Midfielder
Kenya’s captain continued his sparkling form into his second season with Southampton, blossoming under Ronald Koeman into one of the Premier League’s leading defensive midfielders. He has suffered a dip in form in the first half of the 2015-16 season, but he enters 2016 in demand from the league’s bigger teams despite his team’s inconsistent start to the season.
Wanyama was a key part of Southampton’s run to 7th in the Premier League in 2014-15, forming a solid partnership with Morgan Schneiderlin, as the ball-winner alongside the Frenchman’s box-to-box prowess. Often playing on the edge of what is legal on the field of play, his combative style has made him a feared opponent, and also saw him pick up 23 yellow cards between his arrival at St Mary’s and the end of 2015.
The result of this form has been interest in his services over the last few months, most recently from Arsenal, who were reportedly lining up on a bid in January reputed to be as high as £20 million. This is not the first time there has been talk of him moving away; in August he told the club he wasn’t happy there and wanted to leave, with rumoured interest from Tottenham.
After negotiations with the club, he soon returned to first team action, but his performances since have often lacked some of the focus that made him a star of the last season. This has included picking up his first Premier League red card against Bournemouth in November; he added another in January against Norwich. Schneiderlin’s departure for Manchester United and a tiring Europa League schedule have also contributed to Wanyama’s and Southampton’s erratic form, but it does not seem to have affected his value.
The January window has now arrived and the club seem to be willing to sell as long as they can bring in a replacement. Title-chasing Arsenal are of course short of a quality defensive midfielder, and Wanyama gave the perfect audition in December, helping Southampton dominate the midfield battle in thrashing the Gunners 4-0 in his best performance of the season so far; enormously convenient, you might say. Watch this space.
Highlight of the Year: Dominant display against the Gunners
Even if his motivation for it is questionable, his dominant performance against Arsenal in December was yet more evidence why the Gunners (and most of the other leading Premier League teams) should look to sign him up for the rest of the 2015-16 season and beyond. JB
54. Baye Oumar Niasse
Lokomotiv Moscow (RUS) / Senegal / Striker
Since joining Lokomotiv in the Russian capital in the summer of 2014, Senegalese striker Baye Oumar Niasse has played under three different head coaches. Lokomotiv signed Niasse after he impressed for Akhisarspor in the Turkish league, but neither Leonid Kuchuk nor Miodrag Bozovic were keen on the athletic striker. They preferred Dame N’Doye and Roman Pavlyuchenko over Niasse, and in January last year, Serbian targetman Petar Skuletic was also added to the squad, leaving Niasse long down line of playing time.
It wasn’t until Bozovic was replaced by Lokomotiv legend Igor Cherevchenko shortly before the Russian cup final that Niasse finally got his chance. The gamble immediately paid off, as Niasse scored a crucial goal in the cup final against Kuban Krasnodar, and he hasn’t looked back since.
Despite the goal in the cup victory, there were rumours of Niasse going to Turkey with Galatasaray being keen on the striker, but not ready to pay the €4 million Lokomotiv reportedly wanted.
So, Niasse stayed and scored Lokomotiv’s single goal in the Super Cup final against Zenit, a match that was however lost after penalty shootout.
In the Premier League, Niasse has scored eight goals and made six assists, making him an absolute cornerstone in Lokomotiv’s surprising title challenge. Niasse total contribution in 14 league goals is only topped by Zenit’s Hulk, the absolute star in the country. On top of the good showing in the league, Niasse also scored four goals in the Europa League group stage, helping Lokomotiv finish their group in front of both Besiktas and Sporting.
Niasse’s good form has however not gone unnoticed, and in the past months there have been several reports of foreign clubs being linked with him, among these English powerhouse Chelsea. Niasse himself has commented on these rumours, confirming that José Mourinho was in fact keeping an eye on him while he was in charge of Chelsea.
Highlight of the Year: Scoring in the cup final
Niasse started on the bench, but replaced Pavlyuchenko on the pitch after 64 minutes. Nine minutes later, Niasse had equalised Kuban’s lead, kickstarting the Lokomotiv comeback that would eventually end up as a 3-1 victory after extra time. On top of this, his goal once and for all proved to both the fans as well as Cherevchenko that he was worth betting on. TT
53. Idriss Kameni
Malaga (SPA) / Cameroon / Goalkeeper
If anyone is quizzed on a given series of names and is asked to mention the last name to complete the roll-call of Jacques Songo’o, Joseph-Antoine Bell, Thomas Nkono, then Carlos Idriss Kameni is most likely the name that will pop-out as the fourth one, completing Cameroon’s four generations of quality keepers.
Kameni made his international debut in 2001 and has since gone on to rake in an impressive 73 caps for the Indomitable Lions. Amongst others on his CV, Saint Etienne, Espanyol and AC Le Havre feature prominently as some of the clubs he’s manned the crossbar for at a point in time. He’s now on the payroll of Malaga CF after a €2m move from RCD Espanyol in the January 2012 having spent the previous 8 years with the Barcelona based team. He’s kept all of Malaga’s 19 La Liga games this season, provided one assist (yes assist) and has conceded 15 goals in the process.
Coming in at 186cm, he is excellent at handling crosses due to his height and large frame. For the most part, he is known for his aggression in posts and, rather paradoxically, the ability to calmly organise his defences properly. He is a fitting of the ‘modern goalkeeper’ tag with an ever impressive accuracy in distribution either with his feet or with a long throw after a catch.
A few off field incidents might have blighted his international career but It goes without showing that Kameni has paid his dues to African football, has regained his form, and his work will linger on for a long time in the consciences of its football fans.
Highlight of the Year: Fantastic performance versus Real madrid
A regular tormentor of Real Madrid, Kameni continued his high performance levels against Ronaldo et al., displaying his agility and command to keep them at bay in a 0-0 draw. It is the sort of performance that has earned him the recall to the Cameroon squad again and restored him as the first choice goalkeeper. JA
52. Benjamin Moukandjo
Lorient (FRA) / Cameroon / Winger
Up until 2015 Moukandjo was seen as raw and wasteful, an over-dribbler lacking the bigger-picture awareness, tactical discipline and final product to play regularly at the very top level. Flair wise he wouldn’t have looked out of place in the fabled Cameroon 1990 side, a Cyril Makanaky of our time perhaps, but, equally, the type of player too unpolished for high-level, major league football to embrace with open arms.
Fast forward 12 months and, despite an anonymous AFCON2015 campaign with Cameroon, the winger-cum-striker has come to the fore in Ligue 1, shouldering the Lorient goalscoring workload Jordan Ayew left behind after his summer transfer to Aston Villa. He currently sits second in the French Ligue 1 goalscoring charts with 11 goals, just four behind top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The numbers to his game encapsulate the reversal in productivity in the attacking third. By the end of December, he had converted 30% of his chances and he has roughly 2 shots per game. His importance to Lorient in his debut season for the club is underlined by the fact that he had scored 41% of their goals at the halfway stage.
Highlight of the Year: Adding end product to his game
There has always been a pizzazz to Moukandjo which made him one of the most watchable African players on his best days, one of the most frustrating players on his off-days, and generally a player with no middle ground. Aged 27, he has finally added substance to the style after something of a journeyman career. SMS
51. Kalidou Koulibaly
Napoli (ITA) / Senegal / Centre Back
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s slightly unusual that Kalidou Koulibaly has only just started to creep into people’s consciousness as a top African centre back. Perhaps it’s because of a relative lack of exposure on the international scene, since he has represented France at Under-20 level. Although he had been getting regular games at a decent level for Belgian side Genk since 2012, centre-back is not a position Senegal struggle in anyway.
Koulibaly took a while to adjust at Napoli under Benitez. His marking often looked suspect but you could see he had the raw attributes to be a stopper of good quality. At 6’3” he’s good in the air and covers ground quickly, making him a good last defender.
Being 24, he can’t be considered a young player anymore but his reading of the game appears to have improved quite a bit and can pass from the back. It feels inevitable that he will become Africa’s top centre back as he gains experience. Having only made four appearances for Senegal’s he has plenty of time to cement himself as a stalwart at the centre of the Teranga Lions’ defence.
Highlight of the Year: Superb pass versus FC Midtjylland
His Alonso-like long pass from the back that lead to Jose Callejon scoring a wonder goal against Midtjylland in the Europa League. TS