The first half of the list is now complete. The African wing of SFG returns with their latest cohort of players, containing largely defenders and goalkeepers, as the countdown continues from 50 to 41. Resident writers James Bennett, Maher Mezahi and Salim Masoud Said are joined by regular contributors Abdul Musa, Theo Sakyi and Jimmy Aidoo.
50. Wilfried Bony
Manchester City (ENG) / Ivory Coast / Striker
It was all looking so promising for Wilfried Bony. After scoring in a last-minute equaliser for Swansea against QPR on New Year’s Day, he headed off to Equatorial Guinea for the Cup of Nations. Ivory Coast won the tournament (despite his penalty shootout miss!) with Bony starting every game and scoring two vital goals against Algeria in the quarter-final. And when he arrived back in England, he was a Manchester City player.
But it’s been downhill since then for the £28 million striker. Despite joining the Premier League champions on a high, he scored just two goals in the remainder of the season (including one against former club Swansea in the penultimate week of the season). Generally seen as an underwhelming addition to the squad, he entered 2015-16 with his future at the club already under threat.
To his credit, he has upped his game, scoring eight goals in 22 competitive appearances in the rest of 2015. It took seven appearances to get off the mark, though, with his first two goals coming in a 5-1 win over struggling Bournemouth in October. As Sergio Aguero missed plenty of action over the coming weeks, he managed to maintain a starting berth and the goals began to add up, including a first Champions League goal against Sevilla in November.
However, league goals have been a problem. Only four of his eight goals have coming the Premier League, the rest being split between the Champions League and League Cup. Those four were spread across three opponents, all being relegation contenders: Bournemouth, Swansea (again) and Sunderland. He is yet to score against serious opposition in the league.
Additionally, the rise of young prospect Kelechi Iheanacho means it is questionable whether he will even be needed in the squad for much longer. It seems plausible that City will cut their losses and sell him in the summer – but that might be what Bony’s career needs in order to reignite.
Highlight of the Year: Decisive AFCON quarter final goals
Two massive goals in the crunch clash with Algeria which ultimately set up Ivory Coast’s run to the Cup of Nations final. The tournament was a high point in a disappointing year for Bony. JB
49. Mudathir ‘Careca’ El Tahir
Al Hilal Omdurman (SUD) / Sudan / Attacking Midfielder
Selected in CAF’s best 10 African players of the year, Mudathir ‘Karika’/’Careca’ El Tahir has had a another very good season with Al Hilal after guiding the team to the CAF Champions League semi finals once again. The speedy striker managed to bag three goals and assist seven times in the continental competition with Tunisian coach Nabil Kouki using him more as a playmaker/second striker. That takes him to 22 goals overall in CAF competitions, two behind Edward Sadomba and Faisal Ajab who are the top goal scorers for Sudanese clubs continentally.
In the league Karika has managed 10 goals with many assists displaying consistent performances all season. After being asked recently how well 2015 went for him and the team, Mudathir replied ‘I was happy with my personal achievements of breaking into CAF’s top 10 but very disappointed that we didn’t manage to win the Champions League and that is definitely our main aim for next season’.
The player attracted some interest across Africa and Asia with Al Wehda of Saudi Arabia tabling a formal loan offer for the player, but the Al Hilal board and player decided he would rather push for a CAF Champions League triumph with Al Hilal in 2016. Even though the player is now ageing and edging for an opportunity to play abroad, the club of interest was not good enough and didn’t meet his ambitions.
Being one of the most popular footballers in Sudan even for rivals fans, Mudathir is known for his humility and great attitude on and off the pitch. It is no doubt Karika is one of the most complete footballers in town at the moment but he needs to switch up one more gear and become the main man to guide his club to continental glory in the coming years to cement his name in the history books as one of the best ever Sudanese players.
Highlight of the Year: Early goal semi-final goal v USM Alger, CAF CL 1st leg
Although Al Hilal didn’t progress, this piece of play, which came just in the second minute of the game to set Omdurman alight, displays some of his attacking prowess coming off the shoulder of the last defender to finish well past Mohamed Zemmamouche. AM
What the Ivorian defence needed before the tournament was consistent reliability, not necessarily a world beaters, but individuals that had the simple-is-safe solidity of not making basic mistakes. Step forward Wilfried Kanon. Factoring in the magnitude of the pressure they were playing under, the last player you expected reliability to come from was an untried 21-year-old playing in an unconventional and unfamiliar 3-4-3/5-2-3 system.
The Cyrille Domoraud Academy graduate’s pace gave coach Herve Renard the option of deploying him at left back when he opted for a back four, as he did initially in the opening game against Guinea and later on in the battles against Algeria and Ghana. In the aforementioned game against Guinea Kanon’s distribution of the ball was so poor that the infamous ire of Renard was audible and visible with each misplaced pass.
For much of the tournament though, Kanon played as the most left-sided of the back three, using his pace cover the ageing legs of Siaka Tiene whenever he was bypassed. Technique aside, Kanon, uncapped until the pre-tournament warm-up friendlies and thus untested in competitive action, provided the required reliability with steady, faultless performances throughout, rarely showing his inexperience.
A serious knee injury has seen him not play any football since February. Lille, at the time coached by Renard, pulled out of a summer transfer after reservations on their end over the severity of the injury sustained, although they indicated they would be willing to complete the transfer once the player had made a full recovery.
Whether Renard’s sacking has changed that gentleman’s agreement is unknown, but the focus for Kanon right now is to recover and start playing regular football again.
Highlight of the Year: The whole of AFCON 2015
An unforgettable tournament for the 21-year-old, with a semi-final goal to his name and a smashing effort during the penalty shootout sudden death. SMS
47. Mohamed Zemmamouche
USM Alger (ALG) / Algeria / Goalkeeper
For several years now, Mohamed Zemmamouche has been recognised as Algeria’s best goalkeeper. Were it not for Rais M’Bolhi’s form in the international arena we could have very well witnessed Zemmamouche play at the World Cup and the African Cup of Nations.
A string of preternatural performances in the CAF Champions League is what earns Zemmamouche his place amongst our 50 best African players.
USM Alger were impressive all over the pitch, especially early in the competition, prior to their star man, Youcef Belaili, being sanctioned for illegal substance abuse. In the rare occasions when USMA’s lines were breached, Zemmamouche was there to save the day.
In the league, ‘Zemma’ and USMA fell freely towards the end of 2014/15 as they dropped points in a tightly contested finish, nearly ending in the relegation zone. This season, however, USMA have run off to a lead of more than a dozen points. In 2016, Zemmamouche has 11 clean sheets 17 league matches.
Highlight of the Year: Semi-final performance against Al Hilal
In a crucial knockout match in Sudan, Zemmamouche saved a penalty and robbed Al Hilal of several goalscoring opportunities, single-handedly propelling 10 men USMA to unexpected victory. MM
46. John Boye
Sivasspor (TUR) / Ghana / Centre Back
If ever there was an image like a dagger in the heart, broke millions of Ghanaian hearts and aptly summed up Ghana’s cataclysmic showing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, it would be the one that John Boye would definitely not be proud of and pray it’s erased from the memories of football fans but it is, unfortunately, the one that appears he would be best remembered for. It was the picture of him kissing a stack of $100k in a hotel lobby in Brazil shortly after reports emerged of a players-boycott over unpaid bonuses in the build up to Ghana’s last group game of the World Cup.
Thankfully, the past year has been a great for him – at least in repairing the acrimonious relationship he, on his own free will had established with fans of Ghana’s national team – littered with a few highlights. The timely equaliser against South Africa in Ghana’s third group game of Afcon 2015 quickly springs to mind. It was an occasion that saw him rise from a villain to a hero of the four-time African champions with only one Christmas between both events.
His first major assignment with Ghana came with his inclusion in Ghana’s 2012 AFCON squad and that in itself raised more than few eye-brows; many wondering where he had come from to gatecrash into the coach’s worthy 23-men though 4 years earlier in 2008, he’d been given a rare invitation for a friendly against South Africa. His ability to read the game, immaculate sense of timing, and stubbornness in snuffing out opposing danger across three of the back-four positions his right foot would allow him are qualities that has seen him being handed a national team call-up 46 times over the past 3 years.
With Boye tackling and decision making can sometimes be erratic – as we saw with the United States’ first goal in Brazil – but he more than makes up for it with an impressive work rate. His unmistakable two golden strips of dye accentuating his often remarkable hairstyle makes it almost impossible not to pick him out whenever he’s partnered with, mostly Jonathan Mensah in the heart of the Black Stars’ defence.
Highlight of the Year: Mr Clean Sheet
Boye came on for the injured Daniel Amartey in the 36th minute of the 2-1 win over South Africa at AFCON 2015, and he brought with him a zero tolerance brand of defending which would see Ghana not concede a single goal for the rest of the tournament. JA
The elder Toure’s first season at Liverpool was a major disappointment, with numerous embarrassing and critical errors, so it was pleasing to see him bounce back despite his club’s indifferent form and a rotation role in the squad.
But more importantly, there was the enormous highlight of the brothers finally getting the Africa Cup of Nations win they craved. Kolo played every minute of the tournament, and while the 2015 Ivory Coast team cannot be described as the most solid team in the tournament, they conceded just four goals in six games, which considering the standard of the teams they were playing – one goal conceded against pre-tournament favourites Algeria, and clean sheets against Cameroon and Ghana – is impressive. He also converted his penalty in the final shootout, wiping out the memories of his miss in the 2012 final.
The result was that Kolo was elected to the CAF Team of the Tournament, one of seven Ivorians chosen; not bad for a 33-year-old considered well past his best, lucky to still be in the fold, and a likely liability. It was a fitting way for Kolo to end his international career as he announced his retirement shortly after, ending with 118 caps in 15 years of competition.
Toure’s appearances for Liverpool have become increasingly sporadic, mostly coming off the bench or outside the Premier League. He has become their go-to defender for Europa League games, starting five of these in the calendar year. He also started two League Cup games. However, his only league start of 2015 was nothing short of disastrous: a 4-1 defeat at the hands of his former club Arsenal. Injuries and age have taken their toll and at 34 it is unlikely he will remain a Liverpool player for much longer.
Highlight of the Year: Winning AFCON 2015
Finally winning the Cup of Nations with a dominant series of performances which prove Kolo is still a class act, particularly in silencing Ghana’s attack in the final and coolly smashing home a penalty in the intense shootout. JB
44. Christian Atsu
Chelsea (ENG) / Ghana / Winger
It’s hard to think of any other player in our top 100 who would have had such a contrasting year when comparing their club and international performance than Ghana’s Christian Atsu in 2015.
In Ghana’s first Africa Cup of Nations match against Senegal he was the only Black Star who you could honestly give any credit to as he looked the only player likely to make anything happen after Avram Grant’s radical, poorly thought out decision to switch to a 3-5-2 a week before the tournament began. He showed glimpses of the player he was at Vitesse Arnhem when he played behind the strikers, making clever runs out wide and picking up the ball in dangerous spots. In their second fixture they came up against Algeria. Prior to Asamoah Gyan’s last gasp winner, Atsu set up two clear chances the match-winner and Andre Ayew should have buried.
There were doubts by some about Atsu’s right to even be at the tournament. He struggled to get games at Everton and people considered whether Middlesbrough’s on-form winger Albert Adomah or Solomon Asante should have taken up Atsu’s place in the starting eleven instead. By the end of the group-stage he had already made them look silly.
He stepped it up a notch in the knock-out stages, scoring two against Guinea in the quarter-final, including an absolute screamer. In the following match he assisted Mubarak Wakaso in a viciously fast counter-attack and could have earned two more assists if Kwesi Appiah had a bit more…No, a lot more talent. He almost concluded the tournament by scoring a wonder goal but his long-shot rattled the bar.
It’s hard to judge Atsu’s club performance because he simply hasn’t played. Loans at Everton and Bournemouth have been disastrous and other than playing in a couple of Capital One Cup matches the 24-year old has done little of note.
Highlight of the Year: AFCON 2015 goal of the tournament?
After chesting down a long-ball played to the right wing, he jinked inside before unleashing a powerful left-footed shot into the top left-hand corner against Guinea. Some thought it a mishit cross but the intent was definitely there. TS
43. Ahmed El Shenawy
Zamalek (EGY) / Egypt / Goalkeeper
The year of the revelation.That’s how we can call Ahmed El Shenawy’s year. The Port-Said son, after years of impressive performance for his boyhood club Al Masry, finally exploded into life under the Zamalek jersey to become one of Africa’s best custodians thanks to his remarkable reflexes and his decisiveness in crucial stages of the season.
Bought for a whooping $765,000 fee from Al Masry, ‘The Octopus’, as nicknamed by local hinchas, didn’t take time to pay back the bucks splashed by the White Knights to sign him by putting in consistent displays either at local or continental level by accumulating 20 clean sheets. In doing so, he became arguably one of the key men of Zamalek’s double and successful African campaign.
The honours and consistency improved his prospects with the national team as the Port Said native deservedly became Egypt’s first choice keeper. With El Shenawy just 24, Zamalek have probably secured their net for the next decade.
Highlight of the Year: His penalty save against Arab Contractors
It’s the 34th minute of the game, Zamalek are 1-0 up but concede a penalty against the Mountain Wolves in the latter stages of the season. It was a penalty which could have been table-changing. El Shenawy saves the penalty and starts a counter-attack that leads Zamalek to the second killer goal which secures the three points and puts Zamalek inches closer to their 12th Egyptian league title. LW
This was definitely the signing of the season in Sudan; the Cameroonian superstar was the best player for Al Hilal in 2015. Coming from Coton Sport in Cameroon, Feudjou had a great 2014 after being called up by Volker Finke for the World Cup in Brazil in addition to winning the league and cup double in Cameroon.
Without his man of the match performances throughout the season, especially in the group stage of the CAF Champions League, Al Hilal would not have gone as far continentally. Feudjou only missed out on three games meaning he made 43 appearances in his debut season for Al Hilal, the second most after Nasr El Din El Shigail.
‘The Cat’, as they like to call him in Cameroon, managed 15 clean sheets out of 22 appearances in the league as well as 8 out of 14 appearances in the CAF Champions League coming against the likes of TP Mazembe, USM Alger (the two finalists) and Smouha of Egypt. Overall, he kept 24 clean sheets, which is the most in Sudan and up there with the most in Africa.
His only bad performance throughout the year was against USM Alger in Omdurman (conceding twice, the second goal being completely his fault) which was in fairness an all-round poor performance from Al Hilal who once again failed to make the final with this being their third CAF Champions League semi final in the last six years.
Highlight of the Year: Performances against TP Mazembe in the group stage of the CAF Champions League
Home and away Feudjou was the hero. He managed to shut down the most potent striking force in African club football from scoring for 180 minutes in Omdurman and Lubumbashi with some world class acrobatic goalkeeping securing his team 4 points in those matches. AM
41. Salif Coulibaly
TP Mazembe (DRC) / Mali / Centre Back
Coulibaly made a name for himself in AC Djoliba’s memorable run in the CAF Confederation Cup in 2013. Two years later he has established himself as arguably Africa’s premier centre back for the best club in Africa, TP Mazembe.
Paired with Mazembe bandiera Joel Kimwaki at the engine of the defence, the 27-year-old is unspectacular and there is nothing to his game that is easy on the eye, but he is not a man who makes many errors. And it is under that safety-first solidity that he has filled the rather large boots that Stoppila Sunzu left behind so well.
The lofty centre back has also soared high for the Eagles of Mali. A traditionally stubborn outfit, Coulibaly’s intransigence has been a perfect fit next to Molla Wague. While they eventually exited AFCON early via the drawing of lots, they bowed out unbeaten and with their notorious plucky reputation in tact.
Highlight of the Year: His form throughout the year
There’s no doubt that his form has allowed a defence which often had too many holes to knit itself together and, in turn, provided the foundations for the continental triumph. SMS