Premier League at 25: Best African XI
The Liverpool legend was in the final years of his career when the Premier League – and football, of course – started, but he still makes this team easily because of the lack of African goalkeepers. His only other challenger was an adorable, rolypoly Richard Kingson during his stint at Blackpool.
Born in Cameroon but raised in Seville, Lauren was the first breed of African players bred on foreign shores but to the continent’s benefit. The son of a politician, and the penultimate of 22 siblings, Lauren is one of the less heralded members of Arsenal’s Invincibles but he certainly made his mark, filling the right-back void left by the ever reliable Lee Dixon.
An easy choice. After all, the nicer Toure brother has made the most Premier League appearances by an African player and he is one of the best bargains in the league’s history. Parachuted straight from ASEC Mimosas in Ivory Coast to Arsenal for a fee of £150,000, Toure successfully transitioned from midfield to the heart of defence, forming a formidable partnership with Sol Campbell. Most powerfully, though, he has become one of The Peoples’s Footballers.
A firm favourite of Leeds fans. Beset by injuries in the latter part of his career, his love of the club truly shone, especially when he rejected the attention of Man Utd to stay at Elland Road. When he did play he was a wonderfully composed centre back. The way he carried himself on and off the pitch gave African players good guidance on how to go about their work.
He makes this XI based on some bright seasons with Chelsea rather than a disastrous spell with Newcastle. Once upon a time he was one of the best attacking left-backs in the league, unable to curtail the attacking mentality to complete his conversion from a winger to a left-back. What ensued were some memorable, emphatic goals; Chelsea fans excused the defending because the backflip goal celebration was more than enough to make up for it.
The younger Toure brother can make a strong case for being the Premier League’s finest African player. It has been the league which has truly allowed him to unleash his attacking, creative threat and show a level of technique, peak performance and consistency that not many, if any, of his fellow African players have been able to demonstrate.
Injuries took their toll in the end but the peak version of Michael Essien was a daunting prospect and one of the most fearsome midfielders in world football. The strength, the box to box energy, the versatility and the odd goal from midfield made him a key cog of a Chelsea team that was hard to beat.
Okocha’s razzle-dazzle was familiar to those that had come across him before, but few in the Premier League were prepared for the repertoire that came their way. The Nigerian lit up the league and inspired the washed-up greats around him, making Sam Allardyce’s kaleidoscopic Bolton the neutrals’ favourites. Though Okocha famously never won a league title, he is a living embodiment that football is not solely about trophies but also the joy a player can give to the viewers.
Kanu rarely played a starring role for an Arsenal attack full of artillery. Although he is ranked as one of the highest substitute appearance makers in the Premier League era, he was more than an able deputy from the bench. Indeed, being an understudy doesn’t mean he didn’t provide the moments of memorability, like his famous hat-trick against fellow London rivals Chelsea.
Feed The Yak And He Will Score. He never played for the creme de la creme of the league, but as long as you fed the Yak he did indeed score. 96 goals underlines his influence for the teams he played for, particularly a woeful Blackburn side which he, to no avail, tried to save from relegation with 17 goals in the 2011-2012 season.
The Ivorian came to the Premier League after an electrifying spell with Marseille, showing all the attributes of a primed elite Premier League striker, and, in the end, Chelsea would get the real deal; a bona-fide club icon. The top African goalscorer in the league, his position in this XI was very much a Singuluma.
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