An African national team might be yet to win the FIFA World Cup, but that shouldn’t put a limit on the quality of players the continent has produced.
From the dazzling skills of Austin “Jay-Jay” Okocha, who mesmerised the English Premier League for a short time to the sheer goal-scoring ability and brilliance of Mohamed Salah, several African players have put Africa on the world map when it comes to football.
Did we mention an African footballer has also won the prestigious Ballon d’Or? More on that later. From the Nigerian team at the 1994 FIFA World Cup to Ghana’s quarterfinal success in 2010, African teams have done relatively well on the biggest stage, thanks to the quality of players on each side.
Compiling a shortlist took a lot of brainstorming because let’s face it, we could have a list of 200 great African players.
So TruenorthCasinos limited the list to footballers who won accolades both individually and as part of a team and who have also called time on their career. Here’s my list of the top five greatest African footballers of all-time.
Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast)
A favourite amongst the hardcore Chelsea supporters, Didier Drogba, is one of the greatest African strikers ever.
The fourth highest goal scorer in the history of Chelsea bestowed his goal-scoring prowess, speed, and aerial ability upon the English Premier League.
Born in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Drogba is what football experts call a “late bloomer”. He signed his first professional contract with Le Mans at the age of 21 before going on to play for Guingamp and Olympique Marseille in France.
In 2004, Drogba became the most expensive African player at that time, when he signed for Chelsea for a club-record fee of £24 million. He helped the club win three league titles in his first stint at the club and an additional one when he returned for one season in 2014.
Drogba also helped the Blues and owner, Roman Abramovich win the coveted UEFA Champions League trophy, scoring the winning penalty against Bayern Munich in the final.
Despite failing to win the African Cup of Nations with the Ivory Coast, he helped guide them to three different World Cups in 2006, 2010, and 2014.
Drogba played a vital role in ending the civil war in his country in 2005 and was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme in 2007.
Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast)
Regarded as one of the best midfielders of his generation, Yaya Toure could lay claim to being the greatest midfielder the African continent has ever produced.
Tall, athletic, good passing range, and an eye for goals, Toure had every quality you wanted in a midfielder in some capacity.
After spells at Beveren, Metalurh Donetsk, Olympiakos, and AS Monaco, Yaya Toure joined Barcelona in 2007 and quickly established himself as the club’s first-choice holding midfielder.
After losing his place in the middle of the pitch playing as a central defender coupled with some injuries, Toure left Barcelona to sign for Manchester City.
The Ivorian established himself as a force of nature both defensively and offensively, scoring 62 league goals in 230 league appearances for the Citizens.
With three league title and an EA cup within his eight years stint at the Etihad, Toure attained somewhat legendary status at the blue end of Manchester.
He also led the Ivory Coast to success in the 2015 African Cup of Nations. Holding the record as the most winner of the CAF African footballer of the year award(4), Yaya Toure is arguably one of the finest footballers the continent has produced.
Abedi Pele (Ghana)
If you’ve two sons playing professional football at the highest level, then your talents are definitely in abundance and may be present in your DNA as well.
Arguably, the greatest Ghanaian footballer ever, Abedi Ayew, got his nickname “Abedi Pele” for his speed, dribbling, and goal-scoring ability, which drew comparisons to the great Pele.
Abedi was a member of the 1993 Olympique Marseille team that won the first-ever UEFA Champions League. The former Ghana captain also won the African Footballer of the Year award on three occasions and finished 9th in the FIFA World Player of the Year award in 1992.
Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon)
Fans of Barcelona Football Club would have expected Samuel Eto’o to come in at first place on this list, but he is a close second.
Born Samuel Eto’o Fils in Douala, Cameroon, on 10 March 1981, Eto’o’s talents saw him join the Real Madrid academy at the young age of 15.
He only made three senior appearances for Los Blancos, signing for Real Mallorca in 2000, where he scored 54 league goals in 120 appearances.
In 2004, Barcelona signed Eto’o for €24 million, winning three league titles and two UEFA Champions League trophies —including the treble in 2009.
In a deal that saw Zlatan Ibrahimovic switch sides, Eto’o joined Inter in 2009. This ensured Eto’o won another treble in the same season, becoming the first player to win consecutive European trebles. He called time on his career in 2019 after playing for clubs like Chelsea, Everton, and Sampdoria, to mention but a few.
Eto’o won back-to-back African Cup of Nations tournaments in 2000 & 2002 with Cameroon and also appeared in three World Cups (1998, 2002, and 2010). Eto’o, like Yaya Toure, are the only players to have won the African Footballer of the Year award on four occasions.
George Weah (Liberia)
If your CV involves playing for clubs like AS Monaco, Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan, Chelsea, and Manchester City before going on to become the President of your country, then you really must be special and special doesn’t do justice to George Weah’s talents.
George Weah won the FIFA World Player of the Year and the Ballon d’Or in 1995 and remains the only African player to ever win either award. He finished second in the same FIFA award in 1996 and was named African Player of the Century by the IFFHS in the same year.
George Weah might be a politician now, but his football talents will never be unspoken for.
- Roger Milla (Cameroon)
- Nwankwo Kanu (Nigeria)
- Mohamed Aboutrika (Egypt)
- Essam El Hadary (Egypt)
- Michael Essien (Ghana)
- Jay-Jay Okocha