Best Soccer Players from Africa

By Omar Elhussieny •  Updated: 07/06/22 •  21 min read

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In the past few decades, African soccer teams and players have gained a solid international reputation. Beginning in 1970 the continent of Africa was given one guaranteed place in the World Cup championships. Based on the great improvement in African football, by 1986 Africa was awarded two places, by 1998 Africa had four guaranteed places. That number increased to five in 2002. This rise in African soccer provided us with countless talents. My unranked list of best African soccer players goes as follows

Best Soccer Players From Africa

Here is my list of the best soccer players ever from Africa – if you want a list of the best players for each country, you can read our article on it here. 

George Weah

“I have never seen any player explode on to the scene like he did.” – Arsene Wenger. Not many know that Arsenal’s historical coach Wenger was the one who signed Weah from Cameroon to his team Monaco back in 1988. Weah went on to win the African Footballer of the Year for the first time in 1989; this was his first major award, and he took it back home for the entire country to celebrate. His exceptional dribbling and shooting skills made him a crowd favorite, and his uncompromising work ethic and technical ability landed Weah a lucrative contract with Paris Saint-Germain. In his most acclaimed season, he led PSG to the French Cup, to the league title, and to the semifinals of the 1995 European Champions League. He was at the peak of his powers at that time, having helped Paris Saint-Germain reach the semi-finals of the Champions League before switching to Serie A with the Rossoneri, and in 1995 he completed a unique treble as he was named Player of the Year in two continents – Africa and Europe – as well as being selected as the best footballer on the planet.

George Weag remains the only African player to claim the prestigious FIFA award. Although his achievements remain unmatchable, Weah on different occasions expressed how he feels about it in hindsight. “I am never proud of the BALLON D’OR award since I won it and I suffer from racism in Europe! I remember the headline of the front page of La Gazzetta Dello Sport in the abroad heading the next day, “And oh, the black wins the gold”- said, Weah.

Unfortunately, George never had any notable achievements with the Liberian national team due to the overall level of the squad. He had to join the band of legends who didn’t get a chance to play in a FIFA World Cup. A ground he shares with the likes of Eric Cantona, Ryan Giggs, George Best, Ian Rush, and Alfredo Di Stefano.

Outside soccer “King George” is the president of Liberia and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. According to his soccer godfather, Arsene Wenger, George was on a mission from day one. He never believed he is on earth to only play soccer. Weah was sworn in as president on 22 January 2018, making him the fourth youngest-serving president in Africa, marking Liberia’s first democratic transition in 74 years. He cited fighting corruption, reforming the economy, combating illiteracy, and improving life conditions as the main targets of his presidency. The inauguration was attended by another two African icons, Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto’o.

Abedi ‘Pele’ Ayew

Commonly known as Abedi Pele due to similarities in the style of play with the Brazilian legend, Abedi’s success in French Ligue 1 and UEFA Champions League is thought to be the reason why European scouts paid closer attention to Ghanian talents. In the following years, names like Essien, Kuffour, and Asamoah are grateful for that. Abedi Pelé was one of the first African players to have an impact on club football in Europe. He played for teams in Switzerland, Germany, Italy and most famously France, where he was instrumental in Marseille’s prominence in the UEFA Champions League during the early 1990s.

Ayew became a member of Ghana’s national team, the Black Stars, who won the African Cup of Nations in Libya in 1982. At Marseille he combined attacking flair with tactical acumen and an uncanny ability to make game-winning plays and became a mainstay of the prodigious team. he was a member of the team’s “Magical Trio” along with Jean-Pierre Papin and Chris Waddle, spearheading perhaps Europe’s strongest league side of the early 1990s, including a European Cup final defeat in 1991. An attacking midfielder, Abedi became as famous for his sublime dribbling skills as he did for his knack for scoring spectacular and often very important goals.

He is one of Africa’s most decorated and honored football players ever, winning the France Football African Player of the Year Award three times, was the inaugural winner of the BBC African Sports Star of the Year in 1992, and the corresponding Confederation of African Football award twice. the only man to have won the African Player of the Year award three consecutive times. He was also awarded the golden ball award for being the best player at the 1992 African Cup of Nations and was the “man of the match” in Marseille’s historic UEFA Champions League final win over Milan in 1993. Abedi Pele played for Ghana 73 times and is considered the greatest football player in his country’s history. In appreciation of Abedi’s devout services to the country, the Ghanaian government awarded him the country’s highest honor, the Order of the Volta (civil division).

Didier Drogba

Didier’s parents insisted he should finish his studies before deciding about soccer despite his uncle Michael Goba’s (an ex-player) desperate attempts of drawing him more into the sports world. He kick-started his fantastic career as a junior player at Levallois, which was a semi-professional club. Gradually he gained a reputation as a prodigal player in the youth team thereby impressing the coach with his highly professional attitude. After acquiring his accounting degree at 21 years of age, Didier decided to focus fully on soccer. First, he worked on the ability to play attacking roles. This saw him converting to a forward instead of a right back. At that time, there were lots of players more talented than him. They had pure talent. Thou, Didier Drogba’s desire was stronger than their talent.

Drogba made his first-team debut for Le Mans as he signed his first professional contract in the year 1999. Drogba’s personal life was also taking much of his time as his wife had given birth to their first child. He later admitted that having his first child was a decisive moment in his life in general. He played one season with FC Guingamp and was transferred to FC Marseille for around 5 million dollars in 2003. After just one fruitful season with Marseille, his fine performances did not go unnoticed by Chelsea, who signed him for a 30 million dollar fee, becoming the most expensive Ivorian player in history. By the end of the 2006-07 season, the Ivorian footballer became the league’s top scorer with 20 goals; however, the blues failed in its attempt to take a third consecutive league championship. Indeed, Didier Drogba during his Chelsea days did very hard sacrifices for the club.

He is a true Chelsea Legend come rain, come sun. His fierceness, ability in the air and incredible sharp-shooting helped the Blues win Four Premier League trophies, Four FA Cup trophies, and, of course, the UEFA Champions League. He has scored more goals for Chelsea as compared to any other foreign player. The legend spent eight seasons with the English club and managed to score 157 goals for them in all seasons, becoming the first African player to score more than 100 goals in the Premier League. He left Chelsea in 2012 and joined Shanghai Shenhua, the Chinese Super League team. Tito spent one season with the Chinese club and joined Galatasaray.

His notable individual achievements are Alan Hardaker Trophy in 2007, African Footballer of the Year (in 2006, and 2009), Chelsea Players’ Player of the Year in 2007, 2012 GQ Sportsman of the Year, Golden Foot in 2013, Premier League Golden Boot (two times), and 2013 Turkish Footballer of the Year. The Ivorian striker played 686 times for eight clubs, scoring 300 times, and providing 126 assists for his teammates.

Internationally, he was responsible for catapulting his national team, nicknamed “the Elephants,” into the World Cup competition for the first time in 2006, and again in 2010. His extravagant journey with Ivoirian national team consists of 105 caps and 65 goals. A journey that has paved the way for many talents to be taken seriously and motivated European clubs and scouts to keep looking for the next Tito coming from Africa.

The Soccer Legend has been crucial to his nation, equally, off the pitch. He is often called ‘The Champion of Peace’ by peers and fans. As an immensely popular figure in his home country, he used his standing for good purposes when his country was on the brink of Civil war. Didier Drogba’s ability to persuade his country’s people in stopping what would have been termed a civil war nominated him to be named among ‘the 100 most influential people in the world’ by Time Magazine alongside Muhammed Ali and Michael Jordan. He further organized a team statement calling for an end to the war.

This effort was credited with helping to bring about a cease-fire among armed groups in the Country. This move brought immediate peace to all aggrieved cultural leaders in his country. In the end, a post-Civil war that would have to take the lives of thousands was evaded.

Mo Salah

After a short stint with Chelsea, everybody thought Mo is just another Premier League discard who couldn’t cope, but the young pharaoh took it on the chin and came back to take the league by the storm a couple of seasons later.

Salah’s Unbelievable evolution from a boy who cracked under Mourinho’s pressure and was not able to find himself a place in a roaring squad like Chelsea’s back then, to a record smasher and one of the hottest properties in the soccer world, is inspiring to say the least. Mo was awarded The Golden Boot three times in his five seasons with Liverpool. Under Klopp’s supervision, Salah became a nightmare to defenders across Europe.

The left-footed winger dominated both scoring and assisting awards in England and secured Liverpool’s first UEFA Champions League title since the famed Istanbul night in 2005 against AC Milan. His list of individual honors includes the Puskas Goal Award, a Players’ player, BBC African footballer of the year 2017 & 2018, FIFA Club World Cup Golden Ball, African Footballer of the Year 2017 & 2018, and many more.

Upon research, the number of records Salah smashed in such a short period of time left me flabbergasted. It explains why many critics often describe him as ‘underrated’.

Although he took Egypt, single-handedly, to Russia’s 2018 FIFA World Cup, Mo is still demanded by many to win something for Egypt to clear any smoke left. Egypt’s AFCON seven stars on the chest have been blundering around in the darkness of poor performances since 2010. Salah helped his country reach two finals but couldn’t get his hands on the trophy in both AFCON campaigns. To many, Salah is left with two ultimate goals to be the undisputed king of Africa. Firstly, prove third time is a charm in AFCON. Secondly, win a Ballon D’Or to match Weah’s individual success.

Like most African stars who appreciate their background and give back to their societies, the Egyptian thunderbolt is known for his off-pitch charity contributions. It was recently reported that he has donated a total of 7% of his net worth to charity, including rebuilding a hospital destroyed by extremists. He has also funded numerous projects in his hometown Nagrig including a hospital and a school, reportedly refusing any financial assistance.

Samuel Eto’o

Gifted with excellent dribbling, he was skilled both in scoring and in providing assists to his teammates. At only 16 years of age, he caught the attention of Real Madrid who signed him in 1997, though Eto’o saw little playing time. Nor did he see much action after joining Cameroon when it qualified for the 1998 World Cup but faltered in the first round. After three successive loans away from the Santiago Bernabeu between Mallorca and Espanyol, Eto’o made sure Real Madrid question their decision.

In 2004, Samuel turned down a return call from the capital’s powerhouse and decided to spice things up even further by considering a move to a new dynasty building in Catalonia. After he had become Mallorca’s all-time leading goal scorer, Eto’o signed with FC Barcelona in 2004 and helped deliver a league title in his first season. One of soccer’s most lethal strikers, Eto’o earned the Pichichi Trophy as La Liga’s leading scorer in 2006 and topped all competitors in goals at the 2006 and 2008 Africa Cup of Nations. But even though he was a major force behind Barcelona’s treble-winning campaign of 2008-09, he fell out of favor with the club. A new coach, Pep Guardiola, joined Barcelona in the summer of 2008. Eto’o could not find common ground with him, and Guardiola decided it was time for the club to part ways with the player, as well as Ronaldinho and Deco. The latter two left the club in the same year, but Samuel played another season with the team.

After joining Inter Milan from Barcelona, on 22 May 2010, he became the first and only player to win the Champions League to claim the treble (consisting of the league, national cup, and European Cup), albeit in two different countries.

Internationally, Eto’o made his debut at the age of 15 on 9 March 1997 against Costa Rica. In 1998 FIFA World Cup, he was the youngest participant at the age of 17. Eto’o also has an Olympic gold medal which he won with Cameroon in 2000. Cameroon went on to win African Cup of Nations title in 2000 where Samuel was their key player. Samuel succeeded to guide Cameroon to a second African Cup of Nations title and a World Cup berth in 2002 in which he scored against Saudi Arabia. He won his record third consecutive African Player of the Year award in 2005. Three years later he became the all-time leading scorer in African Cup of Nations history, as he helped Cameroon to an appearance in the tournament final (a loss to Egypt). Eto’o scored two goals at the 2010 African Cup of Nations tournament, bringing his scoring record for that event up to 18 goals and helping to earn him African Player of the Year honors a fourth time. He also helped Cameroon qualify for the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, though the team failed to win a match in either appearance.

On 17 December 2010 he became the only player in the world to score in seven different official tournaments in one year (2010 African Cup of Nations, 2009-10 Serie A, 2009-10 Italian Cup, 2009-10 UEFA Champions League, 2010 World Cup, 2010 Italian Super Cup and 2010 Club World Cup), thus surpassing Pedro Rodriguez Ledesma, who had managed to do so in six different official tournaments, but unlike Pedro’s record, in which the six competitions were at club level, Samuel Eto’o scored in five different tournaments with his club and in two different tournaments with his national team.

Samuel is a versatile player who can play excellently even as a winger but his preferred position in his prime was central forward and striker. This diverse arsenal of skills compelled Italian legend Paolo Maldini to list him among the three most dangerous strikers he faced in his career, placing him behind Diego Armando Maradona and Ronaldo.

Samuel’s incredible cabinet of awards is unique, it includes La Liga, Copa Del Rey, Supercopa de Espana, UEFA Champions League, Serie A, Coppa Italia, FIFA Club World Cup, African Cup of Nations, and Olympic Gold Medal. He has also won many individual honors including Young African Player of the Year, African Player of the Year, FIFA World Player of the Year Bronze Award, FIFA FIFPro World XI, UEFA Team of the Year, UEFA Club Forward of the Year, and many others.

Outside the beautiful game is known for standing up for his country and fighting for causes like poverty in Africa and racism in the soccer world. His foundation, Fundación Privada Samuel Eto’o, hopes to improve development in Cameroon by focusing on five main components: Health, education, sports for development, cultural activities support, and community development.

Yaya Toure

Toure debuted at 18 starting at the Ivorian club ASEC Mimosas. His excellent performances helped him jump from one European club to another and eventually to La Liga and English Premier League titles. Six years in Europe and four different clubs were enough proof for Barcelona to make a move for Yaya.

In 2007 at Barcelona, Toure was positioned at the base of the midfield three. His primary game was to break up the play in front of the back four and give the ball to the more creative Xavi and Andres Iniesta. A role that left him restricted and focused more on positioning and providing safety for the magical Spanish duo.

A little cold communication with the gaffer and the arrival of Barca academy’s own Busquets on top of this discomfort was the writings on the wall for Toure. After a breakdown in His relationship with, unsurprisingly, Pep Guardiola and the money offered from Manchester City turned Toure’s exile to the Etihad into one of the most successful transfers ever, for all parties involved. Toure’s 10 goals in all competitions in his debut season began to sway any doubts projected on his transfer from Barca. The Premier League is perfectly suited to Yaya Toure’s game. He combines a better passing ability than most with unique brute strength to dominate central areas.

The 2011-12 season saw Toure solidify his place in the squad. As that campaign continued, he also started to find the net on the biggest of occasions: the only goal of the Manchester derby semi-final, then the winner in the FA Cup final itself, ending the club’s 35-year wait for a trophy. He gave the team a certain amount of physicality and offered a threat from set-pieces. There were moments when he could join the attack, but they weren’t very frequent as he had to show more discipline in the anchor role.

In 2011, Toure set a new Premier League record for most passes attempted (168) and completed (157) in a single match. A powerful midfielder with an eye for goal, Toure was among City’s golden generation that established the club as a powerhouse in world soccer.

To Yaya’s bad luck an old ‘friend’ was appointed as the new boss for the Citizens. From that moment on, fewer people believed his exit from Etihad will be any different from Camp Nou. Guardiola thought that Toure was a bit undisciplined and Toure’s time with City ended in sour fashion, with the club legend-making just one start in his final season 2018-19 before moving on to Olympiakos in Greece.

Toure has been a regular member of the Ivory Coast national team since his debut in 2004. In 2014, he was named captain of the team after the retirement of Didier Drogba. The brightest highlight of his international career is helping Ivory Coast to the 2015 AFCON title, having previously been twice runners-up. Touré has represented the Ivory Coast at six Africa Cup of Nations tournaments, in 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2015 plus three FIFA World Cups in 2006, 2010, and 2014. The Ivoirian maestro was crowned African Footballer of the Year four times 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014. He won two La Liga titles at Barcelona and three Premier League titles with Manchester City.

Fredric Omar Kanoute

Kanoute is the man to whom opponents’ hats were raised before he won the hearts of lovers, not only for his skill in flirting with the ball or raining down opponents’ nets with goals but for his support of the causes of the weak and his victory for them.

He was known as a tall, strong, sharp striker with an eye for the net and a great sense of positioning. He was flexible enough to be used in almost all attacking positions with striker being his favorite and the most harmful for opponents. He became a professional player after signing with Lyon Club in 1997 when he was twenty years old, as it was his first professional stop in the world of soccer. And soon Kanoute star with the first team to be the focus of attention of many clubs in the old continent and then moved to the English Premier League from the gate of West Ham United for three seasons. Tottenham Hotspur management decide to sign him for two seasons, but that experience was unbalanced for many reasons.

Fredric’s stardom saw its pinnacle in the sky of the Andalusian city Sevilla, where he had the brightest stage of his professional and personal career. Kanoute succeeded in writing his name in the club records as one of the most prominent stars who represented the team, with a record rich in numbers; Most notably, he was the top scorer in the Spanish League in the 2006-2007 season. In the same season, he was able to contribute to the coronation of Seville with the European Cup and the King’s Cup. In addition to the respect, he gets almost from everyone, he has 8 titles to his name.

Despite knowing in advance of the punishment that would affect him due to his expressions, Kanoute never chose to be passive towards his identity and beliefs. His support for humanitarian issues and support for Muslims was the most prominent. After signing a goal against Deportivo La Coruna in 2009, Kanoute took off his team’s shirt so that the cameras of the channels broadcasting the match captured his white shirt, on which the phrases of victory and support for the people were written on it.

Essam El Hadary

The only player on the list who never starred in big European clubs, but still made global headlines multiple times. Having spent most of his career in Egypt and other Arabic leagues, El Hadary had to find a way to let the world know about his talent and dedication to the game. In total El Hadary featured 159 times for the Egyptian national team in 22 years in which he won a staggering four AFCON titles with The Pharaohs 1998, 2006, 2008, and 2010 captaining the last three. Not an easy task when African names like Drogba, Eto’o, Essien, and many more are in a rare form and desperate for international success to complement all the wonderful achievements they have made with top clubs in Europe. Didier Drogba admitted in 2012 to Chelsea Magazine that El Hadary was the toughest opponent he’s ever faced.

Essam also holds the record for the oldest player to participate in a FIFA World Cup, at 45 years and 161 days of age in Russia 2018 World cup. He went to Russia knowing he is the third choice for Hector Cuper, Egypt’s Head Coach back then, but his perseverance and hard work twisted the plot in his favor. Two consecutive injuries for first and second-choice keepers put Essam in charge of Egypt’s goalkeeping.

In 2008 Essam El Hadary made a shocking decision to complete a move to SC Sion, a mid-table team in the Swiss league, from the Egyptian side Al Ahly SC. After winning 21 titles including three CAF Champions League, no one expected such a move to take place for a player already well established and shooting for more with his native club. Such a move to Europe cost him most of his fan base back home and left him questioning whether he will remain the Egyptian national team’s main guard. Until today Al Ahly fans are holding it against him, despite leading the team to unpreceded glory in the early 2000s.

 

Omar Elhussieny

My name is Omar Elhussieny and I'm a sports author and ex professional player with decent experience in different leagues and regions. I have won few trophies in my player career and participated in two UEFA Champions league seasons. My life always revolved around this game and after hanging my boots I decided to put my experiences and thoughts into words and share it with you. While I'm writing I'm always thinking about that young kid who is dreaming of becoming a professional player one day and I try to be the mentor I needed when I was younger. Whether you are a player, a coach or just a fellow fan of this beautiful game, we share the passion for it and that's all that matters, isn't it?!