5 African Stars Who Are Lighting Up Europe This Season
With the influence of Africa evident in all of Europe’s major leagues, and with African stars creating storylines and topping scoring charts across the continent, Bleacher Report’s African expert Ed Dove takes a look at five African stars who are lighting up Europe this season.
Demba Ba leads the Premier League scoring table, whilst Marouane Fellaini has arguably been the Prem’s standout star this term; Kwadwo Asamoah has settled terrifically at Juventus, whilst Wissam Ben Yedder, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Bafé Gomis have been scoring goals for fun in France. Victor Wanyama also deserves a mention after impressing in Celtic’s Champions League run and being one of the continent’s most improved performers.
Whilst this quintet of players are all at different stages of their career playing for a myriad of different clubs and contributing in a number of different ways, all have been firmly in the headlines as their clubs have prospered due to their efforts.
Expect big things from this five in 2013.
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Whilst Wilfried Bony failed to feature in my "Top 10 Hottest Africans on the Planet" article last month, I did earmark him as a player more than capable of being a potential star of the Africa Cup of Nations, due to kick off in just over a month.
It’s not hard to see why Bony is being considered as one of the continent’s most exciting performers at the moment and why his name is being uttered in some of the sport’s most exalted corridors.
With 30 goals in under 50 games for Dutch side Vitesse Arnhem at the time of writing, Bony has been terrorising defences in Holland since his arrival in 2011.
Whilst some may suggest that it doesn’t take the greatest effort to come across as prolific in the Netherlands—see Mateja Kezman and Afonso Alves—Bony’s qualities, such as his electric pace and cool finishing, suggest that he may well be the complete article.
It is a hypothesis that may well soon be put to the test. Reports suggest that both Liverpool and Chelsea have been lining up a bit for the striker, and whilst the Lagunes-born frontman may well be replacing compatriot Didier Drogba at Stamford Bridge, so may he soon be usurping him for Les Elephants of the Cote d’Ivoire.
As I wrote recently, national selectors are keen to usher out the Zimmer-framed "Golden Generation" of the nation, and at 23, Bony may be a key man in the national side’s rejuvenation.
Photo Credit: LaLibre.be - http://galeries.lalibre.be/gallery2/d/46846-2/11_-Ibou-Sawanneh.jpg
It’s fair to say that The Gambia doesn’t get much of a mention on the Bleacher Report: not one of Africa’s heavyweights, not a prolific producer of footballing talent and not a country renowned for much at all. You may be surprised to see the country—cruelly nicknamed the "Rectal Thermometer of Africa" in France—represented among these pages at all.
But then again, I assume you’ve never heard of Ebrahim "Ibou" Savaneh—a man more likely to relate to the nation’s other nickname: "The Smiling Coast."
The reason for these smiles?
How about scoring close to a goal a game for Oud-Heverlee Leuven in Belgium this season? How about being pretty much the sole reason for your team, no-hopers from the north of Belgium, sitting in a comfortable ninth place in the country’s top division? How about leading the nation’s scoring charts after 18 games?
Ibou has a lot to be smiling about.
The Gambian frontman, who learned his trade in Germany after arriving in Europe from Africa, has recently been the subject of interest from Ukrainian side Dnipro. At 26, and having evolved in Belgium after spells with clubs including Beveren and Kortrijk, it would seem that he is ripe for a move to one of Europe’s more taxing leagues. Juande Ramos’s outfit, already with a few West Africans among their ranks, could be an interesting step up for the hotshot.
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When one imagines players "lighting up" a league, one naturally considers the dazzling footwork of midfielders or the electric finishing of strikers. Here at Bleacher Report, we are equal equality: Just because the currency of a centre-back is perhaps less glamorous—interceptions, tackles and headers—it’s not to say that he is less capable of lighting up a league.
Just take a look at Sebastien Bassong.
Many suggested that the departure of Paul Lambert for Aston Villa this summer would mean the rug being pulled from beneath Norwich’s feet. Whilst current Canaries incumbent Chris Hughton had impressed at Newcastle and to a lesser extent at Birmingham, it was felt that the club’s success was due so significantly to Lambert’s cult of personality that, with him gone, a slide was inevitable.
With Norwich currently in 12th and Lambert’s new club Villa down in 15th in the Premier League table, few are arguing that the Scot was so pivotal after all!
Indeed, Hughton has added both shine and steel to Lambert’s great work at Carrow Road. The ethic and style of play has remained, but Norwich have been bolstered by a clutch of terrific signings, not least in the heart of defence, where Bassong is the new hero in East Anglia.
In their league matches to date, Norwich have enjoyed five clean sheets, including shutouts against Arsenal, West Ham and Manchester United, who were beaten at Carrow Road back in November. Whilst Anthony Pilkington got the winner that day, much of the praise must go to Bassong, who marshals the defence and protects John Ruddy’s goal with aplomb.
Check out my "Best and Worst of Africa in the EPL" articles just to see Bassong’s incredible influence in Norwich City’s sustained rise.
Bright times are ahead for the Canaries and their Cameroonian stopper.
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Another Cameroonian star excelling in Europe this season is Vitoria Setubal striker Meyong.
Once upon a time, Meyong was a hero in Southern Portugal. It was the 2005 Portuguese Cup Final, when unfancied Vitoria battled their way to the final and a date with league champions Benfica. After an early Simao penalty for the Aguias, Vitoria threw caution to the wind and struck back—initially thanks to a slice of fortune and a Ricardo Rocha own goal and then, in the 72nd minute, through Meyong, their massive frontman who touched a rebound past Moreira into the Benfica net.
Meyong’s five-year stay at Setubal ended soon after the final as he sought new pastures, initially at Belenenses—no strangers to a star African striker—and subsequently with Levante (where things didn’t quite work out) and Braga, where three years started strongly but faded badly.
Now back at his beloved Vitoria, and once more a regular in the starting XI, the veteran Meyong has repaid the faith shown in him by his former club and currently tops the Portuguese scoring charts alongside Porto’s Colombian star Jackson Martinez.
A hat-trick against Rio Ave as recently as November will live long in the memories of Os Sadinos fans.
With the Indomitable Lions absent once again from Africa’s continental spectacle, expect both Meyong and Bassong to have sustained influences in their domestic objectives in the new year, leaving the rest of us wondering how Cameroon failed to quality for the Africa Cup of Nations.
Stephan El Shaarawy
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Humour me, indulge me, concede to me—just for a moment.
Whilst I have recently been criticised for including alleged "non-African" talents within my rankings and lists considering African players, I hope I can justify my inclusion of Stephan El Shaarawy, the young Milan striker born in Savona to an Egyptian father and an Italian mother.
As I have explained previously on Bleacher Report, I write about the influence of Africa—that is to say, the capacity to which people or things that originate in some way from the African continent can have an effect on the narratives or storylines that we all enjoy in the sport.
Everton’s Marouane Fellaini—who made the shortlist for this article—is a regular feature in my articles due to his Moroccan heritage, so El Shaarawy is eligible for consideration due to his being a second-generation Egyptian and the first generation of his father's family to be born in the new host country.
Far from "insulting" Africa in considering players like Fellaini and El Shaarawy, as well as the likes of Danny Welbeck, Mario Balotelli, and Prince Boateng, I believe I am emphasising and demonstrating the influence (there’s that word again) that the African continent has on the footballling world.
This influence is evident almost nowhere more than the hallowed turf of the San Siro, where, despite labouring down in seventh place, Milan possess arguably the league’s finest young striker in El Shaarawy.
Currently leading the Serie A scoring charts—quite amazing for a 20-year-old playing in a country not famed for "giving youth a chance"—Il Faraone (that pervading Egyptian influence) has set the league alight, flourishing after the departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. With a glistening career surely lined up ahead of him, expect El Shaarawy—who recently made my list of 10 Hottest African Players on the Planet—to go from strength to strength in the new year.