The Africa Cup of Nations showcases the continent's best talents and elevates Africa into mainstream world football news.
Here are the top 20 European based African footballers this season. The key phrase being 'this season' because this article ranks the players on form, not reputation.
Feel free to comment below.
Victor Wanyama moving to a bigger club in the summer?
Honourable mentions: Victor Wanyama (Celtic’s Kenyan CM); Andre Ayew (Marseille’s Ghanaian LAM); Ibrahima Traore (Stuttgart’s Guinean LAM); Steven Pienaar (Everton’s South African LW); Charles Kabore (Marseille’s Burkinabe DM); Ishak Belfodil (Parma’s Algerian CF); John Boye (Rennes’ Ghanaian CB); Cedric Makiadi (Freiburg’s Congolese CM); Arouna Kone (Wigan Athletic’s Ivorian FWD); Abdel Barrada (Getafe’s Moroccan AM)
Didier Drogba technically qualifies for this list as a Galatasaray player, but he spent most of this season with Shanghai Shenhua, hence why he was omitted.
The article is form-based, meaning out-of-form footballers like Kevin-Prince Boateng, Emmanuel Adebayor and Papiss Cisse won’t be listed.
There won’t be any discrimination of European-born players opting to play for an African nation. If a player pledges his allegiance to an African country, he is eligible for this article.
Regarding why I’ve left out some notable African footballers…would you want to read a film review from a critic who hasn’t seen the movie? No.
That is my explanation for leaving out Africans like: Cameroon’s Samuel Eto'o (Anzhi Makhachkala); Nigeria’s Emmanuel Emenike (Spartak Moscow); Nigeria’s Vincent Enyeama (Lille Loanee at Maccabi Tel Aviv); Ivory Coast’s Seydou Doumbia (CSKA Moscow); Algeria’s Rafik Djebbour (Olympiacos); Ivory Coast’s Lacina Traoré (Anzhi Makhachkala); Nigeria’s Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow); Ghana’s Waris Majeed (Spartak Moscow); Gambia’s Ibou (OH Leuven); Nigeria’s Imoh Ezekiel (Standard Liège) and others.
I’m not going to hoodwink you into thinking I’ve been following the aforementioned players this season when I haven’t.
How much did the Africa Cup of Nations factor into the rankings? Not a lot.
Aristide Bance, Wakaso, Gervinho and Bakary Kone have all struggled with their respective clubs but were exceptional at the AFCON.
Someone like Siaka Tiene didn’t even make the cut for Paris Saint-Germain’s UEFA Champions League squad for the group stages, yet was impressive during the tournament.
Congratulations to Nigeria for winning it, and it was lovely to see Burkina Faso make an unexpected run to the final.
Adel Taarabt approached last season with the wrong frame of mind.
He thought he could emulate Cristiano Ronaldo in the Premier League after being lauded left, right and centre for his displays in the Championship.
What city was Adel going to be moving to? Paris? Madrid? Milan?
When reality set in that he couldn't produce like CR7, nor did Queens Park Rangers let the Moroccan move away, he didn't handle it well.
Taarabt has been considerably better this season.
Andres Iniesta has created 28 goal-scoring opportunities for his teammates in return for 13 league assists.
Taarabt has produced 63 passes that led to shots, yet he only has four assists.
Yep, his 19.5 shots per goal is awful, but he is QPR's only goal threat—the club will go as far as he takes them.
Here's an anecdote from Robbie Savage (via BBC Sport): "I met Adel Taarabt in the referees' room beforehand and shook his hand. I could see in his face that he was thinking 'oh no, he's going to be man-marking me,'" which illustrates what Adel deals with week in, week out.
In spite of the rough treatment, he has scored and created a combined eight league goals—no QPR player has three.
Taarabt also completes 3.2 dribbles per league game, which is higher than Luis Suarez, Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard.
Tony Fernandes has thrown money at Christopher Samba in a bid to stop the club hemorrhaging at the back, but when you've only scored 19 goals in 26 EPL games, you need Adel.
He'll probably force a move to a stronger club in the summer.
Levante gave Racing Santander €200,000 in return for Pape Diop, who averages 3.9 tackles and 3.0 interceptions per La Liga game.
Brilliant bit of business.
The No. 1 concern with Diop is him giving away the ball 29.9 percent of the time he attempts to pass.
Pape, pass the ball backwards or sideways. Turning over the possession leads to counter attacks and generally your teammates are caught out of position.
Diop's case shows you that passing the ball isn't that easy. We all think, "well, how hard is it to make a simple pass and move into space?"
Pretty damn hard if you're Pape, who just gives the ball away whenever he is pressured.
This technical flaw in his game will most likely hold him back from joining a contending club.
Kevin Strootman, Jordy Clasie, Christian Eriksen, Filip Duricic, Marco van Ginkel, Adam Maher and Viktor Fischer are upper echelon Eredivisie talents.
Willie Overtoom has more assists than all of those players, however, and would be challenging Dries Mertens, Dusan Tadic and Jeremain Lens for the title of most league assists if the Cameroonian didn't sign for AZ.
He's first in line of succession for the No. 10 role once Maher is sold in the summer.
Willie is one of the best passers in the Dutch league and can get past his marker if need be.
Overtoom doesn't just score from the penalty spot; one of his most audacious acts on a football field was flicking the ball up with his chest and executing an overhead kick in stoppage time against De Graafschap.
Nicolas N'Koulou always seems to have peace of mind when he's in possession of the ball, hence why he completes 90.7 percent of his passes in Ligue 1 and 94.7 in the UEFA Europa League.
Souleymane Diawara's ineptitude makes Nicolas look as if he's in the wrong, when it is actually Souleymane who is culpable for the defensive breakdowns.
Lucas Mendes is an odd prospect; he struggles at full-back and hasn't been impressive at centre-back.
He's certainly not in the league of Gil, who has moved to Corinthians on the back of dominant performances at Valenciennes.
Rod Fanni shouldn't be playing at centre-back given that he can offer so much more at right-back.
You should give Nicolas the benefit of the doubt because it's hard for him to showcase his defensive prowess due to the revolving door at CB.
When Lee Sharpe found out that his club had just signed Eric Cantona, Lee and his teammates thought (via Ian Ladyman at The Daily Mail), "We were like: 'This bloke's a total nutter. What are we [Manchester United] doing?!'"
Younes Belhanda can be considered a total nutter, having received red cards for acts that would land him in jail if it occurred outside the football field.
Elbowing Jose Saez and kicking Benoit Pedretti are two moments the Moroccan would take back.
Like Cantona, Belhanda is a genius, but his inability to control his emotions could hinder his career.
Club president Louis Nicollin will only sell Younes to clubs that can pay upfront, hence why the midfielder's proposed move to Fenerbahce collapsed.
He has been consistently outshone by teammate Remy Cabella, who at 22 years old could be the next Montpellier player to leave for a bigger club.
How could CAF award Jonathan Pitroipa the MVP award?
It's such an absurd decision, though not as a bizarre as including Asamoah Gyan in the Team of the Tournament.
Anyone who watched the AFCON with objectivity would have told you that John Obi Mikel was a lock for the tournament's best player.
If Burkina Faso won the final, giving Pitroipa such an accolade still wouldn't make sense because Bakary Kone was their most influential player.
With that said, Jonathan added zip to this Burkina side, and he stepped up in the absence of star player Alain Traore.
Speaking about Alain, he could have easily taken the MVP award and led Burkina Faso to the promised land if he was fully-fit.
Rennes are a quirky side to watch.
There's the theatrical element, first with the Yann M'Vila saga (he's now in Russia and probably will be back in Ligue 1 sooner rather than later) and now with their players going bonkers.
Explain to me how the team with the fewest yellow cards has the most red cards in Ligue 1 this season?
It would be hilarious if they ended up topping the Fair Play table.
The football side is pretty good, as you'd expect with flair players like Pitroipa, Romain Alessandrini and Julien Feret.
Mevlut Erding has been a serviceable forward and is on route to having his best scoring season for the club.
Demba Ba is risking his career for a big payday at a club like Chelsea, who are notorious for ruining forwards.
Hernan Crespo (2003; £16.8 million): Chelsea didn't ask if he wanted to stay in Serie A or move to the Premier League during the negotiating process. The Argentine wanted to desperately remain in Italy and suffered from homesickness during his tenure with the Blues.
Andriy Shevchenko (2006; £30.8 million): Roman Abramovich underestimated how stubborn Jose Mourinho was. The Portuguese manager used the Ukrainian—by all accounts, one of the nicest guys in football—as a pawn in a cold war with Roman. In the process, the Special One tainted Andriy's career.
Daniel Sturridge (2009; signed on a Bosman plus compensation): Was prolific on loan at Bolton Wanderers. Came back to the Blues and was asked to play on the wings. Decided to shoot at all costs. Left for Liverpool and has the potential to become an elite forward at Anfield.
Fernando Torres (2011; £50 million): Didn't score a single goal during Spain's FIFA World Cup triumph. Was having his worst season with the Reds. Signed over Sergio Aguero, who said in April 2010 (from the Daily Express via Rob Calladine at The Guardian):
Chelsea are a great club. They have become one of the most feared in Europe over recent years. London would be a really amazing city to live in as well—myself and my wife could be really happy there.
I look at players like Drogba and Lampard and they have been—and still are—the best players in their positions in the world. I could really learn from players like that.
Carlos Tevez is doing really well at Manchester City but for me it is about joining a club who are ready to challenge for honours. City are not ready yet.
Romelu Lukaku (2011; £13 million): The Blues should've signed and loaned him back to Anderlecht. For whatever reason, they kept him, cut him from the UEFA Champions League squad, wasted one season of his career that he'll never get back and, more worryingly, damaged his psyche.
West Bromwich Albion have done an outstanding job rebuilding the young forward's confidence.
Demba Ba (2012; £7 million): Upper management brought in Rafa Benitez to help the club's mentally fragile No. 9, who the club pays higher wages than Cristiano Ronaldo, only to then sign Ba.
The Senegalese is one of the Premier League's in-form forwards but isn't guaranteed a starting position with the Blues.
Only Rafa could somehow justify not giving Ba a start every week for Fernando Torres.
Demba went from shooting 4.5 times per game at Newcastle United to 1.8 with Chelsea.
Good job Chelsea, you've not only ruined Ba for millions of fantasy managers around the world, but you've stagnated the Senegalese's progress for Torres—who, with a midfield triumvirate worth £75.5 million, is behind 81 players in the European elite leagues' goal scoring charts.
Mohamed Diame would have Barcelona on his CV if not for a heart defect, as explained by Wigan Athletic chairman Dave Whelan, who felt betrayed by Diame after the Senegalese wanted to leave for a better club (via Rob Stewart at Goal.com):
We picked him up when Barcelona had refused him because of his heart and we took the chance and brought him over and I don’t think that he has repaid the faith that we put in him and the chance we gave.
I don’t think that is the lad. That is the agent giving him all kinds of advice. It’s down to money, money, money.
I think he should be able to step back and have a look and think: who gave me the chance to play in the Premier League? It was Wigan Athletic. He owes a lot to Roberto [Martinez] and I really don’t think he has repaid that.
Like Morgan Schneiderlin, Mohamed doesn't receive enough recognition for his full-throttled approach to winning back possessions, whilst not being a liability through trying to tackle like Charlie Adam and Paul Scholes.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the star of last year's Africa Cup of Nations, was also screwed over by CAF when they included Didier Drogba—who missed two penalties and played with big-name teammates—over Aubameyang in the 2012 AFCON Team of the Year.
As Drogba's Ivory Coast sealed their reputation as underachievers by failing again, PEA re-gained his scoring touch for Saint-Etienne (Gabon didn't qualify for the 2013 AFCON).
For seven Ligue 1 games, Pierre-Emerick was flustered, moody, shot-blind and resembled a certain No. 9 at Chelsea.
In recent games, Aubameyang has drifted wide with good effect whilst Brandao led the line.
Les Verts have two assets that could be sold for significant transfer fees: Aubameyang and Kurt Zouma.
If ASSE sign Yohan Mollo permanently, he has the ability to become a French international.
48 - Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has registered 48 shots on target in Ligue 1 this season, more than any other player. Skillful.— OptaJean (@OptaJean) February 11, 2013
Youssouf Mulumbu leads West Bromwich Albion in intercepted passes per league game, which backs up Liam Ridgewell's observation of the Congolese's partnership with Claudio Yacob (via Express & Star):
Claudio sits in there and allows Youssouf to go and roam and try to nick the ball off people.
They work as a very good pair. It all about a squad, but it’s good to have those two fit and back playing.
Youssouf and Claudio aren't just elite ball-winners, but they complete 85-plus percent of their passes.
Mulumbu and Yacob have excellent positional awareness and a sharp football mind because they get the ball, look up, make a high percentage pass and move into space anticipating that they could receive a pass.
This isn't easy. Just ask Lolo, Sambou Yatabare and Pape Diop how hard they find passing the ball.
Athleticism, the will to compete and the ability to distribute and retain the ball are reasons why Youssouf and Claudio could be transfer targets for major clubs.
Yaya Toure has conceded 35 free kicks whilst making 26 successful tackles, so he's a liability when he tackles.
He intercepts a pass 0.9 times per league game and there are 156 Premier League players who are better than him in that defensive category—footballers like Papiss Cisse, Peter Odemwingie, Adel Taarabt and Dimitar Berbatov (I kid you, not).
What does this mean? Yaya doesn't want to defend anymore.
That would be fine if he was world-class in the final third, but he isn't.
Toure's 11.5 shots per goal is inefficient. He only has three league assists. 113 players across Europe's elite leagues average a higher number of shots created per game than Toure (1.6).
"Well, he creates space with his rampaging runs!"
1.1 dribbles per game...please.
He is underwhelming from a statistical standpoint.
Using the eye-test, you can't make a positive case for him.
Are Manchester City in the UEFA Champions League? No. Are they in the UEFA Europa League? Nope.
How many points are they behind Manchester United? 12.
What was your last memory of Yaya at the Africa Cup of Nations?
Him getting marked out of the game by John Obi Mikel, a No. 10 converted into a deep-lying midfielder at Chelsea, only to be asked to play a more box-to-box role for Nigeria.
This so-called Cote d'Ivoire Golden Generation isn't all that—bounced out of two successive FIFA World Cup group stages and hasn't been able to close the deal to win at least one AFCON.
The reason why Toure isn't lower on this list is because he was phenomenal at the start of the season.
Yes, Ivory Coast failed to live up to the hype once again at this year's AFCON, but Yaya played decently.
It seems he wants to have a free-role at City where he has the option to track back and he is free to disregard positional discipline.
Christian Gourcuff has lost Alain Traore, Lorient's best player, for the foreseeable future.
The club were forced to relinquish Alain knowing he was arriving in South Africa with soreness and he went on to play through the pain barrier.
He ended up straining his thigh against Zambia, returned to Lorient to have it examined and promptly flew back to South Africa to presumably cheer on his teammates.
The jaws of Christian and the Lorient medical staff must have dropped when Paul Put named Traore as a substitute in the final vs. Nigeria.
By the end of the game, it was clear that it was a symbolic move, rather than an all-or-nothing ploy from Put.
Gourcuff probably still feels like re-iterating Gerard Houllier's views on national managers (ironically, GH was a national manager), something Arsene Wenger did in 2006 (via ESPN FC):
He [Houllier] thinks that what the national coaches are doing is like taking the car from his garage without even asking permission. They will then use the car for 10 days and abandon it in a field without any petrol left in the tank.
We then have to recover it, but it is broken down. Then a month later they will come to take your car again, and for good measure you're expected to be nice about it.
Traore has been elite, and sometimes world-class, for Lorient with his deadly outside shooting and his propensity to play in his teammates.
He's in such good touch that he still scored three goals at the Africa Cup of Nations with limited mobility and he hadn't played for a month.
Poor Alain Traore. He carried an injury into the tournament but still lit it up in the group stage. Imagine him 100%? BF could've won it.— Paul Sarahs (@Wanchope_Dickov) February 10, 2013
It's been fun watching Aurelien Chedjou play this season because he is performing at a standard that should link him to the biggest clubs in the world.
The tabloids seem to have this fascination with wonderkids, so I guess that's why Chedjou hasn't been transfer fodder.
He has an absurdly high 82 percent tackling completion percentage even though he's a proactive centre-back winning back the ball 5.4 times per league game.
Aurelien has been "in the zone" for large parts of this season and he was my MOTM in the 1-0 loss to Paris Saint-Germain.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic did hit the woodwork, but he wasn't normal Zlatan as Chedjou intercepted seven passes.
He did register the own goal giving PSG the win, but goalkeeper Steeve Elana punched the ball, which unfortunately deflected off the Cameroonian—so blame Steeve.
|Mame Biram Diouf (£1.5M)||9||4.3||4||0.6|
|Fernando Torres (£50M)||7||8.1||4||1.1|
|Andy Carroll (£35M)||2||16.5||-||1.5|
When Mame Biram huffed and puffed but didn't score enough on loan at Blackburn Rovers like his compatriot El Hadji, some were using Mame as an example of Sir Alex Ferguson losing his Midas touch in the transfer market.
Ferguson underlined his trust in the club's scouting network after many questioned the Bebe deal (via ESPN FC):
On this occasion I didn't watch him. It is the first time I have done it. Normally I see plenty of video footage but our scouting department is very good and sometimes you have to go on instinct.
Our scout in Portugal was adamant we must do something quickly. You look at the material. You look at their age and whether they're bringing pace, balance, desire to play. You got to trust your staff at times.
The scout who projected Diouf as Red Devil material was spot-on because the forward holds up the ball well, he is a threat to score headers, he can create for his teammates and he's efficient in front of goals.
Maybe in another era he would have been a distinguished United striker.
When Mame Biram scored in two UEFA Europa League games against Atletico Madrid, who went on to win the competition, the Senegalese forward finally started believing he belonged in Europe's elite leagues.
Should Robert Lewandowski be foolish enough to sign with Bayern Munich , Diouf or Adam Szalai would be logical replacements for the Borussia Dortmund forward.
 Only scenario where it would be plausible is if Mario Gomez wanted out. He would only do that if Mario Mandzukic continued scoring at a rate akin to Frane Matosic. Does Robert really think he could beat out that version of Mario?
Just a quick comment on Bayern: they are the most complete team in Europe right now. Arsenal should start praying for a miracle, just like Chelsea did.
Since Bayern Munich are in a league of their own, guess which club has conceded the least amount of goals in the Bundesliga?
Freiburg, who have thought?
Fallou Diagne and Oliver Baumann have been playing their best football to date, hence why Freiburg's defensive record is exceptional.
Diagne had the chance to impress a big audience when Bayern came to town.
He didn't need to make contact with a tricky Xherdan Shaqiri. Let the Swiss go 1-on-1 vs. Baumann and the keeper may have come out on top.
Instead, Fallou fouled Xherdan, to which referee Florian Meyer deemed the Senegalese centre-back as the last man, resulting in a red card.
This was in the 18th minute, so Freiburg had to say, "auf wiedersehen," to the draw they were hoping to get.
Oh, and Die Bayern could concede 12 goals against Wolfsburg and they would still have the best defensive record in the league.
At least Barcelona give opposing clubs chances to score whilst running up the score. Bayern are as stingy at the back as Levante are in the transfer market and they win big when you drop your head.
Obviously, Diagne is nowhere near the quality of Dante, but Fallou has been impressive enough to suggest that he has the potential to become an elite CB.
Wilfried Bony came back from the Africa Cup of Nations and scored a brace against Eredivisie leaders PSV Eindhoven.
It was an 88th minute equaliser, a few minutes after Theo Janssen had deliberately stepped on a grounded Kevin Strootman.
Theo and Kevin had several handbag-like incidents leading up to Janssen's thuggish act; the Vitesse midfielder mockingly patted Kevin's face.
Wilfried proved his class again but it was quite surprising that PSV gave him so much space. You'd think they would shut down one of the most dangerous forwards in Europe.
Attacking midfielder, box-to-box midfielder, wing-back, left-back, super-sub—over the years, Kwadwo Asamoah showed a knack of quickly transitioning into a new role.
When Antonio Conte signed him, at the time logic told you that Mauricio Isla would be a better fit in Juve's set-up, since the Bianconeri didn't need another midfielder.
Since then, both theories have been discarded.
Conte pulled a trick out of his bag and started Kwadwo as a left wing-back, and he's a substantial upgrade from Paolo De Ceglie.
Paul Pogba, who walked away from Manchester United, has grabbed his opportunities and is earmarked as the future of the club's midfield.
Asamoah began life at Juventus in stunning fashion, scoring twice and creating three goals in his first six Serie A games.
He'd certainly top this list if Antonio started him every game.
Due to the Ghanaian's unbelievable work-rate, he has to be rotated in and out of the team to prevent burnout.
John Obi Mikel makes a mistake and his own fans hurl racist abuse at him.
Frank Lampard appoints himself as an attacking midfielder when he's meant to play as a pivot? Oh no, give him a new contract!
It's so frustrating that in Mikel's greatest individual achievement to date, CAF somehow give Jonathan Pitroipa the Africa Cup of Nations MVP.
If Pitroipa scored a hat-trick as Burkina Faso hoist up the trophy, okay, give him the award—but they didn't.
Who was the MOTM in the final? John Obi.
He showed flashes of the Mikel that took home the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship Silver Ball ahead of Falcao, Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Rene Adler, Matías Fernandez, Johan Vonlanthen, Freddy Adu and others.
Mikel accomplished this whilst playing as a No. 10.
At the AFCON, he wasn't a No. 10, nor was he the deepest lying midfielder, since that role went to Ogenyi Onazi.
At times, Mikel seemed a bit box-to-box, and he definitely was given more freedom to ping a few incisive long-balls, rather than make the "safe" pass as he's been forced to do with the Blues.
Throughout the tournament, he marshaled the Super Eagles' midfield, and was easily the premier player on the field every game he played.
The only other footballer that separated himself from the rest of the field in such an emphatic way was Seydou Keita.
I'm not even a Mikel supporter because Chelsea can easily solve their midfield problems: buy Kevin Strootman and Morgan Schneiderlin or any other of the countless world-class ball-winners around Europe.
Chelsea management's inability to understand what the role of the two pivots are enable opposing teams to gut the Blues straight through the middle every week.
Also, since the club spent £125.5 million on a front four, why do they need their two holding midfielders to provide attacking flair?
Ludovic Sane reads the play so well that he can charge out, cut off a pass and then launch a long-pass to the team's creative hub—Ludovic Obraniak.
The Senegalese can play at the back or protect the back four as a No. 6.
His passing is fine, but it would be nice if he can start completing 90-95 percent of his passes, rather than 83.7, which is still good.
Without Sane, Bordeaux would have conceded a lot more goals, and with him as a starter, they could potentially end up conceding the least amount of goals in Ligue 1.
Currently, Bordeaux have let in 16 league goals compared to 13 by Paris Saint-Germain.
Kossi Agassa is the third highest rated keeper, according to L'Equipe.
He was superman when he made eight saves whilst also keeping a clean sheet in a 2-0 win over Nancy.
Considering his situation, it's almost Rene Adler-like because Kossi is tasked with bailing out a backline that concedes the most shots in Ligue 1.
Agassa wouldn't have even featured in Africa Cup of Nations, which would have been a shock to me, but I'm not privy to Togolese footballing politics.
Ramatsiyi Moholoa at The Sunday World mentioned Kossi's feud with the coach:
Six's personality could be his biggest downfall. There was too much conflict between the coach and the players, particularly senior stars such as captain Emmanuel Adebayor and goalkeeper Kossi Agassa.
With so much instability in the team, there was no chance that the Hawks would soar in the tournament.
BBC Sport had reported that Togo's football president overruled Didier Six's decision to exclude Adebayor and Agassa.
On form, Kossi has been the best African footballer I've seen this season.
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