The Top 10 African Players in the History of the German Bundesliga
Currently enjoying a revival of sorts, and rivalling Spain and England as Europe’s finest league, the Bundesliga is awash with talented stars from home and abroad.
As well as the wave of German starlets who are dominating the scene, players of African origin, men such as Jerome Boateng, David Alaba and Mame Biram Diouf are wowing crowds across the nation and carving out their own niches in the German top flight.
This slideshow considers the forerunners for the spots they now occupy, as Bleacher Report’s African expert Ed Dove chronicles the 10 finest players to have featured in the Bundesliga.
Note: this article is not identifying the 10 stars who have impressed the most within the league itself, purely the greatest players to have enjoyed even one match in Germany’s premier division.
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He may not be among the most eye-catching players on this list, but Akonnor makes the cut for over a decade of service in the Bundesliga, and for becoming one of Ghana’s most successful foreign imports.
A versatile, busy player in the middle of the park, Akonnor was a stalwart for Koln and Wolfsburg through the 1990s and early 2000s. Injury may have affected his promise at the latter, but being named as the club captain in 2001 demonstrated how valuable the multipurpose Black Star had become for the Wolves.
Interestingly, Akonnor’s career dovetailed with two more of Ghana’s Germany-bound sons; he moved to the country with Sammy Kuffour in 1992, before he eventually replaced the nation’s finest-ever player, Abedi Pele, as Ghana skipper. It was a role he would never truly revel in, as he was shunned by his nation after receiving German nationality.
He currently manages Accra giants Hearts of Oak in the Ghanaian Premier League.
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Like several of the stars in this list, Zidan’s achievements and accolades come with the caveat ‘what if?’
What if the talented attacker hadn’t endured a career beset by injuries and controversy—would we now be talking of a man who has graced some of Europe’s finest teams, rather than a man who talked of Barcelona and Real Madrid, but currently sits without a club after a parting of the ways with Emirati club Baniyas?
Despite managing to chalk up 44 caps for Egypt, and having been a part of two Afcon-winning sides, Zidan’s international career was blighted by spats and disagreements—often leading to the playmaker being shunned by the Federation.
His top-scoring season with Midtjylland demonstrated his prowess in front of goal in Denmark, but a move to Germany, and to Bremen, then Mainz, identified his star quality on a higher stage. His opening six games for Mainz were each marked by a goal, a record that stands to this day.
Popular with the Karnevalsverein fans, it wasn’t long before his talents attracted some of the nation’s bigger fish, and he later enjoyed spells in Hamburg and Dortmund—with whom he was a two-time Bundesliga winner.
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Despite not being as celebrated as some of the other names on this list, it was impossible for me to ignore Boka after over six years of sterling service with Stuttgart.
Once dubbed ‘the African Roberto Carlos,’ the Ivorian may not have reached the heady heights of his moniker, but his performances in Germany commend him as among the continent’s finest full-backs.
A graduate from the famed ASEC Academy, Boka graduated to Beveren before shacking up in Alsace at RC Strasbourg for two years of stellar service.
A key component of the Elephants’ Golden Generation, Boka has served his country proudly since 2004, despite never having picked up an international honour.
The 29-year-old’s career defining moment thus far came in the 2006-2007 season, where, in his maiden year in Germany, he helped Stuttgart to their first Bundesliga triumph since 1992. It is a success never to be forgotten in Baden-Wurttemberg.
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It’s a famous footballing perception that Egyptian players don’t travel well; the toils of Hossam Ghaly and Ahmed Hossam Mido are just the beginnings of a very convincing case.
However, along with my No. 9 Mohamed Zidan, Hany Ramzy goes against the grain—it was something he did fairly frequently during his career.
As the national side’s first Christian captain, he lifted the Cup of Nations in 1998, and also emerged as a rare successful Egyptian purchase, arriving at Swiss side Neuchatel Xamax in 1990 for a cool $1 million.
After a prodigal rise to prominence with Cairene side Al Ahly, it wasn’t long before Ramzy moved on again—after four years in Switzerland, it was clear he was destined for bigger and better things.
Legendary German coach Otto Rehagel knew he could trust ‘The Rock’ and procured Ramzy’s services for the Bundesliga.
Ramzy became a fan favourite first at Bremen, and then at Kaiserslautern, and regularly won awards both domestically and internationally.
The dependable sweeper is currently head coach of Egyptian-backed Belgian side Lierse, attempting to demonstrate that more of his countrymen can achieve big things away from their homeland.
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Several players on this list are known for their ferocious shooting, and Nigerian defensive midfielder Sunday Oliseh may just be the pick of the bunch.
Oliseh is another who walked the well-trodden pathway from Africa to Belgium and then onto a brighter future. Plucked from Lagos giants Julius Berger, Oliseh was a key component of Eric Gerets’ Liege side of the early '90s.
A career across Europe followed, with Oliseh turning out for clubs as varied as Ajax, Reggiana, and Juventus.
In Germany, first with Koln, and later with Borussia Dortmund, he honed the skills that would make him an early archetype for the ‘African Midfielder’ role successfully demonstrated by Yaya Toure today, among a collection of revered others.
Melding together strength and energy, as well as an admirable composure, Oliseh often dominated the midfield as Dortmund romped to a Bundeliga title and a UEFA Cup in 2002.
He was also an Eredivisie winner with Ajax, and a key part of the Nigeria side that claimed continental gold in 1994 and then the highest spot on the podium at the ’96 Olympics.
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The Indomitable Lion himself may have only featured a handful of times in Germany, but his enormous contribution to African football elsewhere in his career made him a ‘must’ for this list.
Few players embody all that is good about Cameroon better than Song—leading by example as a defensive rock, the centre back has appeared in a record eight Cup of Nations tournaments.
Two of those ended in victory, with the Lions’ defence holding strong in 2000 and 2002.
At club level, it hasn’t always been as easy for the Nkenglicock native, and despite some considerable success late in his career, at Galatasaray, the defender has too often failed to transform cult of personality and personal accolades into honours.
The icon is one of the finest African defenders of all time, and regardless of the (considerable) controversy courted, ought to be considered as a legend of the continental game.
Currently languishing in Germany’s second tier, who knows where Koln would be now had they decided to make ‘Tonton Rigobert’s’ move permanent back in 2002.
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To a British audience, Anthony (Tony) Yeboah may be remembered as a scorer of phenomenal goals—his back-to-back victories in Match of the Day’s ‘Goal of the Month’ competition is a record that stands to this day, and is testament to the Ghanaian’s proclivity for the powerful and the spectacular.
However, lurking behind the ferocious drives and delicious volleys lies a striker at the top of his trade, and a player who consistently succeeded in firing himself high up in the scoring charts.
Yeboah demonstrated the adaptability of the poacher as well—beyond his feats for Leeds, he managed to top score twice in Ghana, and twice again following his move to Europe, and to Germany.
It was here, and at Eintracht Frankfurt, that Yeboah demonstrated his capacity as one of the finest frontmen the Bundesliga has ever seen.
His craft was evidenced in the international arena as well, where Ghana benefited from his services at the Cup of Nations in 1992 and 1996. His record of 29 goals in 59 appearances for the Black Stars is a record that stands among the best.
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Kuffour’s anguished despair of 1999 much be one of the most iconic Champions League images out there. Having seen his side enjoy a 1-0 lead up until the dying seconds, all was lost, as first Teddy Sheringham, and then Ole Gunnar Solksjaer scored to give United the title.
Unable to comprehend how the defence had been breached, Kuffour lashed out, pounding the Camp Nou turf with the devastation of a man facing the meanest misery.
This moment, and that defeat, can be in danger of overshadowing the career of a man who, at times, was among the finest defenders in the Bundesliga.
Determined and strong, but also lithe and agile, Kuffour was a key component of the Bayern team that captured six German titles and put the rest of the country’s competition to the sword.
He eventually overcame his Champions League demons as well, winning the competition on penalties in 2001.
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The purist’s favourite, Okocha is revered in parts of the world for his glorious use of the ball; his sparkling technique and his delicious vision.
A genuine artist, Okocha often attempted tricks that few could even dream of conceiving, and he bewildered defenders right across the European continent—including in the Bundesliga, where he performed with Eintracht Frankfurt.
Unlike some other flair players, however, Okocha was often able to translate his delightful abilities into end product—his long-range strikes and pinpoint dead-ball skills meant that the man could be lethal from almost anywhere with sight of goal.
With almost a goal every other game for Fenerbahce, he demonstrated a clinical nature not found in all other one-trick ponies.
Should Okocha have graced finer teams than he did? Perhaps managers didn’t trust the player’s compatibility in top sides, meaning that his magic was played out with Bolton in the Reebok Stadium, rather than with Real Madrid in the Bernabeu.
The seven-time Nigerian footballer of the year is a darling in his home nation, and, like Oliseh, was part of the Nigeria squad that finished in top spot at the Afcon 1994 and the 1996 Olympics.
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One of the continent’s finest, and with the reputation of a deity in his home nation, Abedi Pele is surely the finest African performer to have graced the Bundesliga.
Whilst it was in France, with Marseille, that Ayew enjoyed the most success—winning the Champions League in 1993, the player also enjoyed a brief two-year stint in 1860 Munich.
This oft-forgotten period came towards the end of his career, and with the attacking star well past his best. Still, along with Davor Suker and Rudi Voller, the Accra native is one of the most famous players in the club’s history, despite his contribution being so limited.
A Cup of Nations winner with Ghana in 1982, and with a place in the final 10 years later, Pele was at times unplayable for the Black Stars, and has duly been praised with accolades including three African Footballer of the Year Awards, third place in IFFHS’s African Player of the Century award and the Golden Ball winner at the Afcon in 1992.
Despite never featuring in a World Cup, the ‘African Maradona’ is surely Ghana’s finest player of all time.