This article profiles five African midfielders who could well be making the move to the EPL this summer. With the continent’s 40 finest nations going head-to-head this weekend, five of whom moving one step closer to World Cup glory at Brazil 2014, some of those listed may well be in action.
Keep an eye out for some of these top performers as the European season rolls on. One or two of them may be heading to a Premier League club near you sometime soon.
Celtic’s Kenyan midfielder Victor Wanyama has been a regular feature in my articles in recent times. His Champions League performances, particularly against Barcelona, brought him to prominence, and he has the depth of ability and evident class to ensure that speculation and analysis concerning him has remained long after those famous evenings at Parkhead and the Camp Nou.
The Kenyan has seen his stock rise dramatically over the last few months. Purchased for less than £1,000,000, the club have recently valued their midfield dynamo at over £25,000,000. The fee quoted might be inflated to ward off potential suitors, but either way, the player still represents a terrific investment for the Hoops.
The imposing star has adapted seamlessly to the Champions League this year, and even though he is still clearly learning his trade, a move away from the parochial refines of the Scottish Premier League feels inevitable. Combining athletic and physical qualities with solid all-round technical prowess, the East African could emerge as a valuable asset to any leading EPL team.
Arsenal has long been the identified destination for Wanyama, particularly following Yann M’Vila’s move to Rubin Kazan, but recent reports suggest that Liverpool are also keenly tracking the defensive midfielder, according to the Daily Mail.
During an African Cup of Nations where many top stars and superstar nations failed to find any kind of successful rhythm, Morocco were among the fiercest disappointments.
Many had anticipated that their traditional North African resiliency, married to the creative talents of a number of attacking midfielders, would result in success down in South Africa. Even the absence of Adel Taarabt didn’t dampen preparations, as in Younes Belhanda the Atlas Lions possessed one of the continent’s premier creative talents.
Named in the final list of nominees for the African Footballer of the Year award, the Moroccan was a central figure in Montpellier’s delightful run to their maiden Ligue 1 title last year. He has been accused of stagnating in southern France however, and Jeff Livingstone among others has advocated a change of surroundings and a fresh start for the talented North African.
The flair, vision and technical execution are all there in abundance, it might just take a move to rediscover the intensity and drive that propelled MHSC to the finish line back in 2012.
Having tasted European competition this season, the Moroccan has announced he will only move to a Champions League club—Arsenal and Spurs have been alerted, and both are rumoured to be keen on Belhanda.
There was a time when I was surprised that Sunday Mba had even made the cut for Nigeria’s final African Cup of Nations squad—needless to say, when it was he who made the crucial impact in the quarterfinal against the Ivory Coast, and in the final against Burkina Faso, I was gobsmacked.
But then the bigger picture is of Stephen Keshi’s expansive renewal of the Super Eagles' squad—out with the prima donnas, the egos, in with the young, the domestic-based, the hungry.
Mba fitted into all three of these categories, and proved to be emblematic of Keshi’s vision. No one in Nigeria will ever forget his crucial, pertinent interventions down in South Africa, and his is a name that will go down in Naija folklore.
Currently playing for Warri Wolves in the Nigerian Premier League, a move to Europe looks likely. There are contractual issues to be overcome, and a disagreement over fees with previous club Enugu Rangers, but Everton, Reading and Tottenham have all been credited with interest in this goal-scoring midfielder.
Could we be looking at the EPL’s next Nigerian superstar?
Corriere delo Sport may already have suggested that the unfortunately named Eliaquim Mangala is headed for Serie A, but I believe this versatile star would be aptly suited to a spot enforcing the spine of a Premier League side. Offering power and presence, as well as priceless versatility, this athletic defender could emerge as a valuable asset for someone if a move from current club Porto goes ahead.
While he may currently be turning out for France’s U21 side, the six-footer has Congolese ancestry—many in southern Africa are hoping that he goes the way of Victor Moses and Younes Belhanda and shuns European attention for a future with the land of his forefathers. He also holds a Belgian passport however, and the Red Devils may stand an outside chance of adding him to their burgeoning roster of superstars.
The Daily Mail announced earlier in the month that Roberto Mancini is keen on bringing Mangala to Manchester City, but the clever money is still, unfortunately for EPL viewers, on a move to Milan—for a fee somewhere in the range of 15-20 million Euros.
Christian Atsu Twasam was one of my major disappointments of the 2013 African Cup of Nations. Having only recently broken into the Ghana first team, I was expecting the twinkle-toed forward to kick on—my vision was that he would add the extra dimension, the directness, to a Black Stars team that had evidently been missing it in tournaments past.
Things didn’t work out that way, the Black Stars failed to spark, and despite a few brief demonstrations of his class, Atsu remained on the periphery, failing to ignite his labouring countrymen. While their eventual loss to Burkina Faso was a major disappointment, the dire performance against Cape Verde in the first knockout round proved an almost embarrassing episode for the national side.
However, still only 21, Atsu has time on his side—he will surely make a greater impact for the national side in AFCONs to come.
After having pierced the national psyche during a loan deal at Rio Ave, Atsu returned to parent club Porto primed to make an impact in the Primeira Liga. This year he has enjoyed some brief cameos in the Champions League, one of which produced an assist.
Offering tactical nous, technique and, most of all, speed, Atsu enjoys the nickname "The Ghanaian Messi." Spurs have been linked in the past, via the Daily Mirror, and the Porto connection may seal any prospective deal, but don’t expect Liverpool and Everton to yield in their pursuit any time soon.
Ed Dove is Bleacher Report's African football expert. Follow him on Twitter @Eddydove.