In this article, Bleacher Report’s African Expert Ed Dove profiles 10 African internationals who could be poised to make a move to Europe this summer.
While some of these players have already tasted competition north of the Mediterranean, in European leagues, others have never left Africa, and yet are poised to take their careers to the next level and demonstrate their ability with a major club.
With a particular focus on the English Premier League, I look at how some of these stars could benefit or contribute in Europe.
Read on to discover some players who could be gracing your home side next season.
Stephen Keshi’s initiative to promote young, domestic-based talent ahead of Nigeria’s Cup of Nations victory paid dividends as the inexperienced yet hungry and vibrant side ended up claiming continental gold.
While a number of players truly "made their names" in South Africa’s spectacle, few shone quite as brightly as Sunday Mba.
Only perceived to be a squad player heading into the tournament, Mba was the difference maker in both the quarterfinal against Cote d’Ivoire and the final against Burkina Faso—with two crucial goals that ensured his name will never be forgotten in Naija.
Since the competition, he has been embroiled in a legal wrangle in Nigeria, with Warri Wolves and Enugu Rangers unable to agree a transfer fee for the player, who thought he was out of contract and free to move.
With his domestic future up in the air, the way may be cleared for a Premier League side to step in and add this promising, raw talent to their ranks. At 24, he is no "wonderkid," but goalscoring midfielders can often be worth their weight in gold, and Mba’s performances on the continental stage may have appealed to some of those watching.
Earlier this season, it looked as though the highly rated Sunzu was set to leave Congolese side TP Mazembe and seal a move to Premier League side Reading. Despite impressing while on trial with the Royals, his club side refused to release him, insisting he honour his contract, and thus he remains a Corbeaux player.
That may soon be about to change, however, and even after a disappointing Cup of Nations, in which Zambia failed to build upon their success of 2012, there still appears to be sincere Premier League interest.
It now looks like Sunderland are to be his likely destination, and even though Martin O’Neill has been replaced by Paolo Di Canio, there appears to be a genuine desire on behalf of the Wearsiders to confirm the move. A trial in March was scuppered due to injury, but it seems likely that the Premier League looms large in Sunzu’s destiny.
While the highly rated centre-back, who has previously been linked with Arsenal, could have been an invaluable asset in Sunderland’s battle against relegation, his signing would be a long-term move for the club—still only 23, don’t be surprised to see him representing the Black Cats as of next season.
Egyptian superstar Mohamed Aboutrika is one of my favourite players of all time, and thus, I have no difficulty including him in such a list.
The Pharaohs' playmaker is much more than just a footballer—he is a philosopher, a philanthropist, a freedom fighter and a symbol of a national future that has long been missing for the beleaguered North Africans.
With Egyptian football still facing upheaval and still plunged into disarray following the Arab Spring and the horror of the Port Said stadium massacre, there has been a major exodus of players from the Gulf State. While many have ended up in Belgium, or in various other leagues across Europe, Aboutrika remained closer to home.
Currently on loan with Emirati side Baniyas, Aboutrika’s enduring class has been seen in the UAE Pro League, where his performances have seen his new club to third spot.
With his current contract only temporary, might Aboutrika—who has played his whole career in the Arab world—be tempted to seize one final chance to play week in, week out on a more exalted stage?
Back in 2010, so much was expected of Tsepo Masilela. Steven Pienaar, then South Africa's skipper, speaking to FourFourTwo magazine before the World Cup, suggested that Masilela was "as good as Roberto Carlos" and had the capacity to make as big an impact as the former Brazil and Real Madrid star.
While Masilela did impress in that tournament, linking up well with Siphiwe Tshabalala down Bafana’s left flank and playing a crucial part in South Africa’s famous 2-1 victory over France in Bloemfontein, his career hasn’t quite kicked on since.
Offering both defensive solidity and a menacing attacking threat, I expected bigger things when Masilela left Israeli side Maccabi Haifa in 2012. Beyond a brief loan spell at Getafe, he has never ventured into a major European league, and a return to South Africa, to Kaizer Chiefs, was a step backwards.
The 27-year-old left-back might be a tempting option for a Premier League side, although in reality, it is "now or never" for the defender to make an impact in Europe.
Tresor Mputu has been one of the central figures in the recent success of Congolese giants TP Mazembe. At times, the Corbeaux have conquered all before them, on both a domestic and a continental level—the diminutive forward has been a fulcrum of creativity during this period and has long looked like being poised for bigger things.
Unfortunately, his big chance to impress on the continental stage went begging as the Democratic Republic of Congo struggled to make the most of their key players and crashed out in the group stage.
Mputu showed glimpses of his ability, particularly in the opening game with Ghana, when he and Dieumerci Mbokani were the catalysts in a second-half comeback for the Leopards. Ultimately, however, he didn’t have the impact he must have been hoping for.
"The Next Samuel Eto’o" hasn’t quite lived up to the early billing as yet, but in truth, a career played out entirely within his home nation hasn’t attracted the wider interest and coverage of some of his contemporaries.
Spurs, Arsenal and Fulham have been linked with him in the past, and any one of these three may be keen to give body to their association by making an offer this summer.
In all of the fuss and furore that surrounded Nigeria’s triumphant return to the top of the tree in Africa, and all of the praise that was heaped upon Stephen Keshi and his boys, it was often forgotten just how brave the Big Boss had been in plumping for so many untried and untested players.
Despite having covered Nigerian football extensively, even I was shocked when he opted for the young and inexperienced centre-back pairing of Godfrey Oboabona and Kenneth Omeruo over skipper and most-capped player Joseph Yobo.
The gamble paid off, and the pair demonstrated composure and refinement as they protected Vincent Enyeama in the Naija goal and guided the Super Eagles to gold.
Oboabona was a joy to watch, particularly in the quarterfinal against Cote d’Ivoire, as he silenced Chelsea icon Didier Drogba. Clearly the performance caught the eye of Arsene Wenger, who offered the Sunshine Stars skipper a trial at the end of March.
It remains to be seen whether the Gunners will bid for the £1 million-rated defender, but many in Nigeria will hope they do—the North London side retain a strong reputation in West African following the exploits of legendary forward Kanu.
Unlike the other players on this list, Asamoah Gyan has previously been an established Premier League star.
After signing for Sunderland from French side Rennes, Gyan impressed spectators and was, for a time, the darling of the Black Cats. With his energetic performances, encouraging goals-to-games ratio and celebratory dance moves, Gyan could do no wrong in the confines of the Stadium of Light.
However, despite bagging nearly a goal every three games in his opening stint in the EPL, Gyan was to depart acrimoniously in September 2011. A loan move to Emirati side Al Ain was deemed "too good to refuse" by both player and club, and the Ghanaian was off. Having lost the goals of both Gyan and his partner-in-crime Darren Bent, Sunderland’s slump began, and Baby Jet was never to be seen in the North East again.
His scoring rate in the Emirati league has been phenomenal, but despite clearly relishing being such a big fish in the Gulf State, you can’t help but wonder whether Gyan misses the big-time stage that his immense talents surely deserve.
The striker has confirmed that he will one day return to the Ghanaian Premier League, but could English fans see him again before his playing days are done. If the "experience" sours in the UAE, expect several EPL sides to take a look at the Black Stars skipper.
A physical monster of a frontman, Maazou has been the pivotal feature in Niger’s rapid improvement over recent years. Having never qualified for the AFCON before 2012, the Menas went and did it twice—being present at both the 2012 and 2013 editions of the tournament.
Despite heading home in the group once again, the West African side managed to pick up their first ever AFCON points—sealing a resolute 0-0 draw with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Port Elizabeth.
Despite being only 24, Maazou skippered the side, evidence of the standing he holds in his home land and on the national stage.
In truth, his club career has endured some halting origins. After scoring regularly in his homeland and then with Lokeren in Belgium, he struggled to adapt to like in Moscow with CSKA. A number of loan deals failed to amount to much, and after a stint in France, with Le Mans, he returned to Africa, and to Tunisian giants Etoile du Sahel.
I believe the striker’s physical prowess, his leadership qualities and the eye for goal he demonstrated so clinically earlier in his career could well see him heading to the Premier League some time soon. He was once courted by some of Europe’s biggest names, and despite difficulties on the way, those rare talents that once attracted the scouts are still bearing fruit.
Nathan Sinkala was only 20 years old when he was part of the Zambian side that stunned the continent with their unlikely and emotional victory in the 2012 edition of the Cup of Nations. As Stephen Keshi was brave in including hungry, young players in his triumphant Nigerian squad, so Herve Renard was not adverse in turning to the younger generations to support his team.
Sinkala was a revelation in the tournament, and his starring role and mature outings prompted a move to African giants TP Mazembe—heading down to the Congo to join the Corbeaux’s growing stable of Zambian stars.
Sinkala has excelled as a holding midfielder, displaying evidence of a shrewd understanding of the game and an astute ability to appreciate when to close down and when to stand off, when to cover and when to track—these are encouraging traits in one so young.
The young man will have learned from Zambia’s disappointing defence of their title, and ought to come back as a stronger and more composed individual. Despite a slight lack of stature, the dynamic midfielder might be a tempting option for a number of continental sides.
When my friends at Soccer Laduma reported that Bafana Bafana keeper Itumeleng Khune was being tracked by Turkish giants Besiktas, it came as no surprise. In fact, the only surprise was that it had taken so long for a European heavyweight to give such attention to a goalkeeper that has been so impressive for so long.
Still only 25, Khune has yet to reach his peak, but recent showings have been evidence of a young man keen and primed to make it to the top of his profession.
Having started his career as an outfield player, it is perhaps no coincidence that Khune’s delivery is one of his strong points; comfortable with the ball played to his feet, and more than capable of picking out a teammate on the other side of the turf, Khune’s kicking has been a major asset for both club and country.
On the staff at Kaizer Chiefs since 1999, Khune is one of the central personalities at the club. However, having made over 100 appearances for the Soweto side, he may feel that the time has come to leave South Africa for pastures new.
The South African could perhaps be an able replacement for Michel Vorm at Swansea, should the Dutchman ever leave the club. Failing that, maybe Khune could be the answer to Southampton’s struggle to fill that position this season.