10 African Stars with a Point to Prove Next Season
The new season will soon be upon us, and in leagues across the world players are setting expectations for themselves and planning their own narratives for the coming 12 months.
This article profiles 10 African stars who have particular points to prove in the coming season, for a variety of different reasons.
Be they new transfers or young players keen to halt a stuttering momentum, expect all of these men to make extra efforts to augment their reputations in the coming year.
It’s one thing to dominate the midfields of Scotland and impress in the glamour ties of the Champions League; but a move to the English Premier League and to Southampton will demand a lot from the prodigal talents of Victor Wanyama.
The midfielder was one of the revelations of last season and earned a continental reputation after some dazzling displays against Barcelona.
It is no surprise that he has moved to a major European league, but perhaps a shock that the ambitious Southampton were able to secure his signature. The transfer can be considered a coup, especially when much bigger clubs were linked with the youngster.
Wanyama should forge an effective and dynamic midfield partnership with Morgan Schneiderlin, one of the most effective players in the EPL last term.
However, he ought to be warned. While the Saints have proved to be a fertile breeding ground for young stars such as Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw, others, including Zambian frontman Emmanuel Mayuka and Gaston Ramirez, have fallen way short of expectations.
Wanyama will need to prove that he can fulfill such demanding duties in the cut-throat environment of England’s top flight.
Few African players have a reputation as tarnished as Peter Odemwingie's right now.
A year ago the Nigerian was the darling of the Albion. He was approaching the end of his career, but he could comfortably have transitioned into being the elder statesman of the Baggies, having achieved so much at the club.
Unfortunately, the January transfer window changed all that.
Smelling the glory, or perhaps the dollars, that lay elsewhere, Odemwingie pushed for a move away from the West Midlands and even drove all the way to West London—to Loftus Road—on deadline day to push a switch through at the last minute.
The subsequent interview given to Sky Sports News was horrifically cringe-worthy, especially when you consider that QPR didn’t bite and Odemwingie had to return to the Hawthorns with his tail between his legs.
Albion fans soon turned on their one-time hero and his future in West Bromwich has looked increasingly untenable.
Naturally, the prospect of a versatile goal-scoring forward with Premier League experience is an appealing one. Both Fulham and Crystal Palace have enquired, according to Brad Smith of GiveMeSport, about the prospect of giving the striker a platform from which to resurrect his reputation.
Sunderland were painfully dull to watch at times last season.
A dearth of strikers and Martin O’Neill’s proclivity to burden two meagre wide men with creative responsibilities left the side looking toothless, and much of Sunderland’s woes sprung from an inability to threaten the opposition.
At times, questioning eyes fell upon Stephane Sessegnon. The attacking midfielder has silky skills and a touch of class, but too often he has been played out of position or lacked the consistency required to be an effective menace.
The arrival of Paolo Di Canio might have kick-started his EPL career, but it seems like neither manager or player likes the look of the other.
Whether Sessegnon returns to France, or continues his toils at Sunderland, the final few years of his career will provide the magician with an opportunity to prove he can be an elite creator and not simply an inconsistent frustration.
Had any other manager shacked up at Chelsea this summer, then it may well have been curtains for Essien. He performed admirably on loan at Real Madrid last term, but after two injury-ravaged seasons at Chelsea prior to that and being one of the squad’s big earners, he would have been an easy target to move on to free up some funds.
But the returning Jose Mourinho shares a very close bond with the Ghanaian powerhouse. It was Mourinho who had faith in Essien last season and gave him a spot among his Galacticos in Spain, and it is Mourinho whom the Bison refers to—somewhat bizarrely—as "Daddy."
Perhaps it is too much to hope that the magic combination of manager, player and club will somehow prompt a return to the energetic, all-action, world-class midfielder that Chelsea fans had the privilege to enjoy during their glorious era. But perhaps, together, Essien could prove that he is not finished and that he can still be of use to the West London side.
Kolo Toure’s reputation has fallen a long way since he was at Arsenal and one of the finest defenders in the land. Encouraging performances at Manchester City were soon forgotten and he was replaced by Vincent Kompany, Joleon Lescott and Matija Nastasic.
A failed drugs test back in 2011 didn’t help, and it was no surprise when the club didn’t renew the Ivorian’s contract this summer.
Already 32 and having not played much football over the last 18 months, Toure was perhaps lucky that a club of the stature of Liverpool came in for him, offering a two-year deal this summer.
Arriving at a club in transition will naturally bring its own challenges, but the fact that Toure will likely be charged with replacing the experience, authority and composure of the retired Jamie Carragher will bring its own pressures.
This season could go either way for Toure, but it provides the experienced former league-winner with a prime opportunity to write a memorable closing chapter to his career.
Were Liverpool to charge back into the Champions League, Toure would go some way to overwriting the unhappiness and controversy of the last few seasons.
It was a season of two halves for Kwadwo Asamoah.
His career at Juventus began with a bang as the Ghanaian demonstrated his versatility and his athleticism as he fitted in seamlessly with the Italian champions.
The Old Lady retained their title this season, and while "Asa" was no small contributing factor to this triumph, his form tailed off after the turn of the year.
The Africa Cup of Nations can often derail a promising season as the testing nature of an international competition, the quick flurry of games and the time spent away from the club environment can be difficult to overcome in the midst of a tempestuous season.
He struggled to reintegrate in the side after having been away and looked a shadow of himself during the run in.
Asamoah is a talented enough player that I have no doubt he will have a long and prosperous career at the top. At a club like Juventus, however, where the demands are so high, Asamoah will need to find his feet once more or risk being replaced in Antonio Conte’s thoughts.
John Obi Mikel
At the time of this writing, John Obi Mikel’s future still hasn’t been decided. The return of previous boss Jose Mourinho to Stamford Bridge might have come as an encouragement to the Nigerian captain, but the rumours of a move away have come thick and fast and it looks his future is away from West London.
After a series of unconvincing seasons operating as a holding midfielder in the Chelsea first XI, Mikel may need a move away to even begin to approach the promise he possessed as a youngster.
At the 2005 Youth World Cup, Mikel eclipsed talents such as Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Aguero and was second only to Leo Messi in the performance charts.
Recently, for Nigeria, he has shown, in glimpses, the majestic, offensive, creative talent that he has lying beneath the bumbling, lumbering exterior.
Stay or go, Mikel will have a point to prove.
Can he demonstrate to Mourinho that he can be the successor to Makelele that Jose has long been looking for, or would a move away allow Mikel to finally operate in an offensive berth, as he did as a teenager?
Stephane Mbia was one of the great disappointments of last season.
Arriving at QPR from Marseille with some fanfare as a replacement for France-bound Joey Barton, the midfielder-cum-defender struggled to adapt to the top flight and hardly contributed as the Rangers defence buckled under the pressure of Premier League attacks.
Worse than incompetency, Mbia was accused of lacking the heart for a relegation battle and often it seemed like he just wasn’t putting in the effort to warrant the enormous wages he received.
Few players in the current squad look as incapable of competing in the hurly-burly of the Championship as the versatile Cameroonian stopper. Aston Villa, Swansea and even Arsenal have been linked to the player and, at 27, he still has time to prove that he is not a completely hopeless individual.
Stephan El Shaarawy
El Shaarawy is a miraculously talented young striker, but 2013 has been a year of struggles for the Italian-Egyptian frontman.
After bursting onto the scene in a blaze of delicate footwork and clinical finishing, the forward endured a drought and found Italian manager Cesare Prandelli questioning both his fitness and his character.
The Milan man eventually managed to find the net for Italy in the Confederations Cup. Even though it was in a penalty shoot-out, it was important for the striker to score…only his second goal in 2013.
Such a remarkable decline will have concerned the Milan hierarchy, and although the club have complete faith in the youngster—even rejecting massive bids from Manchester City and Chelsea—he looks set to have a bright future in Lombardy.
El Shaarawy will need to prove next season that he is not simply a flash in the pan.
A year ago, Sunday Mba’s grandmother probably hadn’t even heard of the Nigerian midfielder. In early 2013, however, he made himself a national hero by scoring crucial goals in the Super Eagles’ run to the continental title.
Cote d’Ivoire were felled by a delightful goal while Mba was the difference in the final as Burkina Faso were put to the sword.
Instead of kicking on from his triumph, however, things have stalled over the last six months.
Despite initial rumours of a move to Europe, Mba’s future was mired in a transfer dispute between Nigerian sides Enugu Rangers and Warri Wolves.
His form has drastically tailed off in light of the upheaval, and in recent performances with the Super Eagles Mba has failed to have anywhere close to his Afcon impact.
His immediate future looks to have been settled as the two clubs have arrived at a compromise. A switch to Europe could still be in his future, but wherever he ends up, Mba will need to overcome his blip and prove that his performances in South Africa weren’t a fluke.
With competition for places in Nigeria’s midfield heating up, Mba will need to work hard to ensure he doesn’t miss out on a spot at the World Cup next summer.
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