Christian Benteke Leads African-Born Stars Set to Take Premier League by Storm
The Premier League has long had a reputation for showcasing the finest young African talent in the world. While players often begin their European careers in Belgium or Holland, the majority of history’s finest African-born stars have, at one time or another, plied their trade in England’s top flight.
The likes of Didier Drogba, Nwankwo Kanu and Rigobert Song have all passed through the Premier League and written enduring chapters into their storied careers.
Today the league is teeming with young African-born talent primed to develop their skills and blossom into bona fide stars in the heaving cauldron of the English top flight. Expect many of the men featured here to make a major impact in the narratives of their side’s seasons.
As noted in the title, this article considers only African-born stars, rather those born in Europe who have gone on to represent African sides, or those with African ancestry. Thus, the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Demba Ba and Mo Diamé were not considered.
Cabral: Sunderland & Cape Verde
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One of the central components of Paolo Di Canio’s overhaul of the Sunderland squad is Cape Verdean star Cabral.
After years of underachievement, the Black Cats are in drastic need of makeover; the likes of Modibo Diakite, Vito Mannone and Jozy Altidore may take time to adapt to the new surroundings, but if the Italian boss can get his boys on the same page, the malaise of recent times might pass.
Having replaced stalwart Benjamin Huggel in the heart of the Basel midfield back in 2012, Cabral knows how to battle, how to firefight and how to clean up in the middle of the park.
With Mirror football noting that Lee Cattermole’s days in the North East rumoured to be coming to an end, Cabral will have some more big shoes to fill. Expect him to succeed; the versatile defensive player can operate in midfield or defence and will be a massive asset to the Mackems.
Like his cousin Gelson Fernandes, Cabral represented Switzerland at youth level. Unlike Gelson, however, Cabral has opted to return to the land of his birth for international recognition.
Christian Benteke: Aston Villa & D.R. Congo (Belgium)
Aston Villa fans must have been delighted that superstar striker Christian Benteke decided to renew his contract with the Midlands club.
The vultures had been circling, and at times over the last few weeks and months it seemed almost certain that the Belgian’s future would be away from Villa Park. Tottenham Hotspur had been identified as a potential destination, but the new contract signing means that those attentions have been put on ice.
Benteke was one of the revelations of last season. The striker has the lot: pace, power and technical prowess. He spearheaded a young Villa side and will surely only get better with time and experience. The 22-year-old scored 23 goals in all competitions during 2012-13, and Villains chief Paul Lambert will be delighted at the continuation of their relationship.
Victor Wanyama: Southampton & Kenya
It is no surprise that Kenyan midfielder Victor Wanyama has moved to a major European league, but I imagine few expected that Southampton would be lucky enough to acquire his services.
The Saints have picked up a valuable asset. The East African is a dynamic, energetic central midfielder, he can tackle, he can pass and he can also score goals, as was evidenced during Celtic’s magnificent run in the Champions League last season.
As noted by the Independent, Wanyama may have alerted the wider footballing public during those contests with Barcelona, but the truth is that he has regularly been dominating in the “bread and butter” contests of the Scottish Premier League week in and week out.
Certainly the EPL will be a step up, but expect Wanyama to make the grade next term. Look forward to the Kenyan forging a dynamic and effective partnership with Morgan Schneiderlin in the heart of Saints midfield.
Wilfried Bony: Swansea & the Cote D'Ivoire
Like Wanyama, Bony was linked with major Premier League sides before eventually signing for a mid-table team. Having once been touted as the solution to Chelsea’s striking inadequacies, Swansea can be chuffed to have pulled off a coup in acquiring the Ivorian.
Bony promises goals, and Swans fans will be salivating at the thought of the former Vitesse man linking up with last season’s superstar Michu.
While the Spaniard took the EPL defences apart in his first season across the Channel, Bony was setting fire to the Eredivisie; he top-scored with 31 goals as he helped the Vitas qualify for the Europa League.
Bony is one of several players who will look to be headlining the post-Drogba era for the Cote d’Ivoire national side. Along with Seydou Doumbia and Lacina Traore, the Elephants boast some of the most devastating options on the continent.
Swansea fans are in for a treat.
Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa: Newcastle & the Central African Republic (France)
Much has been written and spoken about the destabilising effect that Newcastle United’s French acquisitions have had on the squad and on Alan Pardew’s leadership. Beyond the politics and the upheaval, however, it has perhaps been overlooked just how underwhelming some of the performers have been.
The likes of Mathieu Debuchy and Moussa Sissoko arrived with international reputations, but rarely looked the part at St James’ Park.
Yanga-Mbiwa struggled to adapt to the power and intensity of English football since arriving in January; however, now that the initial toils are over, the French international can look forward to demonstrating his true class.
Few doubt it.
He is a versatile character, strong and fast and an assured reader of the game. Pardew recently took time to praise Yanga-Mbiwa’s leadership skills, via Chronicle Live, and sees the defender as a big part of his plans moving forward.
The 24-year-old, born in Bangui, Central African Republic, could rise to stand among the Premier League’s finest central defenders.
Wilfried Zaha: Manchester United & the Cote D'Ivoire (England)
At 20 years old, the winger is still perhaps too raw to command a first-team spot straightaway, but one of David Moyes’ key challenges—and surely key ambitions—will be to polish the England international into a top-class Premier League competitor.
The youngster was one of the key factors in Crystal Palace’s return to the top flight, but at times last season it was clear that he had outgrown the Championship. He almost single-handedly won the playoff semi-final for Palace and was a key protagonist in the final victory over Watford.
While this season may predominantly be a question of acclimatisation, Zaha is already more than capable of making an impact in a substitute capacity.
Moyes will be hoping for much, much more before too long.