The 10 Young African Players the Top Clubs Should Be Targeting in January
This article profiles 10 Young African Players that the top clubs should be targeting in January.
Not all of these players would be able to make an instant impact, but all at least have potential to be nurtured into top-level competitors.
I have limited this collection of players to those aged 23 and under, but even within that range there are various different ability levels represented. Naturally, the young and talented Nigerian team assembled by Stephen Keshi, Africa’s reigning champions, figure prominently.
Mahmoud ‘Trezeguet’ Hassan
My colleagues at English language Egyptian football website King Fut paint a picture of a young forward transitioned into an effective, offensive midfielder:
His surging runs going forward, fuelled with energy and great ball control are likely due to the fact that he was raised as a striker, thus improving his skills and shooting abilities.
At only 18, he is much less established than the majority of players on this list, but after only a year as a regular at Cairene giants Al Ahly, he has already built a fine reputation for himself in North Africa.
Linked to Ajax, Stuttgart and Nice in the past, the fiercest approach has come from Nottingham Forest.
For now, he remains in Egypt, but it might not be long before the youngster (nicknamed Trezeguet after a youth coach spotted a resemblance to the great French forward) makes the move across the Mediterranean.
El Diablo, as diminutive right-winger Solomon Asante is known, has stated his aspiration of making the move to Europe some time soon.
I recently identified West Ham and Fulham as potential destinations for him—the former place a high importance on the flanks, while the latter will surely soon be looking for a replacement for Irish stalwart Damien Duff.
Asante would likely be a big hit at either destination—he may be unpolished, but he is an explosive winger who has a track record of regularly finding the net.
He is a two-time top scorer in the Burkinabe Premier League, a remarkable achievement for a player who is still only 23.
Having just agreed a deal with Romanian side CFR Cluj this summer, Obiorah may appear to be an unlikely candidate for a January move.
However, he is a player of genuine pedigree and surely won’t be looking to remain in the relative backwater of Romanian football for too long.
Despite being only 22, there is a fear that Obiorah has potentially peaked. Having played for Internazionale and Parma, he headed out on loan to various Italian sides lower down the league ladder in order to find his feet, eventually leaving the nation altogether to head to Transylvania.
Over the last 18 months, at times he looked on the brink of forging a place for himself in Stephen Keshi’s starting XI for Nigeria; however, the call-ups have started to dry up and he has been out of the reckoning since the AFCON.
If Obiorah can make a success of things in Romania, it shouldn’t be too long before he is back strutting his stuff in football’s more exalted circles.
As a much younger man, Solomon Kwambe’s family wanted him to be a doctor. I bet they’re glad he stuck to football, however, as the teenager clearly has a great aptitude for the sport.
The right-back loves to get forward, citing Sergio Ramos as a hero, and offers a physical presence to the Super Eagles' backline.
He’s struggled to add caps to his initial minutes with the national side, but it feels inevitable that he will one day take the mantle from Efe Ambrose, potentially pushing the Celtic man inside.
Failure to make the AFCON 2013 squad will likely only be a blip in a career that will surely exceed that of 29-year-old Chidi Odiah, the former CSKA Moscow and Nigeria full-back who has been out of the game since 2012.
The Wild Dog of Nigerian Football has had a tough old year and could do with some respite.
Heading into the 2013 AFCON, Nosa Igiebor was meant to be the creative inspiration for Stephen Keshi’s young Nigerian side. Instead, he flopped and was soon deposed.
It didn’t help that his replacement, the previously unheralded Sunday Mba, was the difference-maker against both Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso in the final.
At Spanish club Betis, it was a similar tale of woe as Igiebor struggled to connect with the fans and initially failed to justify his price tag.
Gradually, things have improved for both club and country. The temperamental playmaker is slowly being reintegrated back into the Naija squad, while a few pertinent contributions have seen him receive a stay of execution at Betis.
He recently scored the winning goal against Villarreal in a 1-0 victory, a full return to the startling form he showed during his time with the Nigerian U-23 team which could prompt some bigger dogs than Betis to take a punt on such an explosive talent.
The sharp disintegration of Anzhi Makhachkala has changed the complexion of various dynamics across Europe’s football landscape, but almost nothing has been left behind in Dagestan.
The remnants are a sorry sight, but some talent does remain.
I am surprised that towering striker Lacina Traore hasn’t yet departed.
The forward has long been earmarked as the natural successor to Didier Drogba. As the Golden Generation of the Cote d’Ivoire have also drifted off into the sunset, Traore has been afforded more opportunity to show that, like his celebrated compatriot, he is about a lot more than just power and physique.
Traore—at 6’8"—still possesses a terrific touch and not inconsiderable pace; he is a major threat and has the potential to be one of Africa’s most deadly frontmen. Don’t expect him to be sticking around for too long in Russia. He was linked with Galatasaray and Liverpool during the summer.
Another of Stephen Keshi’s bright young Super Eagles squad, Kenneth Omeruo was only 19 when he consolidated his spot in the heart of Nigeria’s defence and, along with Godfrey Oboabona, guided the West African giants to the African title.
Remarkably composed and mature for his age, Chlesea owner Roman Abramovich must be delighting in the prospect of one of his young recruits finally living up to the billing.
Injuries have hindered Omeruo over the last few months—he missed the Confederations Cup after suffering a shoulder injury—and prevented him from joining another club on loan at the beginning of the season.
Liverpool were sniffing around then, and a club of a similar ilk may be interested in giving the player the pre-World Cup first team football he will doubtless require.
Ghanaian dynamo Emmanuel Badu may have denied claims he was imminently departing Udinese in the summer, but come the January transfer window, there will doubtless be another raft of intense speculation.
Following five years in Udine at the Stadio Friuli, the time may be right for Badu to follow in the footsteps of his compatriot Kwadwo Asamoah and seek his fortunes beyond the North-East of Italy.
The versatile player is an energetic presence in the heart of the midfield and boasts endless stamina as well as fine tackling ability.
He has previously been linked to Everton, Swansea, Norwich, Crystal Palace and Palermo, but don’t be surprised to see some much bigger names come and take a look.
Possibly the brightest young African central midfielder in the game today, 20-year-old Onazi has emerged as a crucial component of Stephen Keshi’s Nigeria team over the last 18 months.
He broke into the Super Eagles team as a substitute during the group stages of the 2013 Cup of Nations, before becoming an irreplaceable feature of the side during their triumphant run to the continental crown.
He was greatly missed at the Confederations Cup, where the clunky Fegor Ogude struggled to replace him.
He capped off a terrific year by winning the Coppa Italia with Lazio, an ideal end to a season that had seen him impress during the side’s Europa League campaign—particularly in the 0-0 draw with Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane.
Could develop into one of the world’s finest defensive midfielders.
It only took one dazzling performance against Chelsea for Tottenham Hotspur to reignite their interest in Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah.
Spurs know, firsthand, what it means to be troubled by the Basel man’s expert dribbling and sublime movement—he was a devastating force against the Lilywhites in last year’s Europa League.
The prospect of Champions League competition this term represents a fresh challenge and a step up for Salah, ahead of a potential move to a higher level in the summer.
Should Salah succeed where the Pharaohs’ Golden Generation failed and qualify for a World Cup, then he could cement his title as North Africa’s pre-eminent football talent.
Roma and Internazionale have also indicated interest in the "Egyptian Messi."