25 Best African Players of 2013
This article presents the 25 Best African players of 2013. This feature looks back at the last 12 months and lists those players who stood at the pinnacle of the continent’s sport.
In compiling this list, we considered players’ contributions in all competitions over 2013.
While the main emphasis was on form during this period, we have not ignored anyone’s overall quality. Naturally, the Cup of Nations at the beginning of the year has influenced the decision process and do not be surprised to find one or two members of the all-conquering Nigeria side from that tournament.
Write to me on Twitter or comment below and let me know your thoughts on the 25 players selected here.
Sunday Mba: Was, ultimately, the difference-maker during the Cup of Nations, scoring the winner against the Cote d’Ivoire and then against Burkina Faso in the final.
However, inactivity, due to a transfer wrangle between Nigerian sides Enugu Rangers and Warri Wolves affected his form and fitness and completely undermined the rest of his 2013. Towards the year’s close, Mba had all-but lost his place in the Super Eagles’ first XI.
He ends the year with a move to CA Bastia of Ligue 2. It’s not the most fitting stage for an African champion, but at least Mba will receive an opportunity to get his career back on track and confirm that he is not a one-tournament wonder.
What a tournament though!
Efe Ambrose & Victor Wanyama: Fine performances against Barcelona at the end of 2012 set the tone for an exciting 2013 for this pair.
Ambrose made the Team of the Tournament during the Cup of Nations, but still isn’t totally convincing as a right-back for Nigeria. Some of his performances in the Champions League this season, and in last year’s Last 16 battle with Juventus were sub-par.
Victor Waynama’s showing against Barcelona prompted Southampton to shell out £12.5million on securing his signature. The Kenyan has taken a little time adapting to the Premier League and at times the Saints’ fans called for a return of Jack Cork.
Michael Essien: A fine, fine midfielder on his day, but sadly, due to injury and extended periods away from the pitch, those days have been few and far between. It remains to be seen whether Essien will ever rediscover his form of old.
Others to have missed out include: Kossi Agassa, Bayal Sall, Dieumerci Mbokani, Mbark Boussoufa, Mo Diame, Prince, Samuel Eto’o, Maestro Zokora, Elderson Echiejile, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Aurelien Chedjou & Christian Atsu.
25. Aristide Bance
Nation: Burkina Faso
The Year that Was: A comedic figure in the eyes of some, but nonetheless, a charismatic and effective forward who has been a key figure in Burkina Faso’s remarkable year.
He provided presence and energy during the Cup of Nations, scoring the equaliser in the semi-final against Ghana but made his key contribution during World Cup Qualification.
Bance looked like a man on a mission in the play-off against Algeria; he managed to overcome the trauma of a missed penalty to convert a second later in the contest and give the Stallions a first leg lead.
Unfortunately, it was not enough to secure passage to Brazil.
24. Serge Aurier
Nation: Cote d’Ivoire
The Year that Was: Aurier has finally delivered on his promise to become one of Ligue 1’s finest full-backs. The right-sided defender has established himself in the first team at Le TFC and has been attracting suitors of the calibre of Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger.
The suggestion is that Aurier might well be the perfect successor to long-time right-back Bakary Sagna.
With the national side, he has already usurped former Arsenal man Emmanuel Eboue as the Elephants’ right-back. Aurier has looked the part in his early appearances for the national side and is in the driving seat to start at the World Cup next summer.
23. Godfrey Oboabona
Club: Caykur Rizespor (Sunshine Stars)
The Year that Was: The defender built on an impressive 2012 to enjoy a terrific 2013.
Still only 23, he already has 30 caps for the Super Eagles and has been a stalwart over the last 12 months. There are few African centre-backs who have looked more accomplished than Oboabona.
The defender assumed a position of authority once Stephen Keshi took Joseph Yobo out of the first team and excelled when charged with negotiating Didier Drogba in the Cup of Nations quarter-final.
No one has started more games for Nigeria than Oboabona over 2013 and the quality of his performances earned him a move to Europe.
22. Sulley Ali Muntari
The Year that Was: Sulley Muntari remains one of the world’s most-underrated central midfielders. He has a personal honours haul that matches up to almost any other professional in the sport and remains an important part of the first team in Milan.
Over the last 12 months, he has contributed goals against Juventus, Celtic and in the victory against Barcelona back in February. However, it is elsewhere that his versatility and bite is best felt.
For the national side he returned to action following the Cup of Nations and was influential in the first leg demolition of Egypt in the World Cup Qualifying play-offs. In that clash, Muntari contributed two assists and also scored a penalty—a wide global audience will get the chance to appreciate his more subtle talents next summer.
21. Vincent Aboubakar
Club: Lorient (Valenciennes)
The Year that Was: At the end of last season you could be forgiven for thinking that Vincent Aboubakar was a bright young thing heading towards an underwhelming and ultimately, disappointing career. You won’t find many who suspect that today.
Last season he scored only two league goals for Valenciennes, a brace in a 6-1 victory over Lorient in October. It was clear that a change of scene was required.
His summer move, ironically to Lorient, has completely rejuvenated the player. He has twice been Man of the Match in Ligue 1 and currently sits in third place in the division’s scoring charts, behind only Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani.
If Aboubakar can continue in this fine form in 2014 and star for Cameroon at the World Cup, he can expect to push a lot higher up this list.
20. Kwadwo Asamoah
The Year that Was: Ability-wise, Kwadwo Asamoah belongs in the upper echelons of Africa’s talent. Similarly, 12 months ago, few could have rivalled him among the continent’s finest players.
2013, however, was not a year of the same vintage as 2012, and thus, Kwadwo Asamoah finds himself in 20th place in this list.
He has assisted only four goals, and scored none for Juventus in 2013. This is a far cry from 2012, when he hit the ground running following his transfer from Udinese.
The Cup of Nations was a particular point of disappointment. I had identified Asamoah as a potential star of the tournament but he struggled to find his rhythm and was largely impotent.
19. Seydou Doumbia
Club: CSKA Moscow
Nation: Cote d’Ivoire
The Year that Was: Injuries meant Seydou Doumbia endured a slow start to 2013, however, he soon returned to goal-scoring ways following his comeback.
His proficiency in front of goal was one of the key reasons that the Horses won their eleventh Russian title.
He has struggled to manage 90 minutes on a regular basis over the rest of the year, but when he has played, goals have invariably followed. He scored six in November, before an injury sustained 77 minutes into a Moscow derby with Spartak curtailed his year.
Monaco are just one European side keen to recruit Doumbia to one of the world’s major leagues.
18. Mohamed Aboutrika
Club: Retired (Al-Ahly)
The Year that Was: Admittedly, this may be a nostalgic inclusion, but Aboutrika has, once again, shown himself to be one of Africa’s finest playmakers.
He was influential as Al-Ahly achieved unlikely success in the CAF Champions League, guiding his side forward with his creative skills and his mature leadership abilities.
He was also the joint-top scorer in the CAF World Cup Qualification programme, bagging six despite being predominantly a creator.
Sadly, Aboutrika’s year (and thus, his career) has ended in disappointment. Egypt were demolished by Ghana and their World Cup dreams died along with the defeat.
At club level, Aboutrika was hoping for a career swansong in the Club World Cup, potentially in the final against Bayern Munich. Unfortunately, another aspiration was taken from him as Ahly were bested by Guangzhou Evergrande in the quarter-final.
Aboutrika limped out of the contest at half-time. An unhappy ending to a glorious career.
17. Salomon Kalou
Nation: Cote d’Ivoire
The Year that Was: Salomon Kalou has thrived since leaving Chelsea for Lille in 2012.
The forward has improved his influence and his goal-scoring ratio since arriving in France and has been in tremendous form during 2013.
He was in irrepressible form towards the end of last season, scoring nine goals in his last nine games. Particularly memorable were Man of the Match performances against Lorient and Reims.
Kalou hasn’t courted the headlines quite as regularly this season, but has, nonetheless, been an important component in Lille’s forward line.
He was Man of the Match in contests against Bastia (where he scored twice), Nantes and in the draw with PSG, where he both scored and assisted a goal.
His fine form has prompted rumours of a return to the Premier League, where Arsenal have been linked with his transfer.
16. Wilfried Bony
Club: Swansea (Vitesse Arnhem)
Nation: Cote d’Ivoire
The Year that Was: Wilfried Bony has, quite naturally, taken time to adapt to the Premier League. He has found the net in the Europa League, but only Stoke (twice), Sunderland and Manchester United have been infiltrated by the Ivorian this season.
This is in stark contrast to the back end of the 2012-13 season, when Bony was in unrelenting goal-scoring form for Vitesse. He bagged 31, top scoring in the Eredivisie, and managed 15 in his last 12 games in Holland.
Due to the presence of Didier Drogba, opportunities with the Ivorian national side have been fairly limited. He appeared for less than 90 minutes during the Cup of Nations, but still managed to find the net against Algeria.
Will be hoping for a return to form in 2014.
15. Didier Drogba
Nation: Cote d’Ivoire
The Year that Was: Didier Drogba may have drifted away from the central narratives of European football, but he remains an excellent forward and one of Africa’s finest.
He was at his best in the two crunch Champions League matches with Juventus, contributing two assists and a goal, as well as receiving the Man of the Match award in Turin.
This season alone, he has already scored seven times in the Turkish Super Lig.
Another Cup of Nations may have passed him and his compatriots by, but Drogba’s four goals in World Cup Qualifying have helped to ensure that he will have one final chance to leave a lasting international legacy with the Elephants.
Club: Roma (Arsenal)
Nation: Cote d’Ivoire
The Year that Was: Had Gervinho not escaped North London and moved to Rome during the summer, he would have struggled to make this list. The Ivorian was aimless at Arsenal, where his confidence had whittled away, and it became clear that a change of scene was required.
During the Cup of Nations, at the beginning of the year, he impressed, scoring and assisting a goal against both Tunisia and Togo, also winning that Man of the Match award in the latter fixture.
Since moving to Serie A, these performances have become much more regular and Gervinho has been a key figure in the side that has enjoyed such a stunning end to 2013.
A reunion with former Lille boss Rudi Garcia has rebuilt Gervinho and hopefully his form over the last four months is a sign of things to come.
13. Asamoah Gyan
Club: Al Ain
The Year that Was: Had Asamoah Gyan achieved all he has done in one of the world’s major leagues, he would be considered among the globe’s finest forwards. As it is, the striker’s decision to abdicate from the limelight and move to the United Arab Emirates certainly counts against his standing.
For Ghana, Gyan has slowly emerged as a fine figurehead. He scored twice in the 6-1 demolition of Egypt and also found the net at the Cup of Nations, against Niger.
He was the joint-top scorer in CAF World Cup Qualifying programme.
12. Ogenyi Onazi
The Year that Was: Who knows how Nigeria would have performed at the Cup of Nations had Ogenyi Onazi not been brought into the side.
The defensive midfielder didn’t start the tournament as first choice, but he was drafted into the side by Stephen Keshi and proved to be a revelation.
Onazi’s mature play ahead of the back four gave the team balance and defensive stability. The youngster provided the energy that allowed the more languid John Obi Mikel the time to flourish.
Currently thriving in Serie A with Lazio, Onazi has been linked with a move to the Premier League—Liverpool and Everton have both been linked with the player.
11. Mohamed Salah
Club: FC Basel
The Year that Was: It is unfortunate that for Mohamed Salah, like Mohamed Aboutrika before him, World Cup Qualification ended in disappointment.
The Basel forward had been in exceptional form during the CAF Group Stage round and ended the Qualifying programme as Africa’s joint-top scorer. It all ended in tragedy, however, as Egypt were routed by Ghana in the play-off.
At club level, Salah continues to thrive. He impressed in the Europa League last season and also looked to be in his element in the Champions League. He is also a Swiss champion.
Liverpool and Tottenham have both been linked with his signature and, World Cup or no World Cup, don’t be surprised to see Mohamed Salah even higher in this list next year.
10. Ahmed Musa
Club: CSKA Moscow
The Year that Was: In 2013 Ahmed Musa became both a Russian and an African champion. He became an integral figure at CSKA during the club’s run to the Russian title, particularly once he had moved to a central role after an injury to Seydou Doumbia.
For Nigeria, during the Cup of Nations, it was clear that he was champing at the bit to take a pivotal role in the side. He had to contend with the role of an impact substitute during the tournament but still managed to find the net against Mali in the semi-final.
He was afforded much more playing time at the Confederations Cup and was a menacing attacking threat against the likes of Spain and Uruguay.
Refinement is certainly required, but Musa has enjoyed a successful year and has announced himself before the watching world.
9. Nicolas N'Koulou
The Year that Was: It is amazing to think that Nicolas N’Koulou is only 23. The central defender has already made over 60 appearances for two French giants, Monaco and Marseille, and has accrued over 30 caps for Cameroon.
Despite the Indomitable Lions’ wealth of defensive options, N’Koulou is the mainstay of the back line. He should be in a position to impress at the World Cup, regardless of who plays alongside or ahead of him. The Central Africans are in a group with hosts Brazil, so he will doubtless have numerous opportunities to demonstrate his fire-fighting qualities.
N’Koulou is a well-rounded player who is comfortable with the ball at his feet. There may still be the occasional lapse, but numerous European giants have been linked with a move for one of the continent’s most-accomplished defenders.
8. Jonathan Pitroipa
Club: Stade Rennais
Nation: Burkina Faso
The Year that Was: The Cup of Nations is African football’s centrepiece occasion. In 2013, Jonathan Pitroipa was the tournament’s stand-out performer.
He was a key figure as Burkina Faso achieved unprecedented success in reaching the final. Pitroipa’s creative performances, particularly in wide positions, were among the competition’s rare highlights. His dribbling, footwork and technique were excellent, while he also proved himself to be a match-winner.
He was also nominated for both the BBC and the CAF African Player of the Year award.
7. Victor Moses
Club: Liverpool (on loan from Chelsea)
The Year that Was: Victor Moses was another of the AFCON’s star performers earlier in the year. He gave the Super Eagles an extra dimension during the group stage and was simply outstanding in the group stage clash with Ethiopia. The fixture was heading towards a goalless conclusion before Moses ignited.
His pace terrorised the Walias’ defence and he won (and scored) two late penalties.
He was also in fine fettle during the knock-out rounds, particularly against Mali, where his creative display lifted his team-mates and pushed them into the final.
Now on loan at Liverpool, Moses is proving to Jose Mourinho exactly what he is missing out on. Neither Kevin De Bruyne nor Andre Schurrle have yet been able to match his impact.
6. Emmanuel Emenike
Club: Fenerbahce (Spartak Moscow)
The Year that Was: Over 2013, Emmanuel Emenike has emerged as one of Africa’s finest forwards. He was in scintillating form during the Cup of Nations and even though he missed the final through injury, he still managed to pick up the Golden Boot.
Not only has he scored goals frequently, he has also scored important goals.
During the AFCON he found the net in the group stage during 1-1 draws with Burkina Faso and Zambia, and also in the knock-out rounds against Mali and the Cote d’Ivoire.
He was missed at the Confederations Cup, where the Super Eagles looked toothless without him, but reasserted his class in the World Cup Qualifying play-off against Ethiopia. A brace against the Walias in Addis Ababa ensured Emenike’s superstar status and also nudged coach Keshi’s men towards the World Cup.
5. Mehdi Benatia
The Year that Was: Mehdi Benatia has seen his stock rise enormously over the last five months. The North African has quickly emerged as one of Europe’s most accomplished defenders and has played a major role in Roma’s rise to the top of the Italian classement.
While he may have only recently begun courting the headlines, the defender has been consistently fantastic for some time. He has wasted no time in replacing Marquinhos in Roma’s defence.
He is a fine reader of the game and is capable of playing the ball out from defence, he has thrived at the capital club and is clearly enjoying life alongside the likes of Leandro Castan and Vasilis Torosidis.
4. Vincent Enyeama
The Year that Was: Super Eagles stopper Vincent Enyeama has long been considered as one of Africa’s finest stoppers. As we look back over 2013, he stands alone as Africa’s No. 1 goalkeeper.
He is now an African champion, overcoming suggestions before the AFCON that he would be replaced to eventually be crowned the tournament’s best gardien. Not only did Enyeama make the saves that preserved Nigeria, he also demonstrated his leadership and his organisational skills, particularly considering the youthful centre-backs ahead of him.
2013 ended with a remarkable charge towards the Ligue 1 record for consecutive clean sheets. That honour may have eluded Enyeama in the end, but his consistency and quality during that run have prompted a re-evaluation of his talent.
3. Pierre Emerick Aubameyang
Club: Borussia Dortmund (Saint-Etienne)
The Year that Was: Pierre Emerick Aubameyang has enjoyed a fantastic year first in France and then in Germany. It could easily have been England as well, London giants Tottenham Hotspur were linked with a move for the striker but in the end he ended up moving to Champions League finalists Borussia Dortmund.
Last season he was second only to Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the French scoring charts and managed to bring some silverware back to the Loire, winning the Coupe de la Ligue in April.
The Gabonese forward has exploded into life in the Bundesliga and has already bagged nine goals, only two behind team-mate Robert Lewandowski.
2. John Obi Mikel
The Year that Was: It was very tempting to give John Obi Mikel the top spot in this list. The midfielder was nominated for both the BBC and the CAF Footballer of the Year award and he also won the Goal Nigeria Player of the Year award.
He was an inspirational figure and creative force for the Super Eagles during the Cup of Nations and delivered several Man of the Match performances en route to the title.
Mikel also outclassed Yaya Toure in the quarter-final against the Cote d’Ivoire.
1. Yaya Toure
Club: Manchester City
Nation: Cote d’Ivoire
The Year that Was: It is testament to the magnificent qualities of Yaya Toure that even though he wasn’t at his best during much of 2013, the midfielder still finds himself at the top of this list.
The Ivorian was named as the BBC’s African Footballer of the Year and also featured prominently in the Guardian’s list of 2013’s Best Players.
He is gently beginning to forge a terrific midfield partnership with Fernandinho and is refining his already magnificent offensive contributions at Manchester City.
2014 will bring Barcelona and the World Cup to Toure’s door…could it also bring a Premier League title?