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Ranking the Top 10 African Players to Play for Chelsea

Garry HayesFeatured ColumnistApril 15, 2014

Ranking the Top 10 African Players to Play for Chelsea

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    Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

    Derek Smethurst was the first in the 1970s, but it is only in more recent times that Chelsea have celebrated the allure of African football by featuring some of the continent's finest talent.

    Indeed, it was over 20 years after Smethurst made his Blues debut that Chelsea drafted in another African to their starting line-up—South African-born striker Mark Stein—who became a feature at Stamford Bridge under manager Glenn Hoddle.

    More high-profile names have since followed with African stars such as Michael Essien, John Obi Mikel and Dider Drogba having a considerable impact on Chelsea's success in the past decade.

    Who is the finest, though?

    Bleacher Report counts down through Chelsea's all-time top 10 African footballers.

     

10. Victor Moses

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    Clive Rose/Getty Images

    Victor Moses may appear to be surplus under Jose Mourinho since he's spending the current campaign on loan at Liverpool, but in the one season he spent as a regular at Stamford Bridge, he made a big impact.

    It was in the Europa League where Chelsea fans saw the best he had to offer in 2012-13 as Moses scored four goals en route to the final.

    Chelsea would eventually defeat Benfica, claiming their second trophy in Europe in as many seasons, and the role Moses played in that was significant.

9. George Weah

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    Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

    George Weah was nearing the end of his career when he arrived at Chelsea on loan from AC Milan in January 2000.

    Fans weren't sure what to expect from the 32-year-old, but within 30 minutes of his debut, he gave them an answer, scoring an 87th-minute winner against Tottenham Hotspur.

    It immediately endeared him to Chelsea fans, and while his goalscoring wasn't exactly prolific, his record of five in 15 matches was still a respectable return.

    Weah was at Chelsea for just six months and lifted the FA Cup in 2000 at Wembley.

8. Celestine Babayaro

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    Phil Cole/Getty Images

    Celestine Babyaro arrived at Chelsea from Anderlecht for £2.25 million in 1997—a then-record fee that Chelsea had paid for a teenager.

    Had he lived up to his potential, Babayaro would have featured higher up in our list, but with off-the-field issues and poor discipline, he never quite became the player Chelsea thought they were getting.

    He had blistering pace and was a real threat going forward. His position was left-back, though, and with Graeme Le Saux for competition, he never rivaled the Englishman's defensive prowess.

    That's not to say his Chelsea career wasn't without success—Babayaro was part of the teams that won the Cup Winners' Cup and Super Cup in 1998 and the FA Cup in 2000.

7. Samuel Eto'o

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    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    Had Samuel Eto'o arrived at Chelsea five years earlier in his career, we'd be talking about the Cameroon star in the same bracket as Didier Drogba.

    Make no mistake, he has been among the top forward talents in European football for the past decade, and he's shown at various stages this season that he still has the guile to compete at the highest level.

    At 33 years old, it's his body that is preventing him from being the player we once knew.

    His record of 11 goals this season isn't to be scoffed at, though.

    It's not the Eto'o of old, but he has played a considerable role in Chelsea reaching the Champions League semi-final, and they are still in the hunt for Premier League glory.

    Who knows, in a few weeks, he could have scored even more goals to bring silverware back to Stamford Bridge, and his legend will only grow as a result.

6. Geremi

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    DAVE THOMPSON

    Geremi may not have had the profile of some of the other African players who find their way into our top 10, but that's not to say he wasn't as important during his years as a Chelsea player.

    Signed from Real Madrid in 2003 by Claudio Ranieri, he played in various positions for the Blues—right-back, right wing, central midfield and left wing.

    The former Cameroon international fit the cliche: He was the kind of player not always applauded by the fans but loved by his teammates for the job he did.

    His Chelsea career was a major success on a personal level too. During his four years in west London, Geremi won the League Cup twice, the FA Cup and was part of Jose Mourinho's all-conquering team that secured back-to-back Premier League titles in 2005 and 2006.

5. Salomon Kalou

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    Tim Hales

    Like our No. 6 in Chelsea's list of all-time African footballers, Salomon Kalou was the kind of player clubs like Chelsea need—unassuming and ready to accept his role in the squad.

    That isn't to downplay the Ivorian's talent—quite the opposite.

    Kalou's Chelsea career was a glorious one, earning major trophies in England and Europe and culminating in the Champions League in 2012.

    With the likes of Didier Drogba, Fernando Torres and various other star names ahead of him in the pecking order, his role was often to come from the bench and impact games for the Blues.

    He often did, too.

    Chelsea fans need only recall an FA Cup tie at home to Tottenham Hotspur in 2006-07 when, having trailed 3-1 at half-time, the Blues eventually secured a replay by drawing the game 3-3.

    And who saved the day? That man Kalou, appearing from the bench to score an 87th-minute equalizer.

    Chelsea won the replay 2-1 and went on to lift the trophy.

4. John Obi Mikel

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    Sang Tan

    There aren't many players who can last eight years at a club of Chelsea's stature, but John Obi Mikel has.

    It's true that with the arrival of Nemanja Matic in January, it seems the 26-year-old's days are numbered at Stamford Bridge. And if he should depart come the summer, it will bring the curtain down on what has been a fine career in west London.

    Mikel hasn't always been a crowd favorite nor has he always been one of Chelsea's finest talents. He has been dependable, though.

    Since the departure of Claude Makelele in 2008, the Nigerian has shared midfield duties with Michael Essien, and he has proved successful, winning the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League.

    Alongside Frank Lampard en route to Munich in 2012, Mikel put in some of his finest performances for Chelsea, showing what he was truly capable of.

    He has been a great advert for African football, and with much of his career still ahead of him, we can expect that to carry on whether he is at Chelsea next season or not.

3. Mark Stein

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    Getty Images/Getty Images

    In these times of world-renowned African talent at Chelsea, the little guy can sometimes be forgotten.

    We're talking about Mark Stein's height as his stature as a Chelsea player was considerable.

    At just 5'6", the Cape Town-born front man was part of an unlikely strike duo with the equally diminutive John Spencer during his Chelsea career.

    What he lacked in height, though, Stein more than made up for in punch.

    He set a Premier League record in 1993-94, scoring in seven consecutive matches from December to February. It started with a 3-1 defeat to Southampton on Dec. 27 and ended in a 4-2 loss against Everton.

    That tells only half the story, though.

    Sandwiched between those defeats, Chelsea won three matches, drawing twice in a run of form that pulled them clear of the relegation zone.

    Stein was instrumental in that and had he not scored those goals, there's no telling how the Blues' season would have ended.

    Eventually, it ended with a trip to Wembley as Chelsea reached their first FA Cup Final in 24 years, losing to Manchester United.

    They stayed up, though, and built form there to become the juggernaut we know today.

    Incidentally, Stein's scoring record remained until Ruud van Nistelrooy broke it in 2002.

2. Michael Essien

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    Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

    When talking African football, it conjures up images of warrior-esque performances defined by passion and an endeavor to succeed—all qualities Michael Essien brought to Chelsea during his nine years in west London.

    The Ghanaian was known as "The Bison," and prior to two serious knee injuries, he more than lived up to that moniker as plenty of opponents will testify.

    Essien was a brutal force at the heart of the Chelsea midfield, a real athlete in every sense.

    It's notable that when he was sidelined with those knee injuries, Chelsea lost out significantly and their success waned somewhat.

    Had it not been for his injury problems, he would still be a regular under Jose Mourinho, too.

1. Didier Drogba

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    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Our image above says all you need to know about Didier Drogba and his Chelsea career.

    Has any player been so influential in guiding his team to Champions League success?

    Drogba isn't just Chelsea's finest African player, he's arguably the continent's finest export.

    His impact at Chelsea was considerable, and after delivering three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, two League Cups and the Champions League, he left Stamford Bridge a hero in 2012.

    Legends don't come much bigger than Drogba in west London.

    Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @garryhayes.

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