Ranking the Top-10 Africans to Have Played for Liverpool
This article celebrates the African players to have passed through Liverpool’s doors. This feature ranks the top 10 of the continent’s stars to have played for the Merseyside club.
Admittedly, over the years, there has been a lot of dross. Gerard Houllier and Rafael Benitez were guilty of numerous speculative transfers and both oversaw a huge turnover of unfulfilled talent.
Needless to say, the likes of Damien Plessis, Nabil El-Zhar and Charles Itandje haven’t made the cut.
Similarly, recent failures such as Victor Moses and Oussama Assaidi have also missed out.
In compiling this list, we have considered the impact, popularity, contribution and longevity of players both at Liverpool and in their careers beyond Anfield. Thus, while some of these players may not have shined on Merseyside, they are acknowledged in this feature on the basis of their careers as a whole.
10. Djimi Traore
Traore was one of a raft of Francophone players brought to the club by Gerard Houllier. Surprisingly, however, while the defender struggled under the Frenchman, being played at left-back and being sent on loan, he enjoyed his finest hour under Rafael Benitez.
That’s not to say things went swimmingly under the Spaniard. Few who witnessed it could ever forget his hapless, comedic own goal against Burnley in the FA Cup third round in 2005.
Ultimately, however, Traore would write himself into Anfield history, playing the full 120 minutes in the club’s unforgettable 2005 Champions League Final victory over AC Milan.
He is currently playing for Seattle Sounders in Major League Soccer.
9. Salif Diao
Admittedly, Salif Diao was a great Liverpool failure. Houllier, in his autobiography, as noted by TalkSPORT, knew almost immediately that things wouldn’t work out at Anfield, "With Salif, I knew after a week of training that he wasn't going to be good enough."
The defensive midfielder signed for the club following his exceptional showings for Senegal at the 2002 World Cup. The towering West African was a defensive rock for the Lions of Teranga, but also showed his technical qualities and his ability to change a contest. Against Denmark he scored one of the goals of the tournament—a delicious move that he both started and finished.
8. Carl Medjani
Carl Medjani had to do a lot of career-rebuilding work after being let go by Liverpool in the summer of 2006. When he arrived, he was a highly regarded youngster who had captained France’s youth teams and who won the prestigious Toulon Trophy with the U-20s in 2005.
Unable to make a first-team appearance under Rafael Benitez, however, he left on a succession of loan deals before moving to Lorient permanently in 2006.
Things haven’t quite settled down since then, with several false starts, but Medjani did manage nearly a century-and-a-half of appearances for Ajaccio and has played for Monaco and Olympiacos.
He switched to play for Algeria in 2010 and has since been named in two World Cups, starring for the Desert Foxes in all three of their group games in Brazil.
7. El-Hadji Diouf
Hate him or…er…hate him, El-Hadji Diouf certainly left an impression.
The Senegalese forward accepted an offer from Liverpool ahead of the 2002 World Cup. In the tournament’s opening game, he starred as the Lions of Teranga beat France 1-0. Over 90 minutes, Diouf demonstrated everything that Gerard Houllier had surely hoped for, he was fast, he was incisive, he dribbled well and he also had an end product, in that match, setting up Papa Bouba Diop’s goal.
Despite scoring two on his Reds debut, he drifted in and out of the side and never quite gained the trust of the manager.
The nadir came when he spat on a Celtic fan in the UEFA Cup.
After that, Diouf’s talent was largely submerged within his dismal reputation. He had his moments, at Glasgow Rangers, Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers, but proved, perhaps, that a leopard never truly changes its spots during an unsavoury spat with Neil Warnock and Jamie Mackie in 2011.
He is currently a free agent having been released by Leeds United.
6. Momo Sissoko
Mohamed Sissoko may have missed out on Valencia’s forays to the Champions League Final, but he was still an important component of the fine team Rafael Benitez built in the middle of the last decade.
Nevertheless, Sissoko won the Liga BBVA title in 2004 and claimed both the UEFA Cup and the Super Cup while with Los Che.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t quite able to maintain his ascent at Liverpool and despite being billed as the “next Vieira” flattered to deceive.
He started incredibly strongly, before suffering an eye injury that would go on to affect him over the coming seasons. It was an injury that, in truth, he never quite recovered from through his Reds tenure.
When Javier Mascherano arrived in February 2007, the writing was on the wall for the Malian midfielder.
5. Rigobert Song & 4. Arthur Riley
5. Rigobert Song
While Salif Diao was maligned by Houllier during his time at Anfield, Rigobert Song made enemies with Jamie Carragher.
As acknowledged in the defender’s autobiography, he actively sought revenge for the Cameroonian’s mockery of his talents. "Song walked on to the training pitch with a smile on his face. He was limping off it with a grimace an hour later," the former England international wrote, as reported by the Mirror.
"The first chance I got, I did him. Never have I hunted down a 50–50 tackle with greater appetite."
Song was a brave and determined defender, but the failings that marred his spell with Liverpool ultimately cost him success at a major club, beyond several Turkish titles with Galatasaray.
The defender is a legend in his native Cameroon, however, where he is the nation’s record caps holder (on 137). The former Galatasaray centre-back is one of two players (along with Zinedine Zidane) to have been sent off in two World Cups, and also became the youngest-ever player to see red when he was dismissed as a 17-year-old in 1994.
He featured at four World Cups.
4. Arthur Riley
Only four non-British Isles players have made more appearances for Liverpool than Arthur Riley, putting into context his fantastic contribution to the club.
Arriving at the club in October 1925, he would go on to make 338 appearances for the side over the next 14 years.
Riley was “head-hunted” by the club after an exhibition match between South Africa and the Reds. He was described by a correspondent for the Liverpool Echo [via LFCHistory.net] as such: “the goalkeeper, a tall, keen fellow who has reach, anticipation and a safe pair of hands, is only twenty, but he looks more like thirty-five."
The Boksburg-born stopper was duly signed and served the club with exceptional loyalty, sometimes as first choice and occasionally as deputy to either Elisha Scott or Alf Hobson.
Unfortunately, Riley’s time at the club came during one of Liverpool’s less successful eras—he never finished higher than fifth in the league with the Reds.
3. Kolo Toure & 2. Berry Nieuwenhuys
Centre-back Toure is one of only two African internationals currently on the club’s books. While he nearly helped the side to the Premier League title last term, few would argue that his best days are behind him.
The defender has been a part of two great teams: The Arsenal Invincibles and the Ivory Coast’s Golden Generation. While one was fantastically successful, the other will remain one of the great unfulfilled sides of the African game.
Beyond his accolades at Arsenal, where he won two FA Cups and two Charity Shields to go alongside the 2003-04 Premier League crown, he also picked up an English championship, an FA Cup and another Charity Shield at Manchester City.
Can Toure add to his list of honours on Merseyside this season?
South African Berry Nieuwenhuys made 257 appearances for the Reds between 1933 and 1947.
One sportswriter, as quoted on LFCHistory.net, described the player as such: "I rate him as being without superior, and I am not excluding Stanley Matthews. He is much more the direct and effective player; a goal-getter and a goal-provider."
Having impressed the father of a South Africa-born Liverpool goalkeeper, he accepted a spontaneous deal with the Reds and moved to Merseyside.
“Nivvy” demonstrated his composure, temperament and ability to negotiate the conditions and became an effective contributor to the cause in the North-West.
There were calls for the player to play for England, but while red tape prevented that, he remained in the country during the Second World War and played for West Ham United and Arsenal after the end of conflict.
1. Bruce Grobbelaar
Zimbabwean keeper Bruce Grobbelaar stands head and shoulders above the other players on this list. He may not have had the pure, natural ability of other African stoppers such as Joseph-Antoine Bell or Thomas N’Kono, but he is rightly regarded as one of the continent’s finest in his position.
Grobbelaar was part of one of Liverpool’s greatest-ever teams and was a key figure in one of their most dominant eras. During his time on Merseyside, Grobbelaar claimed six league championships and three domestic cups.
The highlight, however, was that European Cup Final in 1984, where the charismatic No. 1 almost single handedly helped the Reds to add another star above the Shankly Gates. The goalkeeper’s expert penalty saves, complete with bandy legs, have gone down in club folklore.
The Durban-born star made 628 appearances for the club over 13 years. He currently stands ninth in the list of appearances for the club, and holds the record for non-English or Welsh players.