African Players to Watch in Champions League This Season
The pool of African players at the truly elite end of the European game appears to be diminishing.
Legendary forwards Samuel Eto’o and Didier Drogba are now 33 and 36, respectively, and one would assume their days of influencing the latter stages of the Champions League are behind them.
Similarly, Michael Essien and Seydou Keita are also past their prime, while, for the last two years, the two European Cup-winning teams (Bayern Munich and Real Madrid) have not featured any African players.
Will things be different this season?
In this article, Bleacher Report profiles five African players who could impress in the Champions League this season.
Comment below and let us know which other of the continent’s stars we should be keeping an eye on in Europe’s premier club competition this year.
It is important to note that while all of the players listed here are eligible to represent African nations, some currently feature (or have featured) for the youth sides of European countries.
Yacine Brahimi looks to be evolving into Africa’s pre-eminent playmaker.
The Algerian followed on from an excellent World Cup by securing a high-profile switch to FC Porto and has wasted little time in impressing the club’s fans.
He was the key figure against LOSC Lille as Porto sealed progression to the group stage in Tuesday night’s play-off second leg. Operating in tandem with Jackson Martinez, Brahimi was devastating. He scored with a delicious free-kick and also set up a goal for his Colombian sidekick.
If Brahimi can continue his World Cup form—where he contributed two assists and scored once—then he could be one of the group stage’s standout performers.
International football fans were afforded a valuable insight at the World Cup into what CSKA Moscow supporters have witnessed for years.
Lionel Messi has a storied history of competition against Nigeria, and this summer added another chapter by seemingly single-handedly seeking the Super Eagles’ downfall in Brazil. The Argentine scored twice in their Group F clash, but it seemed anything Messi could do, Ahmed Musa could do better.
The Barcelona man opened the scoring in the third minute, only for Musa to level the scores in the fourth.
Just before half-time, Messi made it 2-1…moments after the break, the CSKA Moscow forward bagged another equaliser.
It was a fine performance and a wonderful crystallisation of a talent that has long bubbled just beneath the surface for the Super Eagles.
He started five times in the Champions League last season, scoring once and contributing another assist. At times, the young Nigerian looked a little overawed by Europe’s premier club competition, but he should be better placed to shine this time around.
Munir El Haddadi
While one Moroccan, Mehdi Benatia, stole all of the transfer headlines Tuesday (following his high-profile switch to Bayern Munich), as per The Guardian, another grabbed his portion of the glory in La Liga at the weekend.
These appear to be transitional times at the Nou Camp under Luis Enrique; many of the old masters have departed and a whole swathe of new additions are yet to be integrated.
One thing that remains constant, however, is the flow of talent to emerge from La Masia.
Is Munir El Haddadi the next big thing?
If his debut was anything to go by, Barcelona could have uncovered another gem. The 18-year-old was given his first La Liga start by Enrique, and he impressed, scoring once, hitting the woodwork in the first half and playing with the composure and the confidence of a much older player.
Under Enrique, youth should get their chance, and El Haddadi—who was born in a mountain town to the north of Madrid—may well get the opportunity to repeat his terrific debut goal in the Champions League this season.
Far too many African players have starred in FIFA’s youth tournaments only to fade away within the professional game.
Frank Acheampong has shown enough to date to suggest that he might just be able to make the transition successfully.
The winger was one of Ghana’s stars as the Black Satellites finished third in the 2013 U-20 World Cup. He scored both in the group stage, against the United States, and in the third-place play-off 3-0 victory against Iraq, also contributing three assists during the competition.
In that tournament, he predominantly featured on the left, but he demonstrated his versatility for Anderlecht last season by playing on both sides of the pitch.
While his influence waned—he only started one game after the New Year—Acheampong managed to contribute four assists and three goals in his first season in Europe.
At 20, he has already featured in the Champions League and scored an international goal for Ghana. Buoyed by the confidence of winning the Jupiler Pro League last season, Acheampong should kick on this campaign.
Last season was a year of two halves for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The forward took to life in Germany immediately following his move from Saint-Etienne, exploding into action in the Super Cup against Bayern Munich and in the Bundesliga against Augsburg.
He demonstrated both his versatility and his excellent exploitation of both intelligence and speed during those early showings, and for a time at least, it looked like a star was born.
Things slowed a little, however, from the middle of February, and following his two-goal haul in Dortmund’s 4-0 victory over Eintracht Frankfurt, his contributions all but dried up.
He has begun this year with a bang: a goal and an assist against Bayern in the Super Cup and a brace (as well as another assist) against Stuttgart Kickers in the German Cup.
If Aubameyang can profit from Robert Lewandowski’s departure and avoid last season’s decline, he could well assert himself as the finest striker in the African game.