Where Didier Drogba Ranks Alongside Africa's 20 Best Strikers
Once again, Didier Drogba looks primed to steal the headlines of another big European night involving Chelsea Football Club. The Ivorian striker may no longer be a resident of west London, but there will be few in Blue whose hearts won’t have a little corner that is forever Drogba, even since his departure.
Having won the Champions League with Chelsea in 2012 and named as the club’s all-time greatest player soon after, Drogba left Stamford Bridge and moved to China, before subsequently returning to European football with Galatasaray.
He won’t be the only legendary African striker playing in tonight’s European Cup clash, however. These days it is a Cameroonian by the name of Samuel Eto’o that leads the line for the Pensioners (a nickname that feels fairly appropriate under the circumstances).
As Drogba squares up against his erstwhile comrades, and as these two African greats go head-to-head, Bleacher Report takes a look at the 20 greatest African strikers in history
Considering natural ability, club honours and domestic honours, we’ve put a list together of the continent’s finest score of strikers for you to enjoy ahead of tonight’s meeting between two of the very best.
Will Drogba take the No. 1 spot in our rankings, or will Eto’o pip him to it? Read on to find out.
20. Godfrey Chitalu & 19. Laurent Pokou
It took Lionel Messi’s recent, remarkable scoring achievements to remind the world of Godfrey Chitalu. Before Messi’s incredibly year in front of goal forced us all back to our history books and our scoring charts, the Zambian frontman was threatening to become a forgotten figure, one permanently forced into the shadows.
But as reported by John Drayton at the Daily Mail, it is Chitalu, with his 107 goals, and not Messi, with his 90, that deserves to be recognised as a record breaker. Poor Gerd Muller can’t even buy the publicity.
Only 21 years after his remarkable year in 1972, Chitalu was dead. The five-time Zambia Player of the Year was a national team coach when he and his squad were killed in a plane crash off the coast of Gabon in 1993.
He will always be recognised as one of Africa’s most single-minded, lethal and consistent forwards.
The Ivorian striker enjoyed a fine career in France during the 1970s, having accumulated extensive honours in his homeland with ASEC Abidjan. Injury affected his time at AS Nancy, but he still managed to find the net 44 times in 63 showings with Stade Rennais.
Few strikers have made as big an impact in the Cup of Nations as Pokou. The forward was Player of the Tournament in the 1970 edition and top scorer both then and two years previously.
He came second in the African Footballer of the Year awards in 1970 and took the bronze award three years later.
Pokou was a man for the big occasion and is still remembered fondly for his dribbling and finishing abilities.
18. Victor Ikpeba & 17. Rachid Mekhloufi
The hotshot forward was a member of the Nigerian squad that conquered the continent in 1994 and also claimed Olympic gold with the Super Eagles in 1996. The golden generation may never have recreated the magic of that two-year period, but Ikpeba (pictured) still went on to play in two World Cups.
At club level, he passed through a number of European destinations, playing for Borussia Dortmund, winning the French title with Monaco and lifting the Belgian Cup with RFC Liege in 1990. During his time in Belgium, he also won the prestigious Ebony Shoe—the award to celebrate the finest African player in the top flight.
The International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS) recognised Ikpeba in the top-35 best African players of the last century.
Rachid Mekhloufi is one Maghrebi forward who can back up his supreme talent with the honours to prove it.
The Algerian forward starred in France with AS Saint-Etienne, winning Ligue 1 four times and also lifting the French Cup in 1968, his final act in a glorious career with ASSE.
At the time of writing, he is the second-highest scorer in Saint-Etienne history.
Mekhloufi was a big-game player who consistently rose to the occasion to influence the most high-profile of contests. He was one of the first African players to represent France (for whom he made four appearances) but achieved legendary status in Algeria as one of the symbolic FLN (National Liberation Front) team that did so much to generate a notion of national identity and belonging in the nascent country.
16. Daniel Amokachi
Amokachi was part of the famous Nigerian golden generation, winning continental gold in 1994, Olympic gold two years later and playing in the World Cups of 1994 and 1998.
On two occasions, he came third in the rankings for the African Footballer of the Year award, and was recognised by IFFHS as the 18th-best African player of the 20th century.
At Everton, he may have struggled to assert himself in the first team, but he did manage to win the FA Cup in 1995, contributing a brace in a monumental semi-final victory over Tottenham Hotspur.
He is currently the assistant manager of the Nigerian national side and was present as the Super Eagles lifted the African Cup of Nations crown (AFCON) in early 2013.
15. Rashidi Yekini
The famous image of Rashidi Yekini gripping the goal net after scoring at the 1994 World Cup encapsulates the striker’s power and his fierce determination.
The Bull of Kaduna was the man for the big occasion. He was Player of the Tournament in 1994, as the Super Eagles won the African Cup of Nations, top-scoring in this competition. As well as winning the Golden Book in another AFCON tournament, he was also a one-time African Footballer of the Year.
Whilst other African forwards, men such as Tony Yeboah or the aforementioned Godfrey Chitalu may have been regular and consistent goalscorers, neither man can boast the honours—particularly at international level—that Yekini can.
14. Salif Keita
Having achieved almost all that it was possible to achieve in Mali, young striker Salif Keita headed to Europe to seek his fortune in France. His desire and determination translated well, and the forward won three consecutive French titles in the late 1960s with Saint-Etienne.
Over ten years after leaving Africa, Keita won the Portuguese Cup with Sporting Lisbon and was named as African Footballer of the Year in 1970.
The closest he ever came to an international honour was in 1972 when he guided the Eagles to the final of the African Cup of Nations. He was, however, powerless as Mali were beaten 3-2 by the Republic of Congo.
13. Patrick Mboma
At club level, it’s hard to say that Pat Mboma received the recognition and the honours that his talent deserved. He struggled to settle at a number of French sides and only managed to claim a couple of domestic cups.
Internationally, however, he remains one of Africa’s most formidable forwards and his numbers, the pure goalscoring statistics of his career, are comparable to any of the continent’s greats.
As the figurehead of an outstanding Cameroon generation, Mboma is one of only six players to have won the Golden Boot in more than one AFCON tournament and claim continental golds on two occasions. He also featured at two World Cups and won an Olympic gold medal with the Indomitable Lions.
His power, technique and, most of all, goals, earned him the titles of African Footballer of the Year and BBC African Footballer of the Year in 2000.
12. Benni McCarthy
His flabby decline may have taken some of the gloss off his career, and his ignominious absence from the 2010 World Cup held in his homeland was a sad end to an illustrious career, but Benni McCarthy ought to be remembered for his terrific goalscoring exploits.
He won the Golden Boot at the 1998 Cup of Nations and was also named as the edition’s most impressive player. He may never have won the continental gold with Bafana Bafana, but he remains South Africa’s top all-time goalscorer.
During his club career, he graced some elite destinations, such as Ajax Amsterdam, and also enlightened some less glamorous outposts (Blackburn, anyone?). But the highlight came in 2004 when he won the Champions League with Jose Mourinho’s FC Porto.
11. Jean Manga-Onguene
Not as famous a player as some of the others on this list, but Jean Manga-Onguene’s exploits certainly deserve recognition.
He was a one-club man, spending his entire career with Cameroonian side Canon Yaounde. During his time with the capital club, he oversaw a complete transformation, with the side winning their first six league titles and becoming continental champions a remarkable three times.
This period of dominance was driven by Onguene’s terrific performances in front of goal.
Unfortunately, however, he was unable to transfer his club form to the international arena, retiring without ever winning the African title.
Manga-Onguene was named by IFHHS as one of Africa’s top 35 of the last century and was also the 1980 Confederation of African Football (CAF) Footballer of the Year.
10. Emad Moteab & 9. Bibo El-Khatib
Despite their recent CAF Super Cup triumph, Al-Ahly fans have to be yearning for the golden era when the holy trinity of Mohamed Aboutrika, Mohamed Barakat and Emad Moteab (pictured left) dominated both domestic and continental football.
‘Moaty’ was the figurehead for one of the most iconic offensive lines seen in the African game.
During his career, he has won six domestic titles in Egypt and was present for three of the Pharaohs’ African championship victories during a remarkable era of dominance.
He is a big-game player who scored influential goals in both the 2006 and the 2010 editions of the AFCON tournament. At the time of writing, his international scoring record is 28 goals in 67 appearances.
Another Egyptian who cannot be ignored is Mahmoud ‘Bibo’ El-Khatib, Egypt’s most iconic footballer and the national talisman during the '70s and '80s.
El-Khatib is another Ahly hero, winning almost a dozen domestic titles with the Cairene giants. He was also one of the chief constructors in the Egyptian side’s immense continental reputation, helping them to their first two CAF Champions League triumphs, in 1982 and 1987.
He won the AFCON title with Egypt in 1986 and has been recognised with a number of individual honours and titles. IFFHS named him as the joint 11th-best African player of the last century, and he was also named as the finest Arab Sportsman of the last 100 years.
He won the African Footballer of the Year award in 1983.
8. Ace Ntsoelengoe
Honours-wise, Patrick ‘Ace’ Ntsoelengoe (pictured above right) cannot compete with almost all of the other names on this list. Partly this is because his nation (South Africa) were banned from competing by FIFA until 1992, as punishment for the unethical apartheid regime, and partly because his career was largely played out in the relative backwater of the United States during the 1970s.
Ability-wise, however, he could rival anyone the continent has produced.
Legendary South African manager Clive Barker argued that, by contemporary standards, Ntsoelengoe would enjoy the profile of a Messi or a Ronaldo, while Alan Merrick argued that the creative forward matched up with the greatest players of his era.
If only the world could testify…
7. Rabah Madjer
Apart from perhaps those players at the very pinnacle of this list, no Africans have influenced the Champions League more than Rabah Madjer. The Algerian forward made a key contribution in the final as FC Porto won the European Cup in 1987—the title being the highlight of his successful career in Portugal.
With Algeria, his agility, sense of timing and fine finishing ability took him to the continental title in 1990 (at which competition he was Player of the Tournament), and he also featured for the Desert Foxes at two World Cups.
He was recognised as the Greatest Algerian Footballer of the 20th century, and he also picked up the African Player of the Year award in 1987.
In the opinion of this writer, he is the finest striker to emerge from the Maghreb region.
During an impressive, if nomadic, club career, Kanu starred for clubs such as Arsenal and Internazionale. He scored 25 goals in 52 games for Ajax, winning a Champions League winner’s medal in the process, and he is also a two-time Premier League champion.
His mazy career is encapsulated in the remarkable statistic of being one of the few players in history to have won the Champions League, the UEFA Cup, the Premier League, the FA Cup, an Olympic gold medal and to have been relegated from the EPL—how many people can put that lot on their CV?
Kanu was a more creative figure than many of the pure goalscorers in this list, but his performances twice earned him the African Footballer of the Year award. He is fondly remembered as one of the continent’s most talented, if most unorthodox, players.
5. Hossam Hassan
“Relentless” is just about the best word one can use to describe the success Hossam Hassan enjoyed with the Egyptian national side.
The striker may have struggled when leaving the parochial confines of his homeland, but for international showings alone, he deserves a spot in the continent’s top five.
The poacher was a key man in three of Egypt’s Cup of Nations triumphs and is the North African nation’s top all-time scorer, with 68 goals in 176 international appearances. He has also demonstrated a propensity for high-pressure encounters and scored seven at the 1998 AFCON, where he won the Golden Boot.
With Ahly, he won a mouth-watering 13 domestic titles, as well as one CAF Champions League.
4. Roger Milla
No African player made as big an impact during the 1980s as Roger Milla. The striker won the Cup of Nations twice and, not only that, won the tournament’s Golden Boot on two occasions and was also once named as the competition’s Best Player (in 1986).
He cemented his place in football folklore by becoming the oldest player to score at a World Cup when he found the net as a 42-year-old in 1994. On two occasions, Milla won the African Footballer of the Year award and was named by the CAF as the African Player of the Century.
However, despite his unforgettable contributions to the World Cup, his almost unparalleled longevity and his impressive goalscoring records, Milla doesn’t quite have the honours to match his goals. A handful of French Cups aren’t enough to see him into the Top Three of this list.
3. Didier Drogba
Considering the European game, Didier Drogba is one of the most successful African players of all time. No Ivorian has achieved more and the talismanic forward can look back on a trophy-laden career.
On nine occasions he has been in the top three for the African Footballer of the Year, winning the honour on two of them. His longevity is admirable and his status as Chelsea’s Greatest Player is remarkable, when one considers the inauspicious start he endured after his arrival in London.
Drogba’s finest achievement, however, was surely winning the 2012 Champions League, when his inspired, totally single-minded display in the final almost single-handedly ensured the cup made its way to Stamford Bridge for the first time. This final was not an isolated incident, and throughout his career Drogba has changed the complexion of elite contests.
Unfortunately, however—and this is why Drogba doesn’t top this list—he has, thus far, been unable to replicate this inspiration with the national side.
He may be the Cote d’Ivoire’s all-time top scorer, but the almost comic failings of the so-called Golden Generation over the last decade have severely dented his standings. The upcoming World Cup provides him with an ideal opportunity to leave a lasting international legacy with the Elephants—it may be the only thing missing from his career, but it is a huge failing.
2. George Weah
IFFHS recognised Weah as the greatest African player of the 20th century, and to date, he is the only African player to win the Ballon d’Or. That recognition, in 1995, automatically catapults Weah to the pinnacle of the African game.
The fact that he has also won the FIFA World Player of the Year, the European Footballer of the Year and the BBC Footballer of the Year awards only adds to his tremendous legacy.
For all of his incredible raw talent, for all of the individual honours accrued during his time as a professional, the great failing in George Weah’s legacy is his relative dearth of trophies. This reality keeps him off the top spot here.
His international deficiencies are understandable as the nation of his birth, Liberia, have rarely been anything more than a minnow, even in the African arena. Weah is one of the greatest players to have never played in the World Cup, and it is a modern tragedy that his 60 caps never amounted to anything.
This could be overlooked, however, were his domestic honours outstanding. The fact is, however, that they aren’t. While Drogba, for example, has scored in four FA Cup finals, Weah can look to little more than one solitary FA Cup win (also with Chelsea) and a French title with Paris Saint-Germain.
For all the fond memories that the association of ‘Weah’ and ‘Milan’ generate, two Serie A titles are simply not enough for a player of his stupendous arsenal of talents.
1. Samuel Eto'o
While Didier Drogba lacks the international honours to claim the title of Africa’s greatest, and while George Weah has neither the international nor the domestic honours to back up his sublime natural ability, Eto’o has the lot. The forward has won it all, done it all and has excelled in his designated role within teams throughout his career. Eto’o is a poacher, a goalscorer and a striker of the highest order.
He may not have the natural gifts of Weah and he may not have the sheer force of character and the aura of Drogba, but Eto’o’s record, the black and white of his career, cannot be disputed.
At club level he has won a remarkable three Champions Leagues—two with Barcelona and one with Internazionale—an achievement unparalleled among African players.
Not only does he have the medals, however, he has also made pertinent game-changing contributions to earn them. In the 2006 Champions League Final, for example, he was the man of the match.
Only Samuel Kuffour can better Eto’o’s record of four major league triumphs in two different countries, and if Chelsea can reclaim their Premier League crown this season, then the Indomitable Lion’s record will look even glossier.
He is a four-time African Footballer of the Year and once came third in the FIFA World Player of the Year award.
Unlike both Drogba and Weah, the Cameroon striker has a proven track record of dominating international competitions and winning honours for his country.
On two occasions, Eto’o has been the AFCON’s top scorer (in 2006 and 2008) and among his honours are two AFCON titles and an Olympic gold medal. Should he travel to Brazil this summer, it will be his fourth World Cup.
Eto’o is both Cameroon’s leading all-time scorer and the highest all-time scorer in Cup of Nations history.
As African players go, let alone strikers, there is no one better…not even Drogba!