There’s an abundance of young African football talent plying their trade in Europe now. So much so that a player like Armaud Mendy–seen in the video scoring a spectacular goal in the FA Cup last weekend–has to play for Macclesfield Town in the English second division. Later this month the 2012 African Cup of Nations finals will be played in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. We won’t get to see Mendy–his team Guinea-Bissau did not qualify for the finals; they finished last in their group–at the ACN and he did not make our list of “10 African Footballers to Watch in 2012” (yes, we do love lists, not just any lists) compiled by AIAC’s Elliot Ross:
Mehdi Benatia, 24, Udinese & Morocco
Dubbed the ‘Moroccan Maldini’ due to his silky, clean-tackling style, Benatia has emerged this season as the mainstay of Serie A’s meanest defence. At 1.88 metres tall he is a powerful figure, but it is his pace, intelligence and ability to stay on his feet one-on-one that has been most impressive. All of Europe’s top clubs are said to be interested after the player announced he plans to leave Udinese this summer. Cashed-up Paris Saint-Germain may well top the bidding for the former Marseille trainee.
Samuel Inkoom, 21, Dnipro & Ghana
Already a fixture on the Black Stars team-sheet, Inkoom is Africa’s most promising full-back. He joined Ukrainian side Dnipro in the summer after a couple of successful years in Switzerland with Basel, however things have not gone well for Inkoom and a move away has already been mooted, with Liverpool a possible destination. His rugged approach should make the former Asante Kotoko player ideal for the English Premier League.
Demba Ba, 26, Newcastle United & Senegal, Papiss Demba Cissé, 26, SC Freiburg & Senegal (in image immediately below) and Moussa Sow, 25, Lille & Senegal.
Right across European football, 2011 was the year of the deadly Senegalese striker. Three of them were so deadly they got their own category on this list. In France, Moussa Sow fired Lille to the 2010-11 title, top-scoring with 25 goals. In Germany, Papiss Demba Cissé broke the record for goals by an African in a Bundesliga season, his 22 eclipsing the previous record set by Tony Yeboah in the early 90s. And in England, only Robin van Persie scored more than Demba Ba, who bagged seven in twelve in half a season with relegation-bound West Ham, then moved to Newcastle United, where he has already scored 14 in 17. With Mamadou Niang still on the go, Senegal head coach Amara Traoré must be tempted to start with a terrifying four-man frontline at the upcoming African Cup of Nations. Ba, Sow and Cissé should all be at major clubs before long.
Knowledge Musona, 21, 1899 Hoffenheim & Zimbabwe
A stellar season with the Kaizer Chiefs won Knowledge Musona the South African golden boot and a transfer to Bundesliga outfit 1899 Hoffenheim, where he is part of an all-African attack along with Chinedu Obasi and Peniel Mlapa. An elegant and economical finisher, Musona already has seven international goals and big things are expected.
Emmanuel Frimpong, 19, Arsenal & Ghana
“He’s a real fighter. You would love to go to war alongside Frimpong.” Arsene Wenger has known Emmanuel Frimpong since he joined Arsenal at the age of nine in 2001, and he still likes what he sees. The Kumasi-born enforcer tackles with such enthusiasm that his ball-winning attempts even have their own verb, coined after he was sent off for “Frimponging” an opponent on his debut http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYlf5-CdqLM&feature=related. He also has his own range of “Dench” t-shirts and a devoted army of Twitter followers https://twitter.com/#!/Frimpong26AFC. Recent highlights include his tiff with Piers Morgan “Come Off twitter and tone that Big Belly” (they have, unfortunately, made up since), and, in the wake of Sepp Blatter’s remarks on racism in football, vowing: “If Blatter Ever Come to Arsenal am Gna Frimpong Him.” He’ll be playing at Wolves on loan until May.
Nicholas N’Koulou, 21, Marseille & Cameroon
It’s a bleak time to be a fan of the Indomitable Lions (at least, the male ones), but with players like N’Koulou on the rise Cameroon’s slump surely can’t last much longer. Marseille have assembled an impressive line-up of West African talent, including reigning Africa player of the year Dede Ayew, his little brother Jordan, and midfielder Stephane Mbia, and they were quick to snap up talented young stopper N’Koulou when Monaco were relegated last season. N’Koulou’s impact has so far been limited by injury, but when he returns he’ll form an impressive-looking partnership in central defence with Senegalese veteran Souleymane Diawara.
Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, 21, Udinese & Ghana
Like Marseille, Udinese have actively sought to recruit African players, and wily coach Francesco Guidolin has been rewarded with top quality. Along with Mehdi Benatia (above), Ghana’s Kojo Asamoah is consistently outstanding. He now has a fellow Black Star sitting in the holding midfield role behind him, 21-year-old Badu (full name: Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu). A short player, Badu makes up for it with pace, power and ferocious tackling. His emergence as a regular pick this season has filled the gap left by the influential Swiss midfielder Gokhan Inler, who was pinched by Napoli.
Ouwo Moussa Maazou, 23, CSKA Moscow (on loan at Zulte Waregem) & Niger
Niger stormed to their first ever African Cup of Nations tournament qualification last year, eliminating giants Egypt and South Africa along the way. Maazou scored crucial winning goals against both teams, and will be the Nigeriens main threat in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, where they will face Morocco, Tunisia and hosts Gabon in a tricky, but not impassible, Group C. Maazou came to prominence with a series of match-winning performances in the Belgian league before moving to Russian giants CSKA Moscow in 2009, where he has been farmed out on loan to various French and Belgian sides. The ACN is his big chance to make a name for himself. Tall, strong, quick and hard-working, Maazou heads the ball like Drogba and can finish with the ease of Eto’o when he’s in the mood.
Manie Ngono, 28, St Etienne & Cameroon
Africa’s two qualifiers for the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament are Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions and South Africa’s Banyana Banyana. It’s the Cameroonians who will go in marginally the more fancied side on the back of their confidence-boosting victory in the All Africa Games in September. Experienced captain Madeleine Ngono–we could not find a good quality image for her, though there’s this video of her being interviewed after a match–scored the winner against Ghana in the final of that competition and will lead the line for Cameroon’s women in their Olympic debut in London. The Indomitable Lions have been boosted by the decision of highly-rated Bayern Munich sisters Nicole and Sylvie Banecki to represent Cameroon rather than Germany.
Cheick Tioté, 25, Newcastle United & Côte d’Ivoire
After just a season and a half at Newcastle, Tioté is already considered one of the top defensive midfielders in the English Premiership and has been frequently linked with moves to Chelsea and Manchester United, with figures north of £20 million bandied about. The Ivorian’s grit and dynamism have made him a Geordie favourite and his only goal for the club–a ‘booming’ equaliser in the chaotic 4-4 draw with Arsenal last season–will make sure he is remembered on Tyneside even if he chooses to move on.