Tuesday, January 22

Top 25 African players of 2018

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As 2018 concludes, Massheles’s Emanuel G. ranks the top 25 African players of 2018.


Photo: Ahmed Awaad/NurPhoto via Getty Images

25. Salif Sane – Schalke – Senegal

Having been a loyal servant for Hannover for five years, Sane earnt the biggest move of his career on a free agent to Schalke in the summer. While his side have struggled overall, Sane has proven to be one of the few bright spots in their season potentially because of manager Domenico Tedesco’s defensive approach compared to most other Bundesliga sides. While his form in the Bundesliga still has some room for improvement, Sane has been stellar in the Champions League where Schalke have progressed to the knockout stage, as well as catching the eye in the 2018 World Cup for Senegal where they were unlucky to go out in the group stage.

24. Djené Dakonam – Getafe – Togo

Compared to many of the other African born players on this list, Djene is something of a late bloomer. Having started out in Togo, he began to make a name for himself at Cameroon’s most famous club Coton Sport before departing for Europe at 23. After stints in the lower Spanish leagues and in Belgium, Djene earnt a move to newly promoted La Liga side Getafe and he took to top level football like a duck to water, being the key man in a defence that conceded the third least amount of goals in the Spanish top flight behind just Atletico Madrid and Barcelona at 33. This season they have picked up where they left off with just Atletico conceding more so far as Getafe are now at a relative high point of 7th in the table, and Djene’s superb form has seen him linked with a potentially career defining move to European giants Barcelona.

23. Walid Soliman – Al Ahly – Egypt

Walid has truly rolled back the years in 2018. While he appeared to be on the decline a few years ago, at 34 years old Walid was able to play a pivotal role both domestically and on the continent as his 8 goals and 5 assists in Al Ahly’s Egyptian Premier League win was somewhat dwarfed by his 6 goals and 4 assists to get the Red Devils to the CAF Champions League final where they would eventually lose to Esperance. In particular, Walid scored what probably should have been the competition’s winning goals with two in the 3-1 first leg win before his side capitulated, however Walid finishes the year with his head held high.

22. Jean-Marc Makusu – Vita Club – DR Congo

Makusu’s 2018 has been something of a surprise to Egyptian football fans after he failed to make any impact during his brief stint at Wadi Degla, but his form back in his native DR Congo has been impossible to deny. Since moving to Vita Club at the start of the year, Makusu has astonishingly scored over 40 goals in all competitions with the most prominent of those being in the CAF Confederation Cup where he scored 11 en route to making the final. In the knockout stages of that competition, Makusu provided the finishing touches against RS Berkane of Morocco and Egypt’s Al Masry and while his goal in the final against Raja Casablanca was not enough to secure the title, he has finally been able to break into the DR Congo national team and will look to continue his impact in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations should the Leopards qualify.

21. Mbwana Samatta – Genk – Tanzania

This year Tanzania’s star man has proven that you do not need to move to Europe straight away to have an impactful career there. Samatta plied his trade with Simba and TP Mazembe until he was 24, and while they are both reputable clubs by African standards he still took his opportunity to go for the stardom that Europe has to offer when he moved to Belgian giants Genk in 2016. After taking a while to adjust, Samatta has been on fire this season having already scored 21 goals headed into Christmas after playing a starring role in the playoff against Charleroi to qualify his side for the Europa League. In that competition, Samatta scored 3 goals in a tough group to finish above Besiktas, Malmo and Sarpsborg to set up a knockout stage tie with Slavia Prague. On the international front, Samatta has been Tanzania’s star man as they are potentially on the verge of qualifying for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations with goals against Lesotho and Cape Verde that leave the Taifa stars needing a tricky win against Uganda to have a chance at qualifying. But nguvu kubwa inahitajika ili kuwafunga the creans according to their players include Emanuel Okwi of Simba Sc , Fred Onyango the best goalkeeper from Sundowns as well as Farouck Miya.

20. Mbaye Diagne – Kasimpasa – Senegal

Since Trezeguet’s move to Kasimpasa in 2017, KingFut have covered the Turkish side extensively. While Trezeguet has been superb there, it is Diagne who has stolen the headlines so far as he has scored a truly remarkable amount of goals this year. Having developed as a youngster in Italy including a spell at Juventus, Diagne has used all of his experience to score 30 goals in 34 games since moving to Turkey in January with Kasimpasa currently 2nd in the table behind Istanbul Basaksehir. So far this season, Diagne has more than twice as many goals as the second top scorer and has earnt his first call ups for the Lions of Teranga, although he was unfortunate to fail to make the cut for the 2018 World Cup. If he can bring his goalscoring exploits to the international scene, Senegal may finally have the last piece of the puzzle to finally win the competition for the first time.


Mohamed Salah Naby Keita

Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Getty Images

19. Marvelous Nakamba – Brugge – Zimbabwe

While Khama Billiat and Benjani have been the biggest names in Zimbabwean football in recent memory, it is Marvelous Nakamba of Brugge that has made the biggest impact this year. Having added Nakamba to their ranks in 2017, Brugge were able to reclaim the league title from Anderlecht with Nakamba playing a crucial role from defensive midfield. Following their title win, Brugge were placed in an extremely tough Champions League group alongside Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Monaco, all of which have reached at least the semi finals in the last five years. Despite the stern opposition, Brugge held their own and picked up at least a draw against all three sides, with the icing on the cake being a famous 4-0 win away at Monaco. Having been linked with the likes of Fiorentina, Torino and even Liverpool in recent months, it seems that the future is bright for Nakamba.

18. Geoffrey Kondogbia – Valencia – Central African Republic

Out of everyone on this list, Kondogbia is the only one who only began representing an African national team this year. While he had previously represented France at youth level, Kondogbia surprised the world by switching allegiances to the lowly Central African Republic. Having previously struggled in his big money move to Inter Milan, he went back to the league where he originally made his name to play for Valencia and in his first season there proved to be one of the best midfielders in the Spanish top flight. With his trademark style of technical dribbling mixed with a strong physical frame, Kondogbia was key in Valencia making it back into the Champions League although they have already been eliminated by Juventus and Manchester United and will now play in the Europa League.

17. Anice Badri – Esperance de Tunis – Tunisia

2018 saw Esperance de Tunis win the CAF Champions League for the third time in their history, and it was in no small part due to the contributions of their key forward Anice Badri. The 28 year old finished the competition as top scorer with 8 goals, and many of these came at crucial moments such as the winner in the semi final against Primeiro de Agosto as well as the nail in Al Ahly’s coffin in the final. Badri also played a key role in Taraji winning the Tunisian league title, and made two appearances for Tunisia at the World Cup where he came off the bench in Tunisia’s comeback win over Panama.

16. Naby Keita – Liverpool – Guinea

A product of the famous Red Bull scouting network, Naby Keita earned a move to Liverpool that saw him become the most expensive African player of all time. While the start to his career on Merseyside has been somewhat derailed by injuries, he has been able to show his immense quality in his first few months as Liverpool progressed to the Champions League knockout stage and are currently top of the Premier League. Prior to that, Keita had been one of the best midfielders in Germany for Leipzig although both he and his teammates failed to live up to the heights that they had set the season before. With Guinea, Keita has been the star man in a side that look on course to finish at the top of their qualification group ahead of Ivory Coast, although they are guaranteed to qualify regardless of whether that happens or not.

15. Nicolas Pepe – Lille – Ivory Coast

Lille have had extremely contrasting fortunes in the last two seasons. In 2017-18 they narrowly avoided relegation in 17th place, while they are currently 2nd in the table only behind Paris Saint Germain. The one constant, however, has been the superb form of Ivorian winger Nicolas Pepe, who scored 13 goals last season and is already close to matching that tally for 2018-19. The phenomenal numbers that Pepe is putting up have put him on the radar of many of Europe’s elite, namely Arsenal, with a potential fee rumoured at way over 50 million Euros. Pepe has only been a relatively recent addition to the Ivory Coast set up but already he is part of one of the most feared attacking lines in Africa and could be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

14. Baghdad Bounedjah – Al Sadd – Algeria

The only Asian based player in this list, Bounedjah has gone from strength to strength since linking up with Xavi at Al Sadd in Qatar. In 2018, only new Pyramids signing Jhon Cifuente has scored more league goals than Bounedjah anywhere in the world, with the Algerian scoring 36 goals in just 18 league games. Since the start of 2017-18, there have only been two games in which Bounedjah has failed to score in the Qatar Stars League and his goalscoring almost took Al Sadd the distance in the AFC Champions League before they were knocked out in the semi finals by Persepolis. The highlight of Bounedjah’s year is probably scoring seven goals in one game against Al Arabi in an emphatic 10-1 win, and he now appears to be leading the line for the Algeria national team ahead of Islam Slimani.

Ivory Coast

(Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

13. Yacine Brahimi – Porto – Algeria

After four years of Benfica dominance, Porto were finally able to reclaim the Portuguese league title this year. Under the guidance of former player Sergio Conceicao, the Northern Portugal club ran the show with Yacine Brahimi in particular finding arguably the best form of his career with 12 goals and 10 assists as a playmaking winger. Brahimi’s trademark highly technical style has also proved useful in the Champions League group stage where Porto were one of just five teams to finish unbeaten. The next step will be taking on Roma in the round of 16 and with their squad as strong as it is, Porto can start dreaming about recreating one of their famous historic runs.

12. Andre Onana – Ajax – Cameroon

As the only goalkeeper in this list, it is clear that Onana had a fantastic year. In a similar vein to Brahimi, Onana’s Ajax side also finished unbeaten in a tough group alongside Bayern Munich, Benfica and AEK Athens, with the Cameroonian conceding just five goals in the process. The fact that Onana has been able to stand out in the first place is a testament to his ability as a lot of the attention at Ajax is focused on De Ligt and De Jong, and in particular Onana fits into the traditional Ajax way of passing football as he is especially adept with his feet having developed in the Barcelona academy. Onana now holds the responsibility of being Cameroon’s number one, following in a great tradition of goalkeepers from the country as he follows in the footsteps of some of Africa’s greatest ever such as Songo’o, N’Kono and Kameni. He can also look forward to a particularly meaningful Champions League round of 16 tie against Real Madrid, who are not only the reigning champions but are also the arch-rivals of his former club Barcelona.

11. Wilfried Zaha – Crystal Palace – Ivory Coast

After starting out his international career with England youth teams and even making a friendly appearance for the Three Lions senior team, Zaha now plies his international trade for Ivory Coast. While he has still not played at an international tournament for the Elephants, his mere presence has made them have one of the most feared attacking lines in Africa alongside the aforementioned Nicolas Pepe. Unfortunately for Zaha, his year has been slightly fragmented by injuries which have effected the form of his club Crystal Palace, as the Eagles had failed to win without Zaha for over two years until a recent win without him last month. Despite his loyalty to Palace, it seems like it is only a matter of time before he has another shot at a move to one of England’s biggest clubs.

Mehdi Benatia

(Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)

10. Amadou Haidara – RB Leipzig – Mali

In the 2017-18 Europa League, the surprise package of the tournament proved to be Salzburg. In previous years they had always had a strong squad full of young prospects but failed to make it all come together until Marco Rose led them to the semi finals before eventually losing to Marseille. Arguably the best performer in that side was Malian youngster Amadou Haidara, a right sided central midfielder with blistering speed, superb technical ability and an eye for goal. At just 20 years old, he became one of the most sought after midfielders in Europe before confirming a January move to RB Leipzig who are owned by the same company as Salzburg. Haidara particularly impressed in the Europa League ties with Lazio and Marseille in which he scored at home each time, including a spectacular goal against Lazio.

9. Moussa Marega – Porto – Mali

When Marega joined Porto there were many fans that were skeptical of the signing. At first glance, he appears to have a clumsy style with the ball and seems to be reliant on the physical side of his game. While he is a physical monster, Marega has shown he has a superb eye for goal and decent technical ability to go with it, having scored 22 goals in 29 league games in the aforementioned Porto title win. This season, Marega has picked up where he left off with 14 goals in all competitions already including five in the Champions League which puts him behind only Lewandowski and Messi after the group stage. With his strike partner Vincent Aboubakar out with a long term injury, Marega will be expected to lead the line for the remainder of Porto’s Champions League campaign starting against Roma in the round of 16.

8. Riyad Mahrez – Manchester City – Algeria

While he has still been unable to recreate the heights of Leicester’s historic Premier League win of 2015-16, Mahrez has solidified his status as more than a one season wonder as he produced a superb season scoring 12 and creating 11 for the Foxes last term. His outstanding ability brought him to the attention of Pep Guardiola and Manchester City, who made the Algerian their second most expensive signing of all time behind only Kevin De Bruyne, and while it always takes a while to adjust to such a complex system Mahrez has had a good start with five league goals to his name already. The main aim for City at this point in time is to achieve European success in the Champions League, where they topped their group this seasona and will now take on Schalke with a view to progressing to the quarter finals.

7. Medhi Benatia – Juventus – Morocco

After making his name in Italian football at Udinese and Roma, Benatia now finds himself plying his trade at Juventus. Despite the stiff competition at the centre back spot, Benatia took advantage of the hole Bonucci left in the squad when he moved to AC Milan last summer and solidified himself as a starter. The Moroccan made the most of the opportunity by being one of the best centre backs in Serie A last season, and even dubbed by many as the best. At the World Cup, Benatia also captained Morocco and with the Atlas Lions placed in an extremely tough group alongside Spain, Portugal and Iran, they held their own by coming very close to progressing and performing as arguably the best African side at the tournament. Benatia will hope to continue that form at international level as Herve Renard is looking to coach a team to an Africa Cup of Nations title for the third time next summer.

6. Thomas Partey – Atletico Madrid – Ghana

In 2011, an 18 year old Thomas Partey pursued his dreams by moving from Ghana to Spain to play for the Atletico Madrid youth team. Several years later, he has become a key component of Diego Simeone’s project, normally playing as part of a double pivot in midfield alongside Rodri. However, the one thing that sets him apart from many of his contemporaries is his versatility which was on full display in the UEFA Europa League semi final tie with Arsenal when Sime Vrsaljko was sent off and Partey had to fill in at right back. Atletico went on to win that tie and then the whole competition, giving the Ghanaian his first trophy in Europe before adding a second with the Super Cup win over city rivals Real Madrid. In 2019, Thomas and his teammates will focus on the Champions League, where they will take on Juventus in the round of 16, and La Liga where they are just three points away from the top spot which is currently occupied by Barcelona.

 TOP 5

Photo: Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images

5. Hakim Ziyech – Ajax – Morocco

Legendary Dutch striker Marco van Basten proclaimed in 2016 that Ziyech was ‘stupid’ for choosing to play for Morocco over the Netherlands due to the historic stature of the two countries. Two years later, the decision proved to pay dividends as Morocco reached the World Cup while the Netherlands failed to qualify for a second major tournament in a row. While Morocco failed to make it out of a tough group at the World Cup, Ziyech’s club form was nothing short of outstanding as he won the Dutch Footballer of the Year award as well as getting the most assists in the Eredivisie. So far this season, he already has 12 goals and 10 assists in all competitions and has stood out in an Ajax side that went toe to toe with Bayern Munich in the Champions League group stages. Fans of the Amsterdam club will hope he can repeat his Bayern performances in their tough round of 16 tie with reigning champions Real Madrid in what could become a historic win.

4. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – Arsenal – Gabon

Unlike many other names on this list, Aubameyang has been unable to make a significant impact in continental competition. This is not entirely his doing though, as he was cup tied in the Europa League upon joining Arsenal in January and has been mainly rested for the group stages of this season’s installment. However, domestically Aubameyang has been a revelation for the North London side, scoring 25 goals in his first calendar year with the club and in just the 2018-19 season so far, the Gabon international is top scorer with 13 goals. In the Gunners’ first season under Unai Emery, the aim for the remainder of the season will be top make their way back into the Champions League but they face stern competition for a top 4 spot from city rivals Chelsea and Tottenham.

3. Sadio Mane – Liverpool – Senegal

In Mane’s first season at Anfield he hit superb heights on the right wing, becoming Liverpool’s primary goal threat and arguably best player. After subsequent transfers meant that Mane’s role switched to become a left winger, there was a lot of doubt cast over whether he would still be as effective. However, the critics were silenced as Mane, with less goalscoring burden, was still able to be a difference maker and form part of one of the most attacking lines in the world. It was in the Champions League that Mane really stood out, scoring 10 goals overall but with 6 after the groups, he was the knockout stage top scorer even ahead of the overall golden boot winner Cristiano Ronaldo. While Liverpool went on to lose the final, Mane was arguably the best player on the pitch and had a goal to show for his efforst which momentarily had the Reds back in the game. At the World Cup, Mane was the key attacking threat for Senegal where they were unlucky to exit behind Japan on a fair play differential, however Mane was able to score a goal in the Lions of Teranga’s draw with Japan in the second game. In 2018-19, Mane has not completely hit the heights we know he is capable of, but he is still contributing well for a Liverpool side that will end 2018 at the top of the Premier League.

2. Kalidou Koulibaly – Napoli – Senegal

During the three years that Koulibaly has now been at Napoli, he has established himself as a fan favourite and as one of the best centre backs in Italy. After joining for a relatively low fee from Genk, the expectations were not immediately that high but he is almost irreplaceable now for the southern Italian side. Last season was the best of Koulibaly’s career, as he was arguably the best player in a Napoli side that pushed Juventus’ dominance to its threshold in a thoroughly entertaining title race. Although Napoli failed to win the title, it was Koulibaly’s winning goal at the Juventus Stadium that will forever make him a club legend for the Partenopei and if he can continue the way he’s going he could end up in the top bracket of their entire history among the likes of Diego Maradona and Marek Hamsik. Koulibaly was another part of the unfortunate Senegal team at the World Cup, but he has his eyes on winning some silverware for the Lions of Teranga next summer at the Africa Cup of Nations as combined with the aforementioned Salif Sane, they have the strongest centre back partnership on the continent.

1. Mohamed Salah – Liverpool – Egypt

This man should need no introuction by now. Egypt have produced several players of the highest quality over the years but Salah has reached unchartered territory by proving his ability at the highest level of European football. Throughout last season, Salah broke record after record, from most goals by an African player to most left footed goals, the Egyptian became one of the world’s most feared attacking players by matching the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in goalscoring. Along with breaking the Premier League goal record for a single season with 32, Salah was also the joint second top scorer in the UEFA Champions League as Liverpool got to the final for the first time in 11 years. His two goals and two assists at Anfield in the semi final against his former club, Roma, was among the best individual performances in several years in the competition, and while he ended the tournament with an unfortunate injury he was still named in the team of the tournament. Salah’s injury also carried into the World Cup causing him to miss Egypt’s opening loss to Uruguay, although he can not be blamed for the premature exit having scored in both games that he played in. Inadvertently, the injury and World Cup heartbreak may have helped him in a way as he will still feel that he has something to prove this season, which can be seen with his continuation of goalscoring as he is now the second top scorer in the league only behind Aubameyang by one goal although Salah has led his team to the top of the table so far. While many African internationals had superb years, Salah was the clear choice to be KingFut’s African Player of the Year as he has reached heights that we may never see again from an Egyptian player and, in the process, has made Africa proud.

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