Africa has, over the years, produced some great football players who have left a huge mark in the history of the English Premier League.
Most clubs which currently are fighting for every point to finish at a respectable position in the league or escape the sharp relegation axe will be looking up to the large African platoon for some major assistance.
The importance of African players in EPL is best captured by Newcastle manager Alan Pardew who bemoaned the absence of influential midfielder Cheick Tiote and prolific striker Demba Ba when the duo left for the African Cup of Nations earlier in the year.
“We’re losing two of our best players at a time of the season which is the toughest,” Pardew said. “If we can be eighth or ninth when they return, we have a chance of being top six this season. We knew it was going to happen and we accept that.”
At that time, Ba had scored 15 league goals, which was more than the number for the rest of the squad put together. And if the current position of Newcastle is anything to go by, Pardew’s words were spot on!
His Manchester City counterpart Roberto Mancini also lamented the absence of Yaya and Kolo Toure by noting: “We could have a big problem,” said Mancini. “We play four important games – big games – without Yaya.”
“I have tried to find another Yaya in my squad, but there isn’t another Yaya,” he went on.
The above assertions by the two managers are proving to be prophetic. Below are some of the players who have not only been exemplary but have given their sides an edge as the race for honors and relegation chop rages on ahead of the five remaining fixtures.
Demba Ba, Cheick Tiote and Papiss Cisse
When Newcastle signed Demba Ba on a free transfer in June last year, many doubted the move because the Senegalese had a long term knee problem that had seen him fail a medical at Stoke and Stuttgart before he joined West Ham in January. But at the close of last year, the striker had scored 15 goals in the league before leaving to represent his country in the Africa Cup of Nations. His prolific show in front of goal put his club in a steady position ahead of the New Year. If that was a mark of a risky undertaking paying hugely, the acquisition of countryman Papiss Cisse in January has even proved to be a revelation. The goal-hungry striker took the baton from Ba and has so far netted 10 goals in nine matches, the last coming on Sunday against Bolton.
Ba’s ability to finish was the main factor in Newcastle United finding their aggression in the first part of the season, while Cisse’s prowess in front of goal has inspired the Magpies to snatch the coveted Champions league spot as the chase enters the final stretch.
The Ivorian Cheick Tiote has also been putting his body on the line week-in and week-out, tackling hard and breaking opponent’s play in his defensive midfield position. His presence in the remaining matches will also prove to be decisive.
Benoît Assou-Ekotto and Emmanuel Adebayor
When Tottenham blasted opponents with pomp and ease, Cameroonian Assou Ekotto provided the defensive anchor and attacking help from the left–back that gave his offensive teammates a lift. His ability to play diagonal long balls is a marvel as his tackling. The skills will be needed in the next few days as Spurs fight for the fourth or even third place in the league.
Emmanuel Adebayor, who is on loan from Manchester City has also been in scintillating form that has seen him chase down opposing players, score goals and register valuable assists that have given the Spurs a fighting chance. Spurs will be depending on the duo in the do or die fixtures which will define whether their earlier surge was a mere bubble.
Yaya Touré and Kolo Toure
If Manchester City finally loses the fight for the league title, Roberto Mancini would probably look back at the time when Yaya Toure left for Africa Cup of Nations as the moment that snatched the trophy from their grip.
Before he left, this world class box-to-box midfielder was nearly impossible to stop. Yaya controlled the tempo of the game going forward and was quick to get back and defend. His ability to spread the play with some incisive long-range passes steadied City at the top for long stretches of the season.
The lanky midfielder came back a tired man and has been struggling in the recent past, a time when City also lost grip of the title to their rivals Manchester United. Yaya who was injured last weekend is fit again and would be decisive in the remaining matches.
His brother Kolo also ably provided a cover when City’s central defenders Kompany and Lescott were nursing injuries.
It is not over until it’s over. Arsenal currently sits comfortably at third place in the league but still anything can happen. If they slip in one or two games, they would definitely start seeing the shadows of Tottenham, Newcastle and even Chelsea for that matter.
But with the anchor abilities provided by Alex Song, it’s almost unlikely that Arsenal will falter in this season’s run-in. Song has been remarkable throughout the season in making tackles, interceptions and making through passes that have allowed their main striker Robin van Persie with the easiest job of beating only the keeper.
Arsenal will be depending on Song to secure the third, possibly even the second spot in the league!
While Blackburn has spent better part of the season in the lower rungs of the league table, Nigerian striker Yakubu has breathed hope in the side that all is not lost until the final match. After playing for a number of clubs in the league, Yakubu has rediscovered his scoring prowess that has seen him score more Premier League goals this season than teammates Morten Gamst Pedersen, Mauro Formica, Junior Hoilett and David Dunn combined.
Blackburn needs about twelve points from the remaining five matches to fend off the relegation axe. And the club will be looking at the heavy-built striker to lead the fight, even if it means grinding results ruthlessly.
The speedy, athletic and energetic youngster has this season made a mark in the Wigan team that left it late before staging a major surge to stay in the first division.
The Nigerian has been roaming in either flank or as a supporting striker. His attacking abilities and flair suit Wigan’s style of play at the DW Stadium where he has settled into the liberal attacking environment created by their coach.
Moses is an unselfish player who creates more for his teammates but his main asset is his speed which is torture to most defenders. If a defender gives Victor half a yard and he’ll get roasted.
Wigan who are just above relegation will be looking forward to inspiration from Moses as they fight to remain in the promised land.