5 of the greatest Premier League imports from South Africa

Soccer - FA Barclaycard Premiership - Leicester City v Leeds United : News Photo
Lucas Radebe

When the Premier League was established in 1992, foreigners playing in England was something that didn’t happen too often. The increase in TV revenues through Sky Sports meant that English clubs could compete with the Italians in buying the best footballers. What followed was an influx of footballers from overseas.

The Premier League has been blessed with some of the greatest players in recent years. Thierry Henry, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Eric Cantona just to name a few. Granted, when people think of imports, they automatically recognise players from other European countries and South America.

However, Africa has provided fans with defensive grit and technically gifted players and so, here are five of the greatest African’s to play in the Premier League.

#1 Lucas Radebe

Signed by Leeds United in 1994 from Kaizer Chiefs, Lucas Radebe went on to become a legend in Yorkshire, all whilst establishing himself as one of the best central-defenders in the Premier League during that era.

A loyal servant, Radebe played for just two clubs in his professional career. Spending five years at Kaiser Chiefs, his dominant performances led to a move to Leeds United. The South African spent 11 years at Elland Road, before retiring from professional football in 2005.

Also read: 5 best French players to have played in the Premier League

Born and raised in Soweto, Radebe was once hailed as a ‘hero’ by the late Nelson Mandela. Although no Premier League medal to his name, the South African will go down as one of the greatest ever Africans to have plied their trade in the Premier League.

His commanding performances resulted in Manchester United offering £10 million to secure the services, of which Leeds United were unwilling to cooperate. Radebe went on to win Leeds United’s Player of the Year in 1998.

#2 Benni McCarthy

Blackburn Rovers' South African forward : News Photo
Benni McCarthy

Before Benni McCarthy moved to Blackburn Rovers in 2006, the South African was already a known forward throughout Europe, having been key to Jose Mourinho’s FC Porto team that won the Champions League in 2004.

Brought to Europe by Ajax in 1997, 20 goals in 35 games resulted in a move to one of Europe’s ‘bigger’ leagues, Spain. Despite an impressive first season at Celta Vigo, McCarthy’s goals dried up. And so a loan move to FC Porto came about.

Impressing in Portugal, that move was made permanent. In 20 games under Mourinho, McCarthy scored 11 and also played a role in the 2004 Champions League win over AS Monaco.

What happened next for the South African was nothing short of extraordinary. Difficult to play against on his day, no one could have predicted how well he would do for Blackburn Rovers, whom he joined for just over £3m.

In just four years, McCarthy found the net on 52 occasions in all competitions for Blackburn in just 140 games. His best spell in European football, the South Africa forward will always be remembered in Lancashire.

#3 Quinton Fortune

Soccer - FA Barclays Premiership - Manchester United v Fulham - Old Trafford : News Photo
Quinton Fortune

Although not the most technically-gifted, Quinton Fortune was an important asset to Manchester United after Sir Alex Ferguson brought the South African to the Premier League in 1999.

Just three years later, Fortune had a league title to his name. With that followed a Community Shield win against arch rivals at the time, Arsenal.

Predominently a left-back by trade, Fortune was a utility man at Old Trafford. His ability to play anywhere on the left and in central-midfield, Fortune would often deputise when Roy Keane or Paul Scholes was injured, whilst providing Gabriel Heinze stiff competition in his later years at the club.

Leaving Manchester United in 2006 after 126 appearances, Fortune went on to make just 24 professional appearances before calling it a day.

#4 Steven Pienaar

Everton v Hull City - Premier League : News Photo
Steven Pienaar

With a parent club in South Africa, Steven Pienaar arrived at Ajax Amsterdam after impressing at Ajax Cape Town – a place where he was touted for big things after attending the School of Excellence.

Five years in Amsterdam resulted in a move to German giants, Borussia Dortmund in 2006, as they looked to replace the outgoing Tomas Rosicky, who joined Arsenal. Coming through the Ajax footballing system, footballers are always going to be technically gifted – of which Pienaar most certainly was.

After just one season in Germany, the South African was loaned to Everton, before he made permanent move to the Premier League – where he most certainly impressed. Four years at Goodison Park resulted in a move to Tottenham Hotspur and make no mistake about it, what Pienaar didn’t have in height, he made up for in technical ability.

All in all, Pienaar made 214 appearnances in the Premier League, plying his trade at Everton, Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland, but spending much of his career in Europe makes him a certainty that he’s one of Africa’s greatest imports.

#5 Aaron Mokoena

France v South Africa: Group A - 2010 FIFA World Cup : News Photo
Aaron Mokoena

Had they have played during the same era, Lucas Radebe and Aaron Mokoena would have been a partnership to behold. Unfortunately, fans just missed out on what could have been something special.

The South African arrived in Europe via Bayer Leverkusen. Although he failed to appear in the Bundesliga with the German club, he looked a talent from the start.

It was at KRC Genk where he made a name for himself, before making the move overseas to the Premier League with Blackburn Rovers. Tall. Strong. And good in the tackle, the South African was a fit for Blackburn’s philosophy.

Four years at Blackburn Rovers ended with a move to Portsmouth. Mokoena carried on his impressive form, but unfortunately, administration for the Premier League club meant the South African’s departure.

Just one year later and a return to South Africa, Mokoena retired from professional football.

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Edited by Amit Mishra
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