Ranking the 5 greatest African players of all time

Nigeria v Burkina Faso - 2013 Africa Cup of Nations Final
Nigeria v Burkina Faso - 2013 Africa Cup of Nations Final

Africa may not be home to the world's most famous football league, but the continent has been producing some of the world's best players over the years. Some of them have played at the highest levels of the game and won numerous awards in Europe.

African football has gotten better over the years, with several players from across the continent making waves at various top sides. Names like Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Wilfred Ndidi, Kalidou Koulibaly, Riyad Mahrez and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang stand out as some of the best players in the world in recent times.

Then there were those who emerged from the continent and turned the football world on its head. We take a look at the five greatest players produced by Africa.

#5 Yaya Toure

Belgium v Ivory Coast - International Friendly
Belgium v Ivory Coast - International Friendly

Yaya Toure is easily the best midfielder Africa has ever produced. The Ivorian has clinched almost every trophy there is to be won. He was a powerhouse in midfield for many clubs across Europe, particularly Barcelona and Manchester City, where he achieved tremendous success.

Toure began his career with ASEC Mimosas before joining Belgian side Beveren on a free transfer in 2001. He then went on to play for Metalurh Donetsk, Olympiacos and Monaco followed by a move to Barcelona in 2007 and spending three years with the Catalan outfit, where he famously won the treble in his second season at the club.

Toure then joined Manchester City in 2010, where he was a key figure in the club's rise to stardom. In his debut season, he helped them win their first piece of silverware in 35 years. He spent seven more seasons at City before returning to Olympiacos in 2018.

On the international stage, Toure finished runner-up twice with Ivory Coast in the African Cup of Nations before finally captaining the country to triumph in 2015. His success for club and country saw him win the African Player of the Year award an unprecedented four times, a record he shares with Samuel Eto'o.

With 17 trophies bagged during his illustrious career, Toure is, without doubt, one of the most decorated African players of all time.

#4 Nwankwo Kanu

Nigeria v South Korea: Group B - 2010 FIFA World Cup
Nigeria v South Korea: Group B - 2010 FIFA World Cup

Nwankwo Kanu is widely regarded as one of the greatest players Nigeria has ever produced. The two-time African Player of the Year began his career at Nigerian league side Federation Works before joining Iwuanyanwu Nationale in 1992 where he won the Nigerian Premier League trophy.

Kanu left Iwuanyanwu for Ajax the following year and was part of the squad which won the Champions League in 1995. Although he was scarcely used in his first two seasons, he became a team regular in his third and final season at the club, playing 39 games in all competitions and winning a third straight Eredivisie title.

Kanu then moved to Italy and joined Inter Milan, where he spent two seasons and won the Europa League before joining Premier League side Arsenal in 1998. The Nigerian spent six years at Arsenal, winning five trophies, and was part of the Invincibles side which went unbeaten throughout the league season in 2004.

After leaving Arsenal in 2004, Kanu remained in England. He played for West Brom and then Portsmouth, where he spent the rest of his career.

The Nigerian striker won 14 trophies throughout his career at club level and also clinched an Olympic gold medal with the Nigerian U-23 team in 1996.

#3 Didier Drogba

Cote D'Ivoire v Japan: Group C - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil
Cote D'Ivoire v Japan: Group C - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil

Didier Drogba is one of the most prominent names in Chelsea history as the Ivorian was a key cog in the club's rise to the top during the early 2000s.

The Ivorian striker began his career in France with Tourcoing before eventually moving to Guingamp and then Marseille in 2003. Drogba spent just one season with Les Olympiens, scoring 32 goals in all competitions and winning the Ligue 1 Player of the Year. He then left for Chelsea in 2004, where he would go on to establish himself as a legend.

In his debut season, Drogba helped the Blues not just win their first Premier League trophy in 50 years but retain it after the following campaign. Chelsea became only the second club after Manchester United to achieve the feat in the Premier League era. The Ivorian spent eight years in total at Chelsea before returning for a one-year spell at the club in 2014, picking up 14 trophies along the way.

Drogba also had stints in China, Turkey and Canada before retiring from American side Phoenix Rising in 2018.

Although Drogba never won any silverware on the international stage, he was voted the African Football Player of the Year twice while also finishing as runner-up on four different occasions. With over 300 goals scored for club and country, the Ivorian is easily one of the best players the continent has ever produced.

#2 George Weah

The current Liberian president is the only African player to win the Ballon d'Or, so his repertoire quite easily speaks volumes.

Weah began his professional career in his home country with Bong Range United. Eventually, he made it to Ligue 1 side Monaco, where he spent four years, scoring 66 goals before joining Paris Saint-Germain in 1992. He was a regular with the French giants during his three-year spell at the club, going on to score 55 times in total.

The Liberian then moved to Italy to join AC Milan in 1995. In his debut season, he won the prestigious Ballon d'Or, European Footballer of the Year and FIFA World Player of the Year. The striker spent five years at AC Milan before moving to England to play in the Premier League.

Weah first appeared for Chelsea in a loan move from AC Milan before joining Manchester City in 2000. However, he only saw out the first half of the campaign at the Manchester club before returning to France to play for Marseille.

Hailing from one of the lesser nations in international football, Weah was unable to replicate his club success on the international stage. Regardless, he managed to win the African Player of the Year award three times and was also named the African Player of the Century, among several other domestic accolades.

#1 Samuel Eto'o

Cameroon v Denmark: Group E - 2010 FIFA World Cup
Cameroon v Denmark: Group E - 2010 FIFA World Cup

The four-time African Player of the Year is widely remembered for his exploits in La Liga with Barcelona as well as a short but highly rewarding stint at Inter Milan. With over 400 goals scored for club and country during a 22-year career, the Cameroonian is the greatest player to emerge from Africa.

He graduated from the famous Real Madrid Castilla academy before joining RCD Mallorca in 2000 as an 18-year-old. Eto'o spent five years at Mallorca and became the club's all-time top scorer with 70 goals, a record he still holds.

The Cameroonian striker then joined Barcelona in 2004 and went on to establish himself as the greatest African player in the Spanish league. Eto'o scored 130 goals for Barcelona across a five-year spell, including 36 in his final season at the club. During that time, he was a key figure in Barcelona's historic treble achievement.

He joined Inter Milan in 2009 and went on to win the treble with the Italian side in his debut season at the club. He remains the first and only player to do so in consecutive seasons with two different clubs. Eto'o spent another season at Inter Milan, scoring 37 goals in all competitions, more than double the tally of his debut campaign.

Eto'o then moved to Russia to join Anzhi, where he spent two-and-a-half seasons before moving to the Premier League to play for Chelsea and Everton. A return to Italy, as well as spells at Turkey and Qatar, finally saw the player retire from the game in 2019.

The Cameroonian striker achieved similar levels of success at the international level. He helped his country in back-to-back African Cup of Nations triumphs as well as an Olympic gold medal in 2000. Eto'o is also the all-time top scorer for the Cameroon national team, with 56 goals.

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Edited by Sandeep Banerjee
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