Until a few seasons ago, African and Asian players that managed to break into European football were minimal as the national sides from the continent struggled at the international level. Today, players from Africa and Asia have become a mainstay in European football. The fact that all Premier League clubs, except Manchester United and Burnley, currently have an Asian or African player in their first team squad, shows how much of an impact the continent’s footballers have had in recent years.The commencement of the African Cup of Nations and AFC Asian Cup have seen a host of players leave for international duty and their absence has negatively affected some teams. The likes of Manchester City, who are missing their instrumental player Yaya Toure, highlight how important these players are for their sides.Here is an EPL Afro-Asian XI constituting of the best African and Asian players who are currently playing in the EPL this season. The criteria of selection includes age, talent as well as form. A few really good players had to be excluded keeping in mind the balance of the side.
#1 Goalkeeper: Mark Schwarzer (Australia)
Schwarzer has been a familiar name in the Premier League for almost 18 years now, after making his first Premier League appearance way back in the 1996/97 season for Middlesbrough. He has made a total of 508 Premier League appearances and has kept 152 clean sheets in the time.
After successful stints with Middlesbrough and Fulham, he moved to Chelsea last season as a backup to Petr Cech, but still delivered when he was called upon by keeping eight clean sheets in 12 appearances in all competitions.
At 42, he is in the last stages of his career. But the fact that Leicester City decided to sign him on an 18-month deal early this month proves that he still might have a lot to offer.
#2 Centre-back: Kolo Toure (Ivory Coast)
Kolo Toure is one of the most experienced defenders currently plying his trade in the Premier League. Having served Arsenal and Manchester City 322 and 102 times, respectively, the 33-year-old was signed by Liverpool last season as a backup defender.
However, his experience has proved vital in the Liverpool side since Jamie Carragher’s retirement and with the form of Dejan Lovren, he has become a first XI player, having made 38 appearances in all competitions for the Merseyside team in his two seasons.
Mostly a figure of jokes last season due to his huge defensive errors, Toure has silenced his critics this season. Despite his age, Toure’s work rate and dedication have been tremendous and he has been a figure of composure in a Liverpool defence that has been mostly scrappy.
#3 Centre-back: Maya Yoshida (Japan)
The Japanese centre-back arrived at Southampton in 2012 and played a major role in his side’s Premier League survival that season making 32 appearances and keeping 7 clean sheets. The arrival of Dejan Lovren and Toby Alderweireld in the two subsequent seasons meant he has had to be content with being the third choice centre-back.
However, whenever given an opportunity Yoshida has proved that he is equally deserving of a starting berth, providing solid protection at the back. He has also been a pivotal figure for the Japanese national team in recent years.
In addition to the 4 clean sheets from his 9 starts for the Saints in all competitions this season, Yoshida has proved his goal scoring abilities as well, by netting once against Everton.
#4 Right- back: Ahmed Elmohamady (Egypt)
He may not be the best full back in the EPL for sure, but the Egyptian has been one of the better players for a dismal Hull City side. Whether as a right-back in a 4-man defence or as a wing-back in a 3-5-2 formation, the Egyptian has started all of Hull’s 22 matches and impressed mainly with his work-rate and crossing. Hull’s disappointing season has meant that the contribution of players like Elmohamady have gone in vain.
However, if Hull City are to stay in the Premier League, Steve Bruce will definitely have to depend on the 27-year-old Egyptian. In spite of two lacklustre performances against West Bromwich Albion and West Ham, the lack of better options and his performances prior to those two matches are likely to see him keep his place in the Hull starting line-up.
#5 Left-back: Yun Suk-Young (South Korea)
Suk-Young is another debatable selection like Elmohamady. it is true that Yun gets the nod because there are no better options. However, for someone in his first season in the top-flight, Yun has indeed done pretty well.
Harry Redknapp initially preferred Clint Hill and Armand Traore in the left-back position, but having won only once and conceding 15 goals in the first seven matches of the season, Harry rang in the changes and Yun got his chance which he gracefully accepted.
Yun then went on to start all of the Rangers’ matches till he was injured towards the end of December. Even though Yun has shown signs of his inexperience a few times, he has been a no-nonsense defender who goes about doing his job well. Moreover, a comparison with some of the other left-backs in the league might be enough to prove he is not as bad as we might think.
#6 Defensive Midfielder: Mile Jedinak (Australia)
The Australian skipper has been in fine form this season for Crystal Palace. He has been instrumental for Palace even in the seasons before, but what makes this season special is that he has added goals to his kitty.
Having only scored once last season, Jedinak is Palace’s joint top-scorer alongside Dwight Gayle this time, with 5 goals already and has also assisted a further two as well. In addition to his goal-scoring abilities, his defensive contributions have also been on the rise.
Jedinak averages 3.95 clearances, 0.72 blocks, 3.84 interceptions and 2.84 successful tackles per 90 minutes this season in comparison with last season where he averaged 4.12 clearances, 0.45 blocks, 3.67 interceptions and 2.71 successful tackles per 90 minutes.
#7 Central Midfielder: Ki Sung Yeung (South Korea)
One of the most underrated players of the EPL this season, Ki has been a calm and composed presence in the Swans’ engine room. He has been the one who initiates the moves up front as well as breaking down opposition attacks. Ki has averaged 3.1 clearances, 0.3 blocks, 2.5 interceptions and 1.7 tackles per game and also has 3 goals and an assist to his name. The midfield combination of Ki and Tom Carroll was starting to flourish before Ki had to leave for international duty.
With Ki away at the AFC Asian Cup, the Swansea midfield looked disorganized and was shattered by a rampant Chelsea side last week. Since Wilfried Bony is no more a part of the Swansea squad, Gary Monk will need Ki’s creativity to keep up their good show from the first half of the season.
#8 Central Midfielder: Alex Song (Cameroon)
2014/15 has been a bit like a season of rejuvenation for Song. After a couple of lacklustre seasons at the Camp Nou with Barcelona and a disastrous World Cup campaign, Barcelona shipped out Song to West Ham United on loan.
However, ever since he arrived at Boleyn Ground, Song has been one of West Ham’s most influential players. Usually deployed in the anchor role in Sam Allardyce’s 4-4-2 diamond formation, Song has been the driving force that has seen West Ham United make sturdy progress in the league table.
Song was initially overlooked for the Cameroon side for the African Cup of Nations but his form for West Ham meant that his national team coach Volker Finche had to rethink his decision. However, the 27-year old went on to announce his retirement from international football in order to rebuild his club career.
#9 Attacking Midfielder: Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast)
The simple fact that Manchester City has not won any of the four Premier League matches Yaya Toure has missed this season is enough to know how important Toure has been for the Citizens. The big Ivorian’s strong physical presence has been instrumental in the centre of midfield and a pass accuracy of 89.8% indicates how he dominates his opponents and the game.
Even with a world-class striker like Sergio Aguero in their ranks, City are heavily dependent on Toure, as he is the one who ensures the ball stays in the opponent’s half most of the time. Moreover, Toure has the ability to win games on his own, thanks to his incredible burst of pace and his thunderous and accurate shooting skills.
Unlike the previous season where he scored 20 goals in the Premier League, Toure has not been amongst the goals too often this time, yet he has managed 7 goals so far. With Chelsea slowly building their lead at the top, Manchester City would be hoping that their talismanic midfielder returns from the African Cup of Nations soon.
#10 Second Striker: Sadio Mane (Senegal)
In a tight knockout battle for the left-wing spot, it is Sadio Mane who comes out as the winner over Crystal Palace’s Yannick Bolasie. Two very similar players currently in top form, Mane edges out Bolasie only for his better finishing, as proven by his spectacular finish against Arsenal a couple of weeks ago. Mane arrived at Southampton in the summer from Austrian side Red Bull Salzburg having amassed an unbelievable 45 goals and 32 assists from 87 appearances.
Initially, Mane struggled to keep up with the pace and quality of the EPL. However, lately Mane has recaptured his form and had just started to fire when an injury and international commitments with Senegal came in.
Blessed with an abundance of pace, Mane created a lot of trouble to a usually resolute Chelsea backline when the Saints played them at the St. Mary’s and then followed it up with another brilliant performance against Arsenal.
Mane has scored thrice in his last 3 appearances. And once he returns, he would be crucial in the Saints’ quest for a Top 4 finish.
#11 Centre-forward: Wilfried Bony (Ivory Coast)
Having finished as the EPL’s top scorer in the year 2014 with 18 goals, Bony is undoubtedly one of the best strikers in the league right now. Even though the likes of Ki and Gylfi Sigurdsson have been extremely good and crucial for Swansea, it has been Bony that was their most important player, simply because he was the one getting them goals.
Out of the 26 goals Swansea have scored in the league this term, Bony has scored 9 and assisted 3 of them, which accounts to almost half of their total. Having moved to Swansea from Dutch side Vitesse for £12 million last summer, Bony was purchased by Manchester City this month for a whopping £28 million, which is a clear indication of his reputation.
The injury time equalizer he scored in his final game for Swansea in the 1-1 stalemate against QPR is an example of how he can create and finish a chance out of nothing, and it is that ruthless finishing that Manchester City would be waiting to see once he returns from the African Cup of Nations.
Substitutes: Brad Jones (GK, Liverpool, Australia), Armand Traore (LB, QPR, Senegal), Victor Wanyama (DM, Southampton, Kenya), Mo Diame (CM, Hull City, Senegal), Yannick Bolasie (LW, Crystal Palace, Congo), Riyad Mahrez (RW, Leicester City, Algeria), Diafra Sakho (CF, West Ham United, Senegal), Didier Drogba (CF, Chelsea, Ivory Coast)