Ranking the Top 5 African Players in Premier League History

By | March 24, 2019

In honor of the class’s focus on the development of the beautiful game in Africa, I thought it would be appropriate to rank the best African players to have graced the English Premier League. This was not an easy task, and I tried to value individual ability / impact on the team, the longevity of the players’ careers in the Premier League, and overall team success.


Honorable mentions:

Emmanuel Adebayor (Forward, Togo), Kolo Toure (Defender, Ivory Coast), Victor Wanyama (Midfielder, Kenya), Victor Moses (Midfielder, Nigeria)


  1. Riyad Mahrez (Winger, Algeria)—The illustrious, innovative winger was essential to Leicester City’s unbelievable PL title winning campaign in 2015/16. Mahrez took the league by storm with his unstoppable pace and brilliant left foot, as he became the first Algerian to win the PL and PFA Player of the Year. His performances earned him a lucrative four-year contract with Leicester, and in the summer of 2018 Mahrez signed for Manchester City for £60m, making him the most expensive African player in history. Mahrez made history with Leicester and has impressed at his new club in his first season, and promises to continue to improve as he enters the prime of his career, earning him the fifth spot.


  1. Michael Essien (Midfielder, Ghana)— For the latter half of the 2000’s, Essien was one of the preeminent midfielders in the world, let alone the PL. Known for his fierce style and leadership on both sides of the ball, Essien played a large role in the resurgence of Chelsea as an English powerhouse. The two-time PL winner and Chelsea Player of the Season in 2006/07 scored important goals and delivered top performances at crucial times, and was nominated for the prestigious Ballon d’Or three times as a Chelsea player, which merits Essien the fourth spot.


  1. Mohamed Salah (Winger/Forward, Egypt)—Perhaps nobody took the Premier League (and world) by storm as much as Mo Salah has over the past two seasons. Although his first stint in the PL with Chelsea was not a success, the Egyptian produced perhaps one of the most impressive seasons in PL history with Liverpool in 2017/18, collecting both the Golden Boot (32 goals), and PFA Player of the Season. Salah was the best player on an incredibly exciting Liverpool team, and made their games must watch TV for any soccer fan. In 2018/19, Salah has struggled to replicate his dominance of the league in the previous season, but his brilliance on the pitch at times is almost unparalleled, as he contributes to Liverpool’s title push against Manchester City. Although he has only been a star in the league for a few seasons, his pure dominance merits the third spot on this list.


  1. Yaya Toure (Midfielder, Ivory Coast)—A true box-to-box midfielder, Yaya Toure is a legend in Manchester and beyond. One of Sheikh Mansour’s first marquee signings at Manchester City in 2010, Toure was an integral member of City’s midfield for years, and contributed to three PL title winning campaigns (2011/12, 2013/14 and 2017/18). Toure accumulated 62 goals and 32 assists in 230 appearances, and his physicality was unmatched on the pitch. Although his last season at Manchester City was one to forget, he left an incredible legacy at City, and was honored with a statue outside the Etihad after his departure. His longevity and leadership qualities make him the second best African player to play in the PL.


  1. Didier Drogba (Forward, Ivory Coast)—Even as an avid Tottenham supporter, there was no other choice for the top spot. Rightfully considered one of the best players in Chelsea’s entire history, Drogba’s name is still regularly sung around Stamford Bridge, which testifies to the impact he had on supporters as a Chelsea player. He owns the record for most goals scored by an African player (104), most assists by an African player (54), won the Golden Boot twice (2006/07 and 2009/10), and was a member of four PL winning teams (2004/05, 2005/06, 2009/10 and 2014/15). Didier Drogba is one of the best players in Premier League history at large, and probably one of the best African players of all time, so this spot undeniably belongs to none other than Drogba.


One thought on “Ranking the Top 5 African Players in Premier League History

  1. Alec Wall

    I agree with your list for the most part, however I do take some issue with the complete exclusion of Sadio Mane, winger for Liverpool and Senegal. Perhaps I’m blinded by my own allegiance to Liverpool, but I might even argue that the Senegalese merits a place ahead of Mo Salah in these rankings, particularly given his form this season: 17 goals in 29 PL appearances. I have been a fan of Mane since before his transfer even, as he had 2 successful seasons with Southampton before moving to Liverpool (like Nathaniel Clyne, Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, and Dejan Lovren before him, and Virgil Van Dijk and Danny Ings after).

    What impresses me personally about Mane is his ability to score what I would describe as “ugly/pretty” goals– often goals with beautiful build-up, dribbling, and movement by Mane but finished with almost wild slashes at the ball. In my time watching Mane with Liverpool it has not been uncommon to see him finish goals while slipping, sliding, or falling over, often as a result of striking the ball precisely against the direction of his momentum. Of course, we have also seen some audacious goals by Mane this year, notably his backheel finish against Watford in the PL and his deft control, three-quarters turn, and chip against Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

    In any case, I think his PL numbers (61 goals and 22 assists in 152 apps) speak for themselves, and given that he is only 2 months older than Salah and has spent 3 more years in the league I would argue he deserves his place here. This summer’s Africa Cup of Nations should prove an interesting competition if just for the possibility of a Salah-Mane, Egypt-Senegal showdown.

    Side note: I applaud your inclusion of Kolo Toure, a player often left in the shadow of his brother and a man responsible for one of the greatest PL tackles of all time (see video below)



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *