11 African Breakthrough Stars of 2020/21 in Europe
By Zach Lowy
More and more young African footballers are establishing themselves as key players in Europe’s major leagues. The arrival of Morocco international Achraf Hakimi has been vital in Inter’s attempt to claim their first Scudetto in 11 years. Ivory Coast defender Sinaly Diomandé has played an important role in the heart of Lyon’s defence this season. Whilst the likes of Pape Matar Sarr and Ignatius Ganago have led Lens and Metz into an improbable charge for Ligue 1’s final Europa League spot.
Today, we’ll be analyzing eleven African youngsters who have made a sizable impact in Europe this season. Before doing so, it behoves us to review the criteria for the player selection. Firstly, the player must either be born in an African country or playing for an African national team; as such, players such as Ridle Baku (Germany) and Moussa Diaby (France) are ineligible. Secondly, the player must be no older than 25 years of age; for this reason, players such as Farid Boulaya and Anthony Nwakaeme have been excluded. Finally, the player must not have already exhibited a similar level of performances in a previous season; the 2020/21 season must firmly be the player’s breakthrough season. As such, the likes of Edmond Tapsoba, Patson Daka, and Yves Bissouma have been removed from consideration for this list.
BET Central takes a look at the eleven best African breakthrough stars of the 2020/21 season.
Mutassim Al Musrati – Braga
In comparison to its North African neighbours Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt, Libya have historically been lightweights in football. The Mediterranean Knights have never advanced to a FIFA World Cup and have failed to qualify for the past four Africa Cup of Nations. However, there is reason to be optimistic for their fates with the rise of Mutassim Al Musrati this season.
Born in the northwestern city of Misrata, Al Musrati began his career at Al-Ittihad Club (Tripoli), Libya’s most successful football club, quickly earning a call-up to the 2014 African Nations Championship, where he played all but one match as Libya went on to defeat Ghana on penalties in the Final in Cape Town. His performances soon caught the eye of Romano Sion, a retired Dutch striker who had played for Vitória de Guimarães from 2001 to 2002. On the back of Simon’s recommendation, Vitória S.C. signed Al Musrati on a 3.5-year contract in January 2017.
“Al Musrati has an enormous potential, I realized this as soon as I saw him play in Libya,” stated Sion in an interview with O Jogo. “Two years from now, he won’t be here anymore. He is a talented player and has a great future; in addition, he is a machine in training.”
The Libyan midfielder began his time in Portugal with Vitória’s B team, but his fortunes changed with the arrival of Ivo Vieira as manager; Al Musrati made his professional debut on July 25, 2019 in a UEFA Europa League qualifier against Jeunesse Esch and started the next nine matches until being hauled off midway through a 0-3 defeat to FC Porto due to a muscle injury. He lost his place in the team and made just one more start in the league – a 0-2 defeat to Braga – before departing on loan in the January transfer window to Rio Ave.
Under the tutelage of Carlos Carvalhal, Al Musrati became a vital performer in midfield as Rio Ave finished fifth on the final day, sealing Europa League qualification for the following season. The Vilacondenses’ achievement drew attention from Portugal’s biggest clubs: Porto purchased Mehdi Taremi, Sporting bought Nuno Santos, and Braga hired Carvalhal as their new manager. Joining Carvalhal was Al Musrati on a four-year contract, who arrived on a free transfer following the expiry of his contract at Vitória.
He had lofty shoes to fill following João Palhinha’s return from his two-year loan at Braga, and even though Palhinha has become vital in Sporting’s title challenge, Al Musrati has established himself as one of the best midfielders in Portugal under Carvalhal. With the Libyan manning the ship, Os Minhotos sit third in the league table and are set to face off against Benfica in the Taça de Portugal Final. Jorge Jesus’ side are reportedly interested in purchasing the €25 million-rated man, who was recently voted as the Best Player in Liga NOS for the month of February.
Zaidu Sanusi – Porto
Al Musrati has become a revelation in Braga’s midfield this season, but he’s far from the only African who’s making his mark in the Primeira. A host of Bafana Bafana stars ranging from Luther Singh to Thibang Phete are starting for Portuguese clubs, and Zainadine Júnior is proving crucial in Marítimo’s relegation fight. Zouhair Feddal has been superb in defence for Rúben Amorim’s Sporting since joining last summer from Real Betis, and on the other side of Lisbon, his compatriot Adel Taarabt is enjoying a renaissance at Benfica.
At Porto, Zaidu Sanusi has locked down a starting spot on the left side of Sérgio Conceição’s defence. Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Sanusi started off as a winger in his rural hometown of Jega, earning the attention of Portuguese scout Alberto Silva, who spotted him at a tournament in Kaduna. “He was a true diamond, technically gifted and physically very strong,” said Silva in an interview with A Bola. “He loved to join the attack. It was a dream, and we decided to bring him to Portugal because he has incredible ability.”
Sanusi joined Gil Vicente in 2016 but his progress was stunted by an ankle injury that kept him out for nine months and prevented him from making a single appearance for Os Galos. He decided to take a step down and join fourth-division side Mirandela, where he would impress over a three-year spell before earning a move to Santa Clara in 2019. He seamlessly made the step up from the Campeonato de Portugal to the Primeira, nailing down a starting spot under João Henriques at left-back whilst occasionally deputizing as a left-winger. His performances in the Azores drew the attention of FC Porto, who found themselves in need of a left-back following Alex Telles’ departure to Manchester United. The Dragões paid a reported fee of €4 million for the Nigerian, bringing him in on a contract through 2025.
“We all laughed at him when he wore the Porto jersey on his way out of Nigeria for trials in 2016 with Gil Vicente,” stated Faisal Mohammed Abdullahi in an interview with ScoreNigeria. “That prophecy has now been fulfilled.”
He grabbed his Super Eagles debut on October 9, playing the full 90 minutes in a 0-1 defeat to Algeria, before starting the next match against Tunisia. Sanusi has been a revelation at the Estádio do Dragão, earning a spot in the UEFA Champions League Breakthrough Team of 2020, and impressing in defence as Porto eliminated Juventus from the UEFA Champions League. In fact, the 23-year-old is already being linked with a €20 million move to La Vecchia Signora, as Juventus search for an upgrade over ex Porto man Alex Sandro.
Terem Moffi – Lorient
Zaidu Sanusi’s emergence in Portugal has fixed a problematic area for the Super Eagles; whilst manager Gernot Rohr has alternated between Jamilu Collins and Ola Aina at the left-back position in the past, Sanusi may end up proving to be an upgrade over both. On the other end of the pitch, Nigeria are spoiled for depth in attack, with Victor Osimhen, Kelechi Iheanacho, Umar Sadiq, Cyriel Dessers and Paul Onuachu competing for the centre forward position. The latest Nigerian striker who’s making his mark in Europe is Terem Moffi, who at 21 years of age, is proving vital in Lorient’s fight to stave off relegation.
Born in Calabar, Nigeria, Moffi began his footballing education on the streets before joining an academy at the age of eleven. He was raised by Leo Moffi, a retired professional goalkeeper and a former teammate of Chuka Iwobi, Alex Iwobi’s father. The two spent plenty of time playing together growing up before Iwobi moved to London; Moffi would follow in the Everton man’s footsteps, heading to England to complete his studies at Buckswood Football Academy.
“I managed to get into an English school at the age of 17 because of football,” stated Moffi in an interview with Ouest France. “I chose this life and I wanted to succeed in football. In life you mustn’t stay in your comfort zone and you need to go out and make things happen. You need to take risks.”
Shortly after landing in England, Moffi took his talents to Lithuania, joining Kauno Zalgiris in August 2017, but he would last just a few months before heading to another Lithuanian side: FK Riteriai. Whilst visa issues delayed his A Lyga debut, Moffi soon caught fire in the capital city of Vilnius with 20 goals in 31 appearances, a figure only bettered by Tomislav Kiš’ 27-goal total for Žalgiris. His breakthrough campaign in Europe was enough to see Belgian side K.V. Kortrijk swoop in for his services in the January window. The Nigerian impressed with 4 goals in 7 Jupiler Pro League appearances before the COVID-19 pandemic put an abrupt end to the Belgian First Division season.
Moffi did not last long in Belgium, however. After taking one point from their first four matches, newly promoted Ligue 1 side Lorient found themselves in need of a goalscorer, and they elected to purchase Moffi for €8 million, their second-highest transfer fee after the signing of Adrian Grbić from Clermont Foot just three months prior. He enjoyed a dream debut in France, starting alongside Pierre-Yves Hamel in attack in Lorient’s 3-1 victory over Reims. After Hamel equalized in the 61st minute, Moffi collected a pass in the box and was fouled by goalkeeper Predrag Rajković; Yoane Wissa converted the resulting penalty. Lorient sealed the victory as Moffi latched onto Armand Laurienté’s cross and tapped home the third and final goal into a wide-open net.
The Nigerian would have to wait another two months before returning to the scoresheet, pouncing on a loose ball and firing past Nice goalkeeper Walter Benítez to halve Les Aiglons’ margin. Lorient would go on to grab an equalizer via a penalty goal from Grbić; Moffi intelligently moved to collect Laurienté’s pass and deflect the ball into the path of Grbić with his first touch, and the Austrian striker was brought down by Robson Bambu in the box. His excellent performance at the Allianz Riviera triggered a stunning run of form, as Moffi scored in his next four matches against Monaco, Bordeaux, Dijon, and Paris Saint-Germain.
After netting a late winner against Paris FC to take Lorient to the next round of the Coupe de France, Moffi’s side faced off against a red-hot Monaco side that had won its past eight matches to start the new year. The Nigerian opened the scoring with a penalty, and while Wissam Ben Yedder converted from the spot shortly after the break, Moffi put his side ahead once again, taking advantage of an opposition error, charging past Guillermo Maripán and Benoît Badiashile, and firing past Benjamin Lecomte. It seemed as though Les Merlus were headed for a shock away victory until Ben Yedder converted with the final kick of the match.
Lorient currently sit one point above the relegation zone following Nantes’ surprise victory at the Parc de Princes, with Moffi leading the team’s scoring charts with 8 goals and 1 assist. His form could see him rewarded with a maiden call-up for this month’s AFCON qualifiers against Benin and Lesotho.
Boulaye Dia – Reims
Fresh after his first goal in the league since January 9, and yet, no player in Ligue 1 has contributed to a greater percentage of his team’s goals than Boulaye Dia (34%). Born in Oyonnax, France to Senegalese parents, Dia was the sixth of seventh children and first honed his skills against his older siblings before earning a trial with Saint-Étienne at the age of eleven. He never made it to the trial, however; Dia’s father turned the car around midway through the trip due to a problem with the automobile. He later tried his luck with Lyon, but they rejected him after performing a wrist test and concluding that he would be too small to become a successful footballer.
Dia’s footballing pursuits were further complicated after his father took ill, forcing him to take up a job as an electrician. Whilst he attempted his luck with a trial in Wales after his friend suggested he join him at Airbus UK Broughton, he was unsuccessful and elected to return to France and play for Jura Sud in the fourth division. It was here in Jura Sud where his career began to take off, scoring 15 goals in 21 appearances in the 2017/18 season and earning a move to Reims. After beginning his time in the reserve side, Dia made his debut in a 1-1 draw against Angers on October 20, 2018. He would go on to become an important part of David Guion’s set-up, scoring 4 goals and 1 assist in 21 appearances as the newly promoted side miraculously finished eighth in the Ligue 1 table.
He started the 2019/20 season on the right foot, scoring a brace and an assist in a 2-0 victory on opening day against André Villas-Boas’ Olympique de Marseille; a month later, Dia scored a bicycle kick as Reims pulled off a shock victory against Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc de Princes. In total, he would go on to register eight goals and one assist prior to the cancellation of the Ligue 1 season, earning interest from teams such as Lokomotiv Moscow and Hellas Verona, but Dia elected to stay put at Stade de Reims.
Once again, Dia began the season in red-hot form, opening the scoring in a 2-2 draw against Monaco, earning a maiden call-up to the Senegal national team, and making his international debut in a 1-3 defeat to Morocco. His 12 goals saw him top the Ligue 1 scoring charts alongside Kylian Mbappé, and while he has only scored three times since January 9 – firing a brace in a 3-4 defeat to Valenciennes in the Coupe de France and most recently netting the opener against Dijon – he is still playing an important role in Reims’ attacks with his hold-up play, aerial prowess, and incisive movement. With his contract set to expire next year, and with the likes of West Ham, Milan and RB Leipzig interested, expect Reims to cash in on him this summer for a reported fee of €15 million.
Abdallah Sima – Slavia Prague
For the past two international tournaments, M’Baye Niang has been Senegal’s first-choice centre forward, but it appears his time with the Lions of Teranga may be concluding. Niang scored just one goal in 12 appearances for Rennes before joining Al-Ahli on loan in January, but he has failed to make the matchday squad for each of the Saudi side’s last three matches. Not to worry; with Boulaye Dia, Habib Diallo, Ibrahima Niane and Famara Diédhiou, Senegal manager Aliou Cissé is spoiled for choice in the centre forward department.
The latest addition to that impressive crop is Abdallah Sima, who at 19 years of age, has registered the second-most goal contributions in Europe behind PAOK winger Christos Tzolis. Sima left Senegal and joined Thonon Évian in the lower divisions of French football, where he would progress through the youth ranks before earning a move to MAS Táborsko in the Czech second tier. He only played two matches for the side before the stoppage of football, but he managed to catch the attention of Slavia Prague, who recruited him to their B team on July 23, 2020.
Sima’s impressive performances in preseason saw him promoted to the first team, making a cameo appearance in a 3-0 victory over Slovácko on September 26. He returned to the U-21 side, scoring four goals in six matches in the Czech second tier, but an injury crisis and a spate of COVID-19 positive cases saw manager Jindřich Trpišovský give him his full debut in a UEFA Europa League match against OGC Nice, and Sima repaid his trust by scoring a header from a corner kick and deftly placing it into the bottom right corner, as the Red and Whites went on to take a 3-2 victory at home.
The teenage forward quickly nailed down a starting spot in attack, registering 15 goals and six assists in 26 appearances, including a brace against crosstown rivals Sparta Prague and a late goal against Leicester City to knock the Foxes out of Europe, and earning comparisons to Thierry Henry due to his silky style of play and his ability to cut inside from the wing and create havoc in the final third. The Červenobílí sit 14 points clear atop the Czech First League and are through to the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals thanks in large part to the breakthrough campaign of the teenage forward.
His excellent performances in the Czech Republic have attracted attention from West Ham, who have signed Tomáš Souček and Vladimír Coufal from Slavia over the past 12 months, as well as Everton, Arsenal, and Paris Saint-Germain. One year after plying his trade in the Czech second tier, Sima is already making his mark in European competition.
Youssef En-Nesyri – Sevilla
On September 24, 2020, Sevilla faced off against Bayern Munich in their sixth UEFA Super Cup in an attempt to break a streak of five consecutive losses in the competition. Lucas Ocampos opened the scoring for the Andalusian side, but after Leon Goretzka equalized before the break, Julen Lopetegui elected to sub on Youssef En-Nesyri for Luuk de Jong in the 56th minute. It did not have the desired effect, however; En-Nesyri found himself in prime position to break the deadlock on several occasions, but he was stopped on each occasion by an imperious Manuel Neuer in goal. Bayern would go on to lift the trophy following a late goal from Javi Martínez, as En-Nesyri broke down in tears in the Puskás Aréna.
Born in Fes, Morocco, En-Nesyri began his career at Mohammed VI Football Academy before joining Málaga CF in 2015 for a fee of €125,000. After beginning his time in the reserves, En-Nesyri impressed in the summer of 2016 with six goals during the preseason friendlies, prompting manager Juande Ramos to give him his debut in a 2-2 draw against Espanyol. He would go on to provide five goals and one assist in 41 appearances for the Blanquiazules, but he was unable to save them from relegation at the end of the 2017/18 season.
En-Nesyri’s form in the Costa del Sol earned him a call-up to the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and after being an unused substitute in the first two matches, Hervé Renard subbed him on for Khalid Boutaïb in the 72nd minute against Spain. Within nine minutes, En-Nesyri towered over Sergio Ramos and fired a header past David De Gea to give Morocco the lead; Spain would equalize late on via a goal from Iago Aspas, however.
Rather than stick around with Málaga in the Segunda, En-Nesyri joined Leganés for €6 million, and he caught fire for the Pepineros with 15 goals in 53 appearances. It’s why, on January 16, 2020, Sevilla broke the bank for the Moroccan striker, paying €25 million for him to reinforce the attack following the departures of Munas Dabbur and Javier Hernández. En-Nesyri looked to be picking up steam in Andalusia with goals against CFR Cluj and Celta Vigo and a brace against Osasuna, but he was unable to maintain that forward momentum following the three-month pandemic-enforced break. The Moroccan scored two goals in 15 appearances as Julen Lopetegui’s side finished fourth in the league and won their first UEFA Europa League title since 2016, before losing to Bayern in the Super Cup.
Rather than sulk and stagnate, though, En-Nesyri wiped his tears away and played the best football of his career. One week after the defeat in Budapest, En-Nesyri scored a winner in the dying minutes against Levante, connecting onto Jesús Navas’ cross and deflecting his header into the bottom left corner of the net. Goals vs. Athletic Club, Osasuna, Huesca, and Villarreal soon followed, culminating in a hat-trick against Real Sociedad. Arguably his most important goal of the campaign came on March 14 in ‘The Great Derby’: En-Nesyri made an incisive run between Víctor Ruiz and Aïssa Mandi, controlling Navas’ lofted pass with a graceful first touch, sliding the ball past the onrushing Joel Robles, and delicately tucking the ball into the back of the net. Sevilla would go on to defeat Real Betis 1-0, maintaining their comfortable lead on the final Champions League spot. In total, En-Nesyri has scored 20 goals in all competitions for Sevilla this season, making him the first player since Wissam Ben Yedder to reach the landmark.
Wilfried Singo – Torino
Since making his international debut on June 8, 2013, Serge Aurier has been a mainstay at right-back for the Ivory Coast, having made 66 appearances and won the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations with Les Éléphants. However, with Aurier approaching 29 years of age and struggling for game-time under José Mourinho, he is at risk of losing his spot to Wilfried Singo.
Singo was born in the same small town as Aurier — Ouragahio, population of 36,364 — but unlike Aurier, he remained in the Ivory Coast throughout his adolescence, developing at the AS Denguélé academy until joining Torino in January 2019. After beginning his time in the reserves, Singo made his debut on August 1, 2019 in a UEFA Europa League qualifying match against Debrecen. He would go on to make two substitutes appearances in the following qualifiers against Soligorsk, but he would have to wait another 10 months before making his next appearance in a 2-4 defeat to Cagliari. Two more brief cameos in Serie A followed, but in the penultimate matchday of the season, manager Moreno Longo gave him his first start, playing him as a right wingback in a 2-3 defeat to Roma. Despite the loss, Singo gave a composed display on and off the ball, culminating in his first goal; he collected a goal kick from Roma goalkeeper Pau López, raced past Leonardo Spinazzola and Aleksandr Kolarov, before firing the shot past López.
A shoulder injury sidelined him for the next two months, but Singo made his return to the side on October 18. He quickly established himself as a starter under Marco Giampaolo, registering back-to-back assists against Inter and Sampdoria, and he has remained an undisputed starter under Davide Nicola. It has been a nightmare season for the Granata, who currently sit in the relegation zone (albeit with two games in hand over 17th-placed Cagliari), but at 20 years of age, Singo has emerged as a breakthrough sensation at Torino, marrying an imposing physique with impressive technical ability. Whilst he arrived in Italy as a centre back, his best performances have come as a right-sided wingback, and his versatility will be a boon to any team looking to snap up one of the brightest prospects in Serie A.
Tino Kadewere – Lyon
Three months from now, Memphis Depay will (almost certainly) leave Olympique Lyonnais on a free transfer. The decision-makers at Lyon face a Herculean task finding a player capable of replacing the Dutch forward, who has provided 57 goals and 42 assists in 131 Ligue 1 appearances since arriving from Manchester United in January 2017. Nevertheless, they have taken a massive step towards finding a successor with the signing of Tino Kadewere.
Born in the capital city of Harare, Kadewere impressed for Harare City at the age of 18, scoring seven goals in the Zimbabwean Premier League and earning trials with Le Havre and Djurgårdens IF, ultimately electing to try his luck in the Swedish top flight. After a slow start to life in Scandinavia, Kadewere caught fire in the 2017/18 season, registering 12 goals and 4 assists in 19 appearances and becoming the first Djurgården player in 40 years to score four goals in a single Allsvenskan match. While he missed out on the final three matches of the season due to a knee ligament injury, it did not dissuade Le Havre from paying $2.5 million for him in July 2018.
After a lengthy spell on the sidelines, Kadewere made his Ligue 2 debut on November 9, 2018, playing eight minutes in a 3-2 victory over Sochaux; two more brief cameos followed before he was given his first start in a league match against LB Châteauroux. Kadewere opened the scoring after two minutes, making a darting run behind the defence, latching onto a pass from Alexandre Bonnet, and calmly tucking it into the back of the net. In total, he would finish the season with 7 goals and 5 assists in his debut season in France.
The Zimbabwean forward began the 2019/20 season in red-hot form, scoring a brace to lead Le Havre to a 2-2 draw over AC Ajaccio. Under the tutelage of Paul Le Guen, Kadewere catapulted to the top of the Ligue 2 scoring charts, prompting Lyon to sign him in January for a fee of €12 million before loaning him back to Le Havre for the rest of the season. In total, Kadewere would finish the season with 20 goals and 4 assists in 24 appearances, and he dedicated his Golden Boot to his late father, who died in 2015.
Kadewere found himself up against tougher competition than expected at Lyon, with Memphis Depay and Moussa Dembélé remaining put after being linked with summer departures, a problem exacerbated by Lyon only playing in domestic competitions this season. After making several substitute appearances, he was given his full debut in the Choc des Olympiques, starting up front in a 1-1 draw against Marseille and narrowly missing out on a goal due to a razor-thin offside call. Nevertheless, Rudi Garcia started him in the first match following the international break, only this time, he repositioned him from his natural central forward position and played him on the right side of an attacking trident. Kadewere broke the deadlock early on, trapping a lofted pass from Memphis onto his chest and slotting the opening goal past Strasbourg goalkeeper Bingourou Kamara. Three weeks later, he scored a brace to lead Lyon to a come-from-behind victory over Saint-Étienne in the Derby du Rhône.
The 25-year-old currently sits 10th in the Ligue 1 scoring charts alongside Algeria international Andy Delort with 10 goals in 28 appearances, having thrived on the right side of the front three alongside Memphis and Cameroonian striker Karl Toko Ekambi. The next challenge? Leading Zimbabwe to their first ever World Cup next year.
Silas Wamangituka – Stuttgart
After sealing a swift return to the German top flight, VfB Stuttgart are currently pushing for European football under manager Pellegrino Matarazzo. Die Schwaben currently trail Bayer Leverkusen by four points in the race for the final Europa League spot, and they have thrilled neutrals with a flashy style of play and a treasure trove of youngsters: Borna Sosa, Nicolás González, Orel Mangala, Tanguy Coulibaly, Konstantinos Mavropanos, Waldemar Anton, and Saša Kalajdžić. Arguably the finest jewel of them all is Silas Wamangituka.
Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital city, Wamangituka grew up playing barefoot in the streets of Kinshasa, where he was soon spotted by Black Mountain Sport, an academy created by Nicolas Anelka. He promptly joined Olympic Matete FC, where he would spend six years before heading to France, joining fifth-tier side Olympique Alès at 17 years of age. One year later, Wamangituka took the step up to Ligue 2 side Paris FC, making his debut on August 31, 2018 in a 2-0 victory over Troyes. Mainly playing as a central forward, Wamangituka was a breakthrough sensation with 11 goals in 33 appearances, leading the Parisian side to the promotion play-offs, where they would lose to Lens on penalties.
His performances drew the attention of relegated Stuttgart, who paid £7.2 million for the Congolese forward’s services. Whilst Wamangituka played on both flanks as well as his natural central forward position, it was the right wingback role in Matarazzo’s 3-4-1-2 formation where he truly shined, providing 7 goals and 8 assists in 29 appearances as Die Schwaben sealed automatic promotion to the top flight. This season, the 21-year-old has reached extraordinary heights in his first spell in a top five league, providing 13 goals and 5 assists in 26 appearances and blending a combination of speed, physicality, rapid dribbling and an eye for goal that has caught many Bundesliga defenders by surprise. It would seem natural, then, that DR Congo manager Christian Nsengi-Biembe would give him his maiden call-up for the Leopards. But things are rarely that simple.
“I would like to (call him up), but I can’t,” said Nsengi-Biembe in December 2019. “There is an administrative problem, a passport problem. We’ve heard a lot of things, in particular, that he was a political asylum seeker. But there is also an identity problem. One thing is for sure, we’ve never heard of this Wamangituka in DR Congo.”
These declarations came after L’Équipe accused Wamangituka of using a fake identity to join Alès for free whilst he was under contract for a different Congolese club Football Club MK, alleging that his real name is actually Silas Mvumpa Katompa. Whatever his name is, one thing’s for certain: Wamangituka is making his name known both in Africa and Europe.
Aaron Boupendza – Hatayspor
Since making his senior debut on March 25, 2009, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has solidified his status as the captain, all-time leading goalscorer, and the greatest player in the history of the Gabonese national team. While he shows little signs of hanging up his boots anytime soon with 14 goals in 29 appearances for Arsenal this season, he will be 32 in three months. Sooner rather than later, Les Panthères will need to find an heir to their legendary talisman, and their long-term answer to Aubameyang may just be in Turkey.
Born in Moanda, Gabon, Boupendza began his career at CF Mounana before joining Girondins de Bordeaux at 19 years of age. He began his time in France with Bordeaux’s reserve side before being shipped out on loan to Pau FC, registering 15 goals in 21 appearances in the third division. However, his following loan spells at Gazélec Ajaccio, Tours, and Feirense failed to generate tantamount excitement, with Boupendza earning more headlines for disciplinary issues rather than a consistent end product in front of goal. It’s why, on August 5, 2020, Bordeaux agreed to sell Boupendza to newly promoted Turkish side Hatayspor for a fee of €100,000.
It is here in Turkey where the 24-year-old forward has finally launched himself into the upper echelon of European football. In their first-ever season in the top flight, Hatayspor sit sixth in the Süper Lig, six points behind the final European position. Only Beşiktaş, Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray have scored more goals than Hatayspor, and it’s thanks in large part to Boupendza, who leads the league’s scoring charts with 18 goals in 26 appearances.
Capable of playing on either flank as well as a central forward, Boupendza could form a fearsome attacking trident alongside Aubameyang and Denis Bouanga for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations, and by that point, it’s all but certain that he won’t be playing in Turkey, but a top league. His contract expires in 2022, and a number of Premier League sides are already casting their eye on the Gabonese forward.
Cheick Doucouré- Lens
They haven’t made it to an African Cup of Nations Final since 1972, and they haven’t made it to a FIFA World Cup in their entire history, but Mali currently lay claim to one of the finest crops of midfielders in the entire continent. Amadou Haidara and Diadie Samassékou have thrived in Germany after blossoming in Red Bull Salzburg, whilst Mohamed Camara and Ousmane Diakité could follow in their footsteps. Yves Bissouma has established himself as one of the most exciting midfielders in England since leaving Lille for Brighton, whilst Lassana Coulibaly has helped fill a Baptiste Santamaria-shaped hole at Angers. Mohamed Magassouba’s selection dilemma in midfield has gotten even tougher with the emergence of Cheick Doucouré.
Born in the capital city of Bamako, Doucouré began his development in the same academy as Haidara, Bissouma, Samassékou, and countless other players: JMG Academy Bamako. He progressed to AS Real Bamako, where he would spend one year before joining Lens in 2018. Philippe Montanier gave him his debut in the 2018/19 season opener in a 2-0 victory over US Orléans, and Doucouré quickly became one of the first names on the team sheet, earning a maiden call-up to the Mali national team in October and leading Lens to the promotion play-offs. Lens came within inches of reaching Ligue 1 after beating Paris FC and Troyes and drawing to Dijon in the first leg of the Final, but late goals from Naïm Sliti and Wesley Saïd saw The Owls maintain their place in the top flight.
Doucouré retained his place in midfield as Lens mounted an impressive start to the season, battling Lorient for the top spot in Ligue 2. By the time the season abruptly finished due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lens were one point above Ajaccio in second place, and thus, sealed a return to Ligue 1. Despite the arrival of Seko Fofana for a club-record fee of €10 million, Doucouré has only gone up a level in importance and quality this season under new manager Franck Haise. Playing at the base of the 3-4-1-2 formation, the 21-year-old is a hard-working, tough-tackling player who does the dirty work in midfield and covers every blade of grass, but who also isn’t afraid to drive forward and score a goal, having registered 4 goals and 1 assist this season. Lens sit sixth in Ligue 1, level on points with Marseille who currently occupy the final Europa League spot, and it’s thanks in large part to the tireless performances of Doucouré.