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Top 5 African Footballers Of The Decade

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30 December 2019, by: Zach Lowy

Top 5 African Footballers Of The Decade

As the current decade draws to a close, we at BET Central have decided to take a look back on the Top 5 African footballers of the decade.

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After a circuitous career path that saw him play in Belgium, Greece, Ukraine and Monaco by the age of 23, Yaya Touré found himself playing for the reigning sextuple champions at the turn of the decade. Once dubbed “the new Patrick Vieira” by his older brother Kolo, the combative midfielder excelled both in the holding midfield role and the centre back position during his time at Barcelona, although he was relegated to a bench role in the 2008/09 season, as new manager Pep Guardiola preferred La Masia graduate Sergio Busquets to the Ivorian.

Hungry for first-team football, Touré moved to Manchester City in the summer of 2010. Along with David Silva, who had arrived that same summer from Spain, he would become the first club legend brought to the club under the Abu Dhabi United Group ownership.

For the third time in his career, Yaya played alongside Kolo, and they both hoisted Manchester City’s first trophy in 35 years when they won the 2011 FA Cup. They one-upped themselves the following year by winning City’s first league title in 44 years.

The Ivorian was a consistent force in midfield under both Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini, playing alongside Fernandinho during City’s title-winning campaign in 2013/14, when he completed more passes than any other player in the league and became the second midfielder to score 20 goals in a Premier League season after Frank Lampard in 2009/10.

While his time at the Etihad was maligned by a sour ending, the player falling out with Guardiola again and returning to Olympiacos on a free, there is no denying that Yaya is a legend for both club and country. He captained Ivory Coast to their first AFCON win in 23 years and oversaw a transitional period in which Manchester City went from barely noticeable also-rans to the most dominant Premier League team of the decade.

The reigning back-to-back African Footballer of the Year, Mohamed Salah has emerged as one of the Premier League’s headlining acts since joining Liverpool in 2017. Since his arrival, he has broken the record for most goals in a 38-match Premier League season, gone from turmoil to glory in the Champions League, and might just be lifting Liverpool’s first-ever Premier League title next spring.

Unlike most of the players on this list, Salah didn’t grow up in Europe as the son of African immigrants; instead, he played in Egypt until he was 20 years old, before signing with Basel in 2012. He featured in Basel’s unlikely run to the Europa League semi-finals, where he scored against the eventual champions Chelsea.

A few months later, he continued to wreak havoc on the West London club, this time in the Champions League group stage. Salah scored the equalizer in their 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge and netted the winning goal for Basel’s 1-0 win at home.

Needless to say, it did enough to impress José Mourinho, who purchased him for £11 million in January 2014. Salah’s rare appearances under Mourinho, though, were far from convincing, and he was loaned out to Fiorentina and Roma, before joining the latter permanently. After 43 goals in two and a half seasons in Italy, Salah would surpass that tally in one season, scoring 44 goals for Liverpool in his debut campaign on the Merseyside.

While he was forced to cut short a marvellous Champions League campaign following his collision with Sergio Ramos in Kyiv, the chickens came to roost a year later when he scored the vital opener in Madrid that allowed Liverpool to dominate the rest of the Final and earn the first piece of silverware in the Jürgen Klopp era.

Salah makes up one-third of the deadliest attacking trio in Europe, next to Roberto Firmino and another African winger…

Liverpool are currently enjoying their longest streak in the Top Four since Rafa Benítez’s time at the club, and it’s no coincidence that they finally returned to the Champions League places after a three-year drought following Sadio Mané’s arrival in 2016.

Up until recently, Liverpool’s relationship with Southampton had been somewhat of a running joke. The club spent boatloads of cash on Nathaniel Clyne, Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren between 2014 and 2015. But it hasn’t been until the arrivals of Mané and Virgil van Dijk that these big-money signings have started to pay off the investment.

To a certain degree, Mané is the heart and soul of this Liverpool team. His nonstop defensive work rate serves as a metaphor for this team’s gegenpressing style, as does his never-say-die mentality. There have been several games this season when Liverpool have looked set to drop points, even if their league record (14 wins and 1 draw) suggests otherwise. In Liverpool’s desperate moments of need, Mané has come up huge as the saviour time and time again.

As football progresses into a more physical, fast-paced game, more and more scouts will be on the lookout for the next Mané, a winger who can trackback, press high up, and win the ball back in dangerous areas, but that can also stretch the defence with his pace, cut inside and link up with his fullback, break the lines with incisive passing and score a vital goal out of nowhere.

Okay, maybe that’s easier said than done.

When Riyad Mahrez first unpacked his bags in England, he was an undersized winger from Ligue 2 who thought that Leicester City was a rugby club. By the time he left the Midlands club in 2017, he had etched his club into history as the magician behind one of the most unlikely Cinderella stories in sports history.

Mahrez had been through it all, from the club’s promotion to the Premier League in 2014, to a nervy final run in 2015 that saw Leicester win seven of its last nine matches to avoid relegation, to the unforgettable Premier League triumph in 2016.

As the right-winger in Claudio Ranieri’s 4-4-2, Mahrez glided past defenders, scored beautiful golazos, and knitted together Leicester’s attack. He became the first African ever to win the PFA Player’s Player of the Year award, and when Leicester hoisted the title, he became the first Algerian ever to win the Premier League.

His form faded the following year, as Leicester found themselves ensconced in a relegation fight for the second time in three seasons. Failed moves to Roma and Manchester City saw a wantaway Mahrez hold out from training sessions, but he was finally granted his wish in 2018, joining the Premier League champions at the Etihad.

Once again, he won the league title, but he struggled in his initial season under Guardiola. It wasn’t until this past summer, when Mahrez led Algeria to the AFCON title, that he finally started to get his groove back.

Now a fine-tuned member of the squad, Mahrez has stepped up in the absence of Leroy Sané, who may join Bayern Munich once he recovers from his anterior cruciate ligament injury. He isn’t a guaranteed starter, with the Catalan manager often preferring Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling on the wings in big games. But Mahrez has the quality to back up his reputation, and he’s up there in the Mount Rushmore of Africa’s finest from this decade.

It has been a horrendous season for Arsenal, who, after spending a club-record fee on Nicolas Pépé, sit 12th in the Premier League. Unai Emery has come and gone, but the damage from his time at the club is still taking its toll on the squad. Having wasted a year and a half with a supposed short-term solution, Arsenal are left searching for a new manager to build the post-Wenger era of the club.

New manager Mikel Arteta coach will be hoping he can still count on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s spoils on attack. The Gabon international has just 18 months left on his current deal, and if Arsenal, currently 10 points away from 4th-placed Chelsea, fail to secure Champions League football for the fourth season running, Aubameyang may decide to part ways and spend the rest of his prime at a Champions League club.

Aubameyang bounced around several academies in France before beginning his professional career with AC Milan. He enjoyed three straight loan spells in France before signing for Saint-Étienne on a permanent deal, where he would score 39 goals, before joining Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2014.

Aubameyang stepped up in the absence of Robert Lewandowski, finishing as the 2016/17 Torjägerkanone, or top scorer, with 31 goals, the competition’s highest tally in 40 years. Despite changing clubs in January 2018, Aubameyang still managed to end up as both Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund’s leading top goalscorer that season.

He would win yet another Golden Boot in 2019, finishing top scorer in the Premier League alongside Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané. Currently Gabon’s all-time leading goalscorer, he still has a few years left at the top at 30 years old. However, if Arsenal fails to secure top four again, they may be forced to watch him enjoy the rest of his prime outside of London.

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Zach Lowy is the co-creator of Breaking The Lines (@BTLVid) and a freelance soccer journalist for various websites such as BET Central, Soccer Laduma and Hudl Analysis. He is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese and is the host of the Cortalinhas podcast, a weekly podcast that discusses Portuguese football. Zach has accumulated a wealth of experience and knowledge in football and has written about various subjects for BET Central ranging from Barcelona's financial difficulties to the 'lost generation' of South Africa's Amajita class of 2009.

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