African football may surprisingly have produced just one Ballon d’Or winner throughout the years, but that anomaly is no reflection on a continent that has produced a whole host of top talents in the modern era.
Many of Africa’s finest footballers have opted to spend their peak years in the Premier League, and we’ve decided to look back at some of the very best to have starred in English football’s top flight.
Here is our all-time African Premier League XI:
Goalkeeper: Bruce Grobbelaar
Bruce Grobbelaar will forever be regarded as a Liverpool legend following a trophy-laden career on Merseyside, winning six league titles and producing his infamous wobbly-leg routine to help the club to European Cup glory in 1984.
Most of the Zimbabwe international’s performances for the Reds came during the pre-Premier League era, though a lack of alternatives gives Grobbelaar the number one shirt in this African XI.
Grobbelaar made 36 appearances in the division during the opening two seasons of the rebranded league, before later enjoying a short spell with Southampton.
Lauren established himself as one of the most dependable right-backs in the Premier League at the turn of the millennium, rising from humble beginnings to form part of one of the greatest sides of the modern era at Arsenal.
The Cameroon international arrived in north London as a winger before being converted into a tough-tackling full-back, playing an integral part in the Gunners’ double-winning season during the 2001/02 campaign, before thriving in the side that completed an entire Premier League season undefeated two years later.
He won two league titles and three FA Cups during an Arsenal career that delivered 242 appearances and 11 goals, including two absurdly calm penalties in north London derby clashes with Tottenham.
Lauren later spent three seasons with Portsmouth, adding a fourth FA Cup to his collection.
Centre-back: Lucas Radebe
Amongst the most loved figures in Leeds United‘s Premier League history, Lucas Radebe became a huge fans’ favourite for over a decade of dedicated service at Elland Road throughout the nineties and early 2000’s.
The South African centre-back was a calm yet commanding defender and amongst the key players in the best Leeds side of the modern era, captaining a youthful and talented side to the last four of the Champions League during the 2000/01 campaign.
Radebe was amongst the finest centre-backs in the division at his peak and turned down opportunities to leave for bigger clubs, the man nicknamed ‘The Chief’ buying into the culture of a one-club city and finding a home at Leeds.
Radebe made 256 appearances for the club in all competitions and whilst injuries decimated his latter years, he remained loyal to the Leeds cause despite their relegation to the Championship, a fine servant for the Whites and one of the Premier League’s great African defenders.
Centre-back: Kolo Toure
The second member of Arsenal‘s ‘Invincibles’ side to make up our back four, Kolo Toure was a bedrock of that legendary side after progressing from an unknown quantity into one of the division’s best.
Toure was a formidable physical presence with a fierce competitive edge, his rise helping Arsenal continue their defensive strength following the retirements of the club’s famed back five.
The Ivory Coast international won two FA Cups and reached the Champions League final with the Gunners before moving on to Manchester City, forming part of the side that were crowned as Premier League champions during the 2011/12 season.
Toure later had a spell at Liverpool and his legacy is enhanced by being almost universally liked amongst football supporters, a brilliant character and one of the Premier League’s leading centre-backs during his best years.
Left-back: Benoit Assou-Ekotto
Similar to our goalkeeping position, leading left-backs of an African origin have been few and far between in the Premier League era, but we’ve narrowly opted for former Tottenham star Benoit Assou-Ekotto over Celestine Babayaro.
The Cameroonian – despite admitting football was far from his first passion – was a dependable player during 202 appearances for Spurs, providing the defensive platform for the irrepressible talents of Gareth Bale to flourish further down the left flank.
Assou-Ekotto was a regular member of a popular and talented Spurs side under Harry Redknapp, later spending a season on loan with Queens Park Rangers.
Midfield: Michael Essien
Michael Essien’s peak performances in the Premier League may have proven all too brief but there is no disputing the midfielder’s place amongst Africa’s greatest, the Ghana international an all-action powerhouse for a hugely successful Chelsea side.
Essien was physically imposing with wonderful dynamism, his box-to-box style complemented perfectly with defensive strength, tactical intelligence and penchant for scoring stunning efforts from distance.
He won two league titles, four FA Cups and the Champions League amongst his honours at Stamford Bridge, often fulfilling a variety of roles including at full-back and in central defence, his performance level rarely dropping despite being shifted around the pitch.
Injuries began to take their toll on ‘the Bison’ during his latter years in the Premier League, but his finest displays saw Essien rank amongst the most complete midfielders of the modern era.
Midfield: Yaya Toure
There a few players who have had a greater influence on the fortunes of the modern Manchester City than Yaya Toure, the midfielder a tour-de-force for the emerging side following their billionaire takeover a little more than a decade ago.
The Ivorian was one of the first genuine world-class talents to head to the Etihad after signing from Barcelona, scoring hugely important goals for the club including the FA Cup final winner as a first major trophy in 35 years was secured in 2011.
Toure continued to star as City became the most dominant force in English football, winning three league titles amongst a wealth of silverware and scoring 79 goals in 316 appearances in all competitions.
A phenomenally complete midfield talent, Toure was unstoppable when gaining momentum in trademark fashion, rampaging forwards to devastating effect as a prolific goalscoring midfielder.
Named as African Footballer of the Year on a joint-record four occasions, Toure is a shoo-in for this side of the continent’s finest Premier League stars.
Right-wing: Mohamed Salah
One part of a fabled front three at Liverpool that has fired the club to Champions League and Premier League success over the past two seasons, Mohamed Salah stands as Egypt’s most successful footballing export.
The winger has scored prolifically since signing for Liverpool from Roma three years ago, bouncing back from an underwhelming Premier League spell at Chelsea to establish himself amongst the most feared forwards in world football.
Salah combines relentless running power with a clinical finishing ability, winning back-to-back Golden Boots during his first two seasons with the Reds, the first of which saw him score a record 32 goals for a 38-game Premier League season to be named as the PFA Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year.
His current record stands at 94 goals in just 153 appearances since moving to Merseyside, Salah arguably Africa’s finest player at present and a two-time winner of the African Player of the Year award.
Left-wing: Sadio Mane
Sadio Mane features on the opposite flank to Salah in Jurgen Klopp’s record-breaking Liverpool team, the Senegalese speedster one of the Premier League’s best attacking talents at present.
Mane has risen from humble surroundings without ever forgetting his meteoric journey to superstardom, emerging as a generational talent amongst African footballers and becoming a huge fans’ favourite at Anfield for his mix of speed, skill and willingness to work.
The former Southampton star has now scored 20+ goals in each of the past three seasons for the Reds and continues to shine as the quintessential modern forward, winning the 2018/19 Premier League Golden Boot alongside teammate Salah and Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Last season saw the 28-year-old take on talismanic status as he scored a succession of defining goals during Liverpool’s title charge, his performances recognised with the African Footballer of the Year award and PFA Fans’ Player of the Year award.
Forward: Didier Drogba
Didier Drogba ranks as arguably Africa’s greatest ever Premier League player and firmly amongst the best talents the continent has produced, the Ivorian one of football’s great late bloomers and a striker who etched his name forever into Chelsea history.
Drogba signed for the west London side from Marseille and won back-to-back league titles during his first two seasons in English football, before growing in individual status as the spearhead of a Blues side seeking to compete on all fronts.
The forward became the greatest big-game player of the modern era after boasting a phenomenal goalscoring record in cup finals, scoring 10 times in 10 final appearances throughout his club career.
That haul included the vital equaliser as Chelsea became the first London side to win the Champions League in 2012, part of a record of 164 goals for the Blues over two spells.
Shortly after inspiring the club to European glory, Drogba was voted as Chelsea’s greatest ever player, a fine reward for a player whose achievements include four league titles, seven domestic cups and two Premier League Golden Boot accolades.
Forward: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
The third player currently playing in the Premier League to make this African dream XI, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has scored with unrivalled regularity since making the move to English football two-and-a-half years ago.
The Gabon international signed for Arsenal from Borussia Dortmund in January 2018 and has scored prolifically since his arrival, with no Premier League player having scored more goals in all competitions in that time.
Aubameyang’s stellar displays have included winning the division’s Golden Boot during the 2018/19 season, sharing the award with the aforementioned Salah and Mane in a three-way African tie at the top.
His lightning pace and expert finishing ability has seen the 31-year-old continue to star in a Gunners side that have struggled to compete in recent seasons, Aubameyang the club’s sole genuine world-class talent and a player the side can be built around as they bid to challenge for major honours.