Chelsea striker Didier Drogba celebrates a goal.
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The Premier League’s Best Ever African XI

The Africa Cup of Nations kicks off this weekend as the continent’s finest talents compete for
the trophy in Ivory Coast.

English football will be well represented at the finals, with 30 Premier League players representing their nations at the tournament. The Premier League has been blessed with some of the finest African footballers ever throughout its history, and we’ve attempted to create an all-time best XI.

The Premier League’s Best Ever African XI:

Goalkeeper: Edouard Mendy

Chelsea agreed a deal to sign Edouard Mendy from Rennes in 2020, with the Senegalese shot-stopper providing immediate presence to the Blues’ backline.

Mendy was a standout performer during Chelsea’s run to Champions League success in his debut season, equalling the record for the most clean sheets in a single campaign (9) and conceding just twice in seven knockout games as the West Londoners were crowned European champions.

Those performances earned Mendy The Best FIFA Men’s Goalkeeper award, and he later lifted the UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup. The goalkeeper – who formed part of the Senegal team who won AFCON for the first time in 2022 – made 105 appearances across three seasons with Chelsea.

Centre-back: Joel Matip

Arsenal ‘Invincible’ Lauren is the unfortunate omission from our Best Ever African XI, as we’ve opted for a three-man backline. Joel Matip has been an underrated part of Jurgen Klopp’s success at Liverpool, with the Cameroonian proving to be a bargain signing after arriving on a free transfer from Schalke in 2016.

Matip has made 201 appearances for the Reds to date, lifting the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup, in a clean sweep of major honours. He has been an ideal foil for Virgil van Dijk at centre-back, with his forward forays in possession often appreciated at Anfield.

Centre-back: Lucas Radebe

Lucas Radebe became a Leeds legend during a memorable Premier League career with the club. Signed from South Africa’s Kaizer Chiefs in the mid-nineties, Radebe played 256 times for Leeds and earned cult status at Elland Road.

Nicknamed ‘The Chief’ for his control of the backline, Radebe’s man-marking of the division’s best forwards helped Leeds challenge at the top end of the division at the turn of the millennium, while reaching the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup and Champions League.

The South African centre-back also deputised as an emergency goalkeeper on occasion, donning the gloves due to injuries and red cards during clashes with Middlesbrough and Manchester United respectively.

Centre-back: Kolo Toure

One of Arsene Wenger’s great bargains at Arsenal, Kolo Toure joined the Gunners from ASEC Mimosas for a fee of just £150,000.

Toure developed into one of the most dependable defenders in the division in North London, forming an excellent centre-back partnership with Sol Campell as Arsenal won the Premier League without losing a game in 2003/04. The Ivorian later had spells with Manchester City and Liverpool and is one of just eight players to have won the Premier League with two different clubs.

No African footballer has made more Premier League appearances (352).

Iconic Duos: Campbell and Toure, Arsenal’s immovable Turbo Trains

Midfield: Michael Essien

Michael Essien anchors our midfield with the Ghanaian a powerhouse performer for Chelsea. Nicknamed ‘The Bison’ for his strength and tough tackling in the engine room, Essien signed for the West Londoners from Lyon in a £24.4m deal after winning the Ligue 1 Player of the Year award in 2005.

He won the Premier League title in his debut campaign and added a further winner’s medal in 2009/10. Essien’s extensive honours list also included four FA Cups, the League Cup, and the Champions League, in a Chelsea career that saw the box-to-box star make 265 appearances.

Midfield: Yaya Toure

One of the best African footballers of all time, Yaya Toure was among the transformative signings that turned Manchester City into a modern force.

Toure had won back-to-back La Liga titles and a continental treble at Barcelona, before joining the Citizens in a £24m deal. He ended his debut season with the FA Cup final winner as City won a first major trophy in 35 years, before starring as the Blues won three league titles across his eight seasons at the Etihad.

His 2013/14 campaign remains one of the best individual seasons in Premier League history, as Toure – freed from the defensive shackles he had at Barcelona – scored 20 league goals and laid on nine assists from midfield.

Toure captained Ivory Coast to AFCON success in 2015 and was named African Footballer of the Year four times, a joint record alongside Samuel Eto’o.

Midfield Magicians: Yaya Toure – A marauding monster

Midfield: Jay-Jay Okocha

A born entertainer, Jay-Jay Okocha pitched up in Bolton during the early noughties, a period that saw The Trotters tempt illustrious names including Youri Djorkaeff, Ivan Campo and Fernando Hierro to Lancashire for an Indian summer.

Okocha became a firm crowd favourite at Bolton, with the Nigerian arguably among the most watchable Premier League players of all time. Capable of the unexpected at any moment, his catalogue of tricks, flicks and audacity tormented defenders and delighted fans.

Midfield Magicians: The Greatest Showman, Jay-Jay Okocha

Right-wing: Riyad Mahrez

The Algerian was another who was worth the admission fee for Premier League fans, bringing wing wizardry to Leicester and Manchester City.

Mahrez was named the PFA Player of the Year during Leicester’s astonishing title success in 2015/16, as he combined devastatingly with Jamie Vardy to fire the Foxes to a shock triumph.

He completed a move to Manchester City in 2018, where he went on to add a further four Premier League titles to his collection, three domestic cups, and the Champions League as part of a treble in 2022/23.

Owner of one of the most outrageous first touches in Premier League history.

Iconic Duos: Mahrez and Vardy inspire Premier League fairytale

Left-wing: Sadio Mane

Sadio Mane starts on the left side of our African XI, having been a driving force in Liverpool’s success under Jurgen Klopp.

Mane was arguably Klopp’s first major signing at Liverpool, having impressed in the Premier League at Southampton, where he set a record for the fastest-ever hat-trick scored inside two minutes and 56 seconds against Aston Villa.

The Senegalese speedster then formed part of an iconic front three at Anfield, as Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino spearheaded the Reds to success. He won the Champions League in 2019, before winning the PFA Fans’ Player of the Year award as Liverpool won a drought-breaking title the following season.

Mane is Senegal’s all-time record scorer and led the side to a maiden AFCON title in 2021, while he is the second-highest scoring African in Premier League history. In 2018/19, he shared the Premier League Golden Boot in a three-way African tie at the top, alongside Mohamed Salah and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Forward: Mohamed Salah

Mohamed Salah is pushed into a two-man forward line to accommodate our African attacking talent, with the Egyptian having staked his claim as the Premier League’s finest from the continent.

Since signing for Liverpool from Roma in 2017, the 31-year-old has set records tumbling. Salah has scored 204 goals in 332 appearances in all competitions for Liverpool, winning the PFA Players’ Player of the Year twice and the Premier League Golden Boot on three occasions.

He is the highest-scoring African (153) in Premier League history and the African footballer with the most assists (67) with each record set to be improved upon this season.

His numbers, and consistency, have placed Salah among the Premier League’s best while cementing his place in Liverpool legend for his role in the club’s modern successes. Next on his list will be long-awaited silverware with Egypt, after AFCON final defeats in 2017 and 2021.

Forward: Didier Drogba

Is Didier Drogba the greatest player in Chelsea history? There is a conversation to be had.

The Ivorian was the figurehead of the most successful era in Chelsea history, a one-man forward line who spearheaded the club’s pursuit of silverware under Jose Mourinho.

Drogba won four Premier League titles and scored 164 goals over two spells in West London, while his ability to deliver on the biggest stage – scoring 10 goals in 10 cup finals – secured his reputation as the ultimate big-game player.

Arguably his greatest goal arrived in the 2012 UCL final, as Drogba powered home a late equaliser against Bayern Munich. He stepped up to convert the decisive kick in the resulting shootout, crowning Chelsea champions of Europe for the first time.

Read – Noughties Nines: Didier Drogba – Cup final King

See more – Iconic Performances: Liverpool’s Egyptian King destroys old friends from Rome

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