The Top 10 greatest African players in Premier League history - including Chelsea and Leeds stars

Counting down the best African players in the history of the game as Édouard Mendy departs Chelsea - including Leeds and Liverpool legends.
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With the departure of Chelsea’s Champions League-winning goalkeeper Édouard Mendy, one of the best African players to stand between the sticks has left the Premier League – and left it a slightly poorer place.

Mendy’s superb form throughout that season made him a hero at Stamford Bridge and while he was only at his best for a couple of years in England, he made a huge impact before he departed for Saudi Arabia – but while he can claim to be one of the best African goalies of all time, perhaps even ahead of the great Thomas N’Kono, how does he compare to the best African players in the Premier League’s history?

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For all his heroics, his relatively short peak in England means that he probably falls short of the very best – and we’ve compiled a top ten of the greatest players from the African continent who graced the Premier League over the years to prove the point. Let’s say Mendy would have been eleventh…

Before we start, a brief bit of housekeeping – for the sake of simplicity, we’ve stuck with player’s FIFA nationalities, so players like Claude Makélélé who were born in Africa but played for European teams aren’t included. Sorry, Claude – you would definitely have made it.

Aubameyang enjoyed proflific spells with Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal Aubameyang enjoyed proflific spells with Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal
Aubameyang enjoyed proflific spells with Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal

10. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

It’s fair to say he makes it into the top ten for his performances for Arsenal rather than Chelsea, but his rather disastrous 2022/23 campaign shouldn’t count against him too much. The Gabonese striker rattled 68 goals in over the course of 128 games for the Gunners, and his slippery movement, knack for finding space and fine finishing made him one of the most dangerous forwards in the division for several years in a row. His best performances came in the 2018/19 season, when his 22-goal haul put him in a three-way African tie for the Golden Boot with two of the players still to come…

It’s also a faintly interesting stat that, for all his excellence for Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal, he never won a league title – until this season, when he gets to claim his share of Barcelona’s La Liga title, given that he made one whole appearance before heading to Stamford Bridge. That’ll probably crop up in a pub quiz one day.

9. Lucas Radebe

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This is the third or fourth time that the Leeds United captain has featured in one of our top tens – a testament to both his excellence and his enduring legend. A colossal character, inspiring on-pitch leader and one of the best defenders in the league in his prime, Radebe began his career as a flamboyant midfielder before redefining himself as an all-action centre-half. He played over 200 league games for Leeds and picked up 70 caps for South Africa before injury forced a gradual wind-down over the first half of the 2000s. Nelson Mandela described Radebe as “my hero”, which is arguably the greatest character reference of all time.

8. Kolo Touré

A Premier League champion at both Manchester City and Arsenal – where he was a key member of the Invincibles team – the elder Touré brother was one of the best and most technically-gifted central defenders of the 2000s, and his Premier League career spanned 14 years at the very top level. Unfortunately his outstanding playing career didn’t translate into management quite as well as could have been hoped – his disastrous spell as manager of Wigan Athletic lasted just two months of a three-and-a-half year contract and didn’t involve a single win. Ah well, you can’t be good at everything.

7. Tony Yeboah

Another Leeds legend and a cult hero not just to Yorkshiremen but to every child of the Nineties, Yeboah was a thrilling figure with a knack for scoring absolute screamers – and particularly screamers which crashed down off the bar and over the line at immense speed. Whether you prefer his dipping master blaster against Liverpool or his gorgeously self-assisted belter against Wimbledon (the connoisseur’s choice), there’s a Yeboah banger for everyone. Few players in Premier League history have been half as fun.

6. Michael Essien

The beating heart of a Chelsea team that won two league titles and four FA Cups, Essien was the quintessential box-to-box midfielder – endlessly energetic, physically immense and technically outstanding. He also read play like it was a pop-up children’s book and had a cannon of a right foot that would, every once in a while, smash the ball into the top corner of the goal like he was launching a heat-seeking missile. Between the 2006/07 season and the 2008/09 season, he scored three goals total, and won Chelsea’s goal of the season twice. Quality, not quantity.

5. Sadio Mané

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Things may have gone downhill since he left the Premier League, but at his pomp he rampaged through Premier League defences like it was the easiest thing in the world. Pretty much the complete package as a wide forward, he was – and still is, when he isn’t punching his team-mates out – lightning quick, technically excellent and a magnificent finisher who can score from any range. Has also done a remarkable amount of charitable work in his home country of Senegal and pays a stipend of €70 – roughly a month’s salary – to every person who lives in his hometown. Generous and great at football.

4. Riyad Mahrez

The swashbuckling Algerian injected a ton of thrilling football into Leicester City’s stunning 2016 title win and his guile, trickery and lethality around the area have been crucial in Manchester City winning just about everything since. A rampaging winger who claims to have invented his own trick (“la spéciale”) and has certainly fooled just about every defender in the division at some point or another since arriving in England ten years ago – and has developed dramatically in that time, improving his tactical grasp of the game, decision making and defensive ability beyond all recognition.

3. Yaya Touré

When Arsène Wenger first saw the Touré brothers, he snapped Kolo up on the spot – but wasn’t able to get the younger Yaya a work permit, which sent the Ivorian off on a wandering career across Europe, playing in Belgium, Ukraine, Greece and France before finally making his name at Barcelona. His surging midfield runs made him a big-money target for Manchester City, and over the course of 230 Premier League appearances he paid back every penny they spent, with interest. Trying to stop him from carrying the ball out of midfield was like trying to stop a runaway train, and at his peak he rattled in no fewer than 20 league goals from the middle of the park. Just be careful to remember his birthday.

2. Didier Drogba

A titanic forward whose aerial prowess and crunching shot made him one of the most feared forwards in the world for several years, and possibly the only player in world football to have stopped a civil war. Quite how much impact his video appeal to the combatants in a putative Ivorian civil conflict had is up for debate, but he backed it up by playing a role in the peace process that followed, and he continues to work as a UN Goodwill Ambassador – all of which is, frankly, even more impressive than the 164 goals he scored in a Chelsea shirt. Unquestionably one of the greatest African footballers of all time, and judging by the vast volume of philanthropic work he’s done, one of the finest people to come from the continent as well.

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1. Mohamed Salah

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You couldn’t put anyone else top, could you? The fleet-footed Egyptian winger has racked up a frankly obscene 137 goals in 218 league games for Liverpool, shattering a series of records on his way to three Golden Boots and an admittedly completely undeserved Puskas Award. In his six seasons playing under Jürgen Klopp, he’s only failed to pass 20 league goals twice – and he got 19 in both of those seasons. Simply lethal, sensational to watch and wildly popular worldwide – indeed, a 2021 study published in the American Political Science Review concluded that his transfer to Liverpool reduced Islamophobia among fans and even led to a 16% drop in hate crimes in the city. And few players can say that.

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