Eight players Premier League sides should watch at AFCON 2023 - including Man Utd & Spurs targets
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The Africa Cup of Nations 2023 – yes, that’s the right name despite the fact that it's taking place in 2024 – gets underway this weekend when hosts Ivory Coast take on Guinea-Bissau in Saturday’s curtain-raiser. Over the course of the next four weeks, we’ll see several new superstars born in front of the watching eyes of the football world in a tournament that never fails to thrill.
Just about every Premier League side will have scouts out there for the tournament, and a lot of money will change hands in the near future as some of African football’s brightest young talents cash in on a big tournament - careers will be made, or broken, in the coming weeks.
We’ve pulled together a list of eight of the players we think Premier League sides need to watch, from a couple of relatively established stars to up-and-coming youngsters looking to make the headlines for the first time. Whether or not they end up plying their trade in England in the future, all of these will be an absolute pleasure to watch over the coming month - and reading this before sitting down for the action will also allow you to come across as a person with a deep knowledge of African football in front of your nearest and dearest. And who doesn't want that?
Serhou Guirassy (Guinea)
Few outside of Guinea, Germany and Guirassy’s birth country of France knew much about the powerful forward until this season, but a stunning run of form at VfB Stuttgart has suddenly made him one of the most sought-after players in Europe at the age of 27, with Manchester United, West Ham and Arsenal among the many clubs linked with him.
Guirassy has bagged a remarkable 19 goals in 16 games over the course of this campaign, and that combined with a budget-friendly release clause reported to stand at €17.5m (£15.2m) means that he’s been linked with practically every club in the Premier League – and a big performance in the Ivory Coast could give him even more bargaining power once the contract offers start rolling in. His combination of precise finishing, intuitive movement and physical strength has made him a nightmare for Bundesliga defenders, and he could be causing Premier League players to lose sleep very soon indeed.
Omar Marmoush (Egypt)
Speaking of late-blooming forwards who have found impressive form in the Bundesliga, 24-year-old Marmoush – a versatile and pacy forward - moved from Egypt to VfL Wolfsburg as a teenager and while he struggled to make an impact at first, successful loan spells at St. Pauli and Stuttgart led to a move to Eintracht Frankfurt last summer – and he has flourished at his new club.
Having started off his career as a winger, Marmoush has blossomed now that his rapid dribbling and pinpoint control have been deployed through the middle at Frankfurt, and he’s proven that he’s no slouch at finishing, either – he’s scored 12 goals in all competitions already, including six in 10 Bundesliga games. A strong showing with the Pharoahs alongside Mohamed Salah could see him lined up by Premier League sides in the same way as Guirassy.
Lamine Camara (Senegal)
The player of the tournament at last year’s Under-20 AFCON – which Senegal won without conceding a single goal – 19-year-old Camara is a calm and composed box-to-box midfielder with excellent ball-carrying skills and the ability to get the ball forward quickly with his feet. He signed for French side Metz at the start of 2023 and helped them to earn promotion to Ligue 1, and went viral earlier this season for a stunning strike against Monaco, scored from inside his own half.
That’s the only goal he’s scored so far in France, so he shouldn’t be viewed as a consistent goal threat, but he is developing a reputation as a high-class set-piece taker as well, delivering wicked balls into the box with his right foot. His Wikipedia page describes his free kicks as being “akin to James Ward-Prowse” – high, if loosely sourced, praise. Camara hasn’t nailed down a starting role in the Senegal side yet, but started the firm warm-up game against Niger and could be a breakout star of the tournament if the reigning champions go on another deep run.
Edmond Tapsoba (Burkina Faso)
Fans of Tottenham Hotspur will always be well aware of central defender Tapsoba – the North London club entered negotiations to sign him from Bayer Leverkusen this summer but ended up pulling out over the price. For Leverkusen, he’s been worth every penny they didn’t get.
A ball-playing centre-back with a superb passing range, great control and the composure to take it past onrushing attackers, he also has the strength and positioning to mix it up with the most physical forwards in the Bundesliga. The 24-year-old was named in the team of the tournament back in 2021, and the Burkinabe will need another big performance from him if they’re going to make a deep run in the Ivory Coast.
Mohamed Amoura (Algeria)
A career which started with Algerian side ES Sétif before heading to Swizterland with Lugano has now exploded into life with Belgian side Union Saint-Gilloise, where the wide forward has already scored 13 goals in 15 league games since joining in the summer.
Incredibly quick and with the knack for finding space either through the middle or out wide, Amoura has been putting defenders on toast in the Pro League all season, and alongside compatriot Riyad Mahrez could well be just as effective at AFCON. A big tournament will put his name up in lights, but scouts are probably salivating already - especially those from Brighton & Hove Albion, given that their owner Tony Bloom also runs Union SG...
Lameck Banda (Zambia)
Sadly, if Banda’s name rings a bell, it’s most likely as one of the Lecce players who was racially abused by Lazio fans at the beginning of 2023, causing a part of the Stadio Olimpico to be closed by the FAI. Happily, however, he’s beginning to tell his own story in Serie A, one that’s about a quality player coming into his own at speed.
A hard-working left winger who shuttles up and down the flank all day with seemingly endless energy, he’s as good a dribbler as he is a tackler, and gets to the byline as often as cuts out a dangerous pass in front of his own full-back. The 22-year-old’s end product in the final third isn’t top-tier just yet – although his six goal contributions this season is very respectable – but his improvement over the past year or so has been evident already, and he could go a lot further yet.
Ismael Saibari (Morocco)
A twinkle-toed attacking midfielder who occupies either the number ten role or drifts out wide for PSV in the Netherlands, Saibari burst onto the Dutch football scene over the course of 2023 and has been rewarded with a place in Morocco’s squad. It isn’t clear whether he’s earned a starting spot yet, but if his performances at club level are anything to go by he could have a breakout tournament in the Ivory Coast.
A superb dribbler with an eye for a cute pass and the knack for wriggling his way into half-spaces around the opposition box, Saibari is tricksy, borderline unmarkable and a huge amount of fun to watch – and if he can sharpen up his finishing slightly, he could become a genuine superstar in the not too distant future. The Barcelona-born 22-year-old seems destined for cult hero status.
Geny Catamo (Mozambique)
Before the summer, most observers of Portuguese football thought Geny was on his way out at Sporting – the winger hadn’t made much of a dent since arriving in 2021 and a couple of loan spells elsewhere in the Primeira Liga didn’t raise the roof. Instead, the 22-year-old has exploded, playing 21 games for the league leaders and inking a new contract with a hefty €60m (£51.5m) release clause.
And if he can inspire Mozambique into the knock-out rounds, he might find a few people who are willing to pay it. He’s exceptionally dangerous down the right flank, always finding room to get free and passing the ball with intent or dribbling it dangerously. He isn’t usually the man scoring them himself, but he’s an excellent provider and a seriously tough man to defend against.