This article profiles the 10 greatest African players in history.
In compiling into this list I have considered players from the last 100 years, both those who represented African nations in the international arena and those who didn’t, as well as those who played in Europe and those who didn’t.
Cutting down an original shortlist that ran to almost 200 players was not easy, but considering each player’s career by breaking down their individual honours, their international honours and their club honours have given me a “way in” and a clear system with which to evaluate decades of wonderful players.
The following players are almost all regular features on equivalent lists of the greatest African players of all time, but for the following reasons haven’t made my selection.
Larbi Ben Barek
A sublime talent who would deserve a place right at the pinnacle of this list, but the Black Pearl represented France and never his native Morocco. Considering him would have opened the door to players such as Marcel Desailly, Basile Boli, Claude Makelele and Patrick Vieira.
John Obi Mikel
He has received a lot of criticism throughout his career, but the honours he has racked up at Chelsea, as well as his talismanic, inspirational contribution to Nigeria’s recent Cup of Nations triumph put him firmly in the running.
Only a major achievement or two away from confirming his spot among the continent’s finest ever players.
El Hadji Diouf
The two-time African Footballer of the Year has never managed to build on his promise of the early 2000s. Too much time spent away from the elite level and his failings at Liverpool have resulted in a disappointing career.
He was a terrific goal-scorer and the first non-African born player to win the African Footballer of the Year award.
His great goalscoring record with Mali never translated to continental honours, and he never won a major league or the Champions League to match excellent scoring rates at Sevilla and West Ham. He had to settle for a haul of cup triumphs.
A great stopper who represented Morocco during a strong era for North African sides, he should make the top 20 based on aura, but tangible honours are scant.
He enjoyed outstanding seasons in La Liga for Mallorca, rather than one of the division’s truly top teams.
It pained my heart to leave this genuine icon out of the list. A one-time African Footballer of the Year and an elite player with PSV in Holland, arriving only after the club’s European Cup triumph of 1988.
His stunning solo destruction of Italy at the 1988 Olympics was the highlight of his Zambia career. It would surely have all been so different had the Chipolopolo not been devastated by the tragic plane crash of 1993.
Considered to be the greatest Algerian player of all time, his nation’s most-capped player and their cultural cornerstone during the 80s has a trophy cabinet—both at international and club level—that is remarkably sparse.
Scorer of glorious goals and a five-time Zambian footballer of the year, the temperamental forward won precious little with the Zambian national side or club sides Kitwe United and Kabwe Warriors.
Francois Omam-Biyik and Papa Bouba Diop
Responsible for iconic and almost identical World Cup goals, moments and victories, neither man ever won a great deal at club level. Omam-Biyik did win an African Cup of Nations title with Cameroon.
A step away from the genuinely elite end of club competition and persistent failings at a continental one with Ghana has affected Gyan’s incredibly promising career.