With the seasons complete in Spain and England, and all but wrapped up in Italy, we look back at the best African players who have stolen the limelight across the three leagues through this challenging but historic season.
Mohamed Salah & Sadio Mane
As the top scorers and main attacking spearheads for Liverpool – who absolutely dominated the season and claimed the league title for the first time in 30 years – there can be no doubt that Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane deserve to be recognised as two of the top-performing African players. Their importance, alongside fellow forward Roberto Firmino, is underlined by this quote from Reds legend Robbie Fowler: “I’m sure Sadio, I’m sure Mo and even [Roberto] Firmino will get linked with other clubs as well so I think it’s a case of making sure we keep what we’ve got as well, that’s probably more important [than any other transfer business].”
Manchester City may have fallen off the high standards they set in winning back-to-back titles in 2017-18 and 2018-19, but Algerian star Riyad Mahrez enjoyed his best campaign since inspiring Leicester City to glory in 2015-16. The 29-year-old returned 11 goals and 12 assists for the Citizens through the campaign and will be a key man for manager Pep Guardiola as the club chases a first UEFA Champions League trophy in August.
Will he stay or will he go? Gabonese striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has made as many headlines in regards to his future at Arsenal as he has for his relentless goal-scoring brilliance. In truth, the 31-year-old is too good a player to be away from the UEFA Champions League for another season, but in a pandemic-affected world, even major clubs may struggle to finance a move for a player of Aubameyang’s class. Either way, the Gunners man enjoyed another goal-filled campaign and capped off the domestic season with FA Cup glory in early August.
The pandemic-enforced season break proved to be a blessing in disguise for Nigerian winger Samuel Chukwueze, who had struggled to replicate his brilliant form from 2018-19 for Villarreal. But when football returned in June, so did the old Chukwueze, with the Super Eagles star dazzling defenders with his skill, dribbling and pace. A move to a bigger club is due sooner rather than later for the 21-year-old, who has already been linked with the Premier League.
“I have followed all of them [African players in La Liga] and I would say that the one who took a higher and bigger dimension is Thomas Partey,” said Sevilla and Mali legend Frederic Kanoute. “He is all over the place in the middle of the park. He has impressed me in terms of his activity, the quality of his passes, recovery and winning so many balls. So, I would say Thomas Partey is number one.” The Ghanaian has established himself as arguably the most dynamic and powerful midfielder in La Liga, with the ‘steely’ elements of his game (which are very much in the image of Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone) distinguishing him from the competition – and adding to his appeal for admiring suitors.
The Togolese defender has somewhat flown under the radar in La Liga, but his importance to Getafe is underlined by the fact that he appeared in no less than 34 of their 38 matches through the season. The 28-year-old epitomises the solid, dedicated and professional approach which has allowed Getafe to punch well above their weight, and it is a testament to his play that he was chosen in renowned Spanish newspaper Marca’s La Liga team of the season.
The 2019-20 campaign has been a breakthrough period for Ivorian winger Jeremie Boga, who has been absolutely brilliant for Sassuolo in Serie A. The 23-year-old former Chelsea youth product netted 11 goals and provided four assists through the season, and teammate Filip Djuricic said the following of the West African star: “Honestly, I don’t know any dribblers that are better than him. I played with many people, but in beating his man, he’s the best I’ve ever seen.”
That Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola – the most stringent judge of a midfield player – is reportedly dead keen on signing Ismael Bennacer says everything for the Algerian midfielder’s class and ability. Though he has had his ups and downs for Milan this season, the 22-year-old has really found his feet since the restart and epitomises the growing confidence and resurgence of Stefano Pioli’s Milan.
Napoli fans seem likely to be bidding farewell to ‘The Wall’ Kalidou Koulibaly in the near future, with the Senegalese centre-back linked with a move to one of the Premier League giants (probably Liverpool or one of the Manchester clubs) – even though he has expressed no explicit desire to leave the Neapolitans. His power, presence, aerial dominance and reading of the play mark Koulibaly out as the top defender in Serie A and he will be desperately missed by Napoli and manager Gennaro Gattuso.