Comparisons are a vital part of sports. We can't set our eyes on a new talent without immediately pointing to who that player reminds us of, like the Leonardo Di Caprio meme from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I do it too, so I wish I had an answer for why we can't escape the jaws of a player-comp,...
Grading The Best African Soccer Player Ever
The debate for the best African player ever seems to have no clear answer. Some go for vibes over substance, others go strictly trophies, others go individual accomplishments, but all in all, the debate continues. I am not interested in any of that; I am here to tell you definitively who the best African soccer player ever is. Before I give you my number 1, here's my top 5.
5. Didier Drogba
While Drogba might be one of the most clutch players ever, that also leads to the inflation of his accomplishments. The reality is, as a striker, Didier Drogba was never consistently an elite goal scorer. For context, he played in nine premier league seasons and only topped 20 league goals twice. Meanwhile, the person that comes in next on this list is about to do it for the fourth time in five seasons. But back to what vaults him to fifth on this list above others, this man played in 10 finals for Chelsea and scored nine goals, a ridiculous return. Unfortunately, he could never repeat that form for his country, as he was the head of an Ivory Coast golden generation that almost never won a trophy. It was not until he retired from the National team that Ivory Coast finally won the Nation's Cup. That's not a great look.
4. Mo Salah
It could very well be that by the end of his career, Mo Salah is number one on this list. But until then, he comes in at 4th. Mo Salah, in his first Liverpool season, broke the premier league record for most goals in a season. Four years later, and he's still scoring at the same rate. So far, despite playing in 78 fewer premier league games than Didier Drogba, Salah already has nine more goals. Not to mention leading Liverpool to two Champions League finals, winning one, and their first premier league trophy in 30 years. So why isn't he higher on this list? For one, Egypt is the most decorated African team of all time with 5 Trophies, but much like Drogba, Salah hasn't been able to win one. And while he's had an incredible five-year run, the rest of this list was world-class for much longer.
3. Yaya Toure
Yaya Toure might be the most underrated player ever. He also might be the most high-level versatile player ever. Plenty of players can claim versatility by playing many different positions, but only Yaya Toure could do it all at a world-class level. For example, Yaya Toure was the starting center-back for Barcelona in their 2009, 2-0 Champions League Final win over Manchester United. Five years later, he finished as the Premier League's third top scorer with 20 goals on route to leading City to a league trophy. I challenge you to find me another player who can go from starting center back in a Champions League final to 20 goals in the league within five years. That's just the start of what makes Toure special. He also managed to win an African Nations Cup Trophy with Ivory Coast, even though many thought they couldn't do it after Drogba's retirement.
2. George Weah
You have to include George Weah by default. If you're American, you might know this man as Tim Weah's father, but if you're from anywhere else in the world, you know this man as one of the greatest players ever. The Liberian legend is the only African player to win the Ballon d'Or. If you want to know just how good this man was, go to YouTube and type in, "George Weah goal," and watch the goal that shows up for AC Milan versus Verona where he wins the ball from a corner and runs 100 yards, taking on three players before sliding it past the goalkeeper. Along with the Ballon d'Or, he made the World Team of the Year 4 times, was African Footballer of the Year three times, was Champions League Top Scorer once, and for bonus vibes, he's the current president of Liberia. So why doesn't he top the list? Internationally Liberia was awful during his time, and he goes down as the only Ballon d'Or winner whose team never qualified for a World Cup.
1. Samuel Eto'o
The only man who could possibly top this list is Samuel Eto'o. And I'm not even sure where to start explaining just how great this man was. We can start with him scoring 30 goals in 36 league games for Barcelona on route to winning the club's first-ever treble in a front three with Thierry Henry and Lionel Messi. But there were issues with Guardiola, and that same summer, Barca let him and 46 million go to Inter Milan for Zlatan. What happened next? Eto'o led Inter Milan to their first-ever treble, which included beating Guardiola and Barcelona in the Champions League Semi-Final. Wild. That's just one story, by the way. He won African Player of the Year four times (tied with Yaya Toure for most), finished third in World Player of the Year voting, and won two African Nation's Cups and an Olympic Gold Medal. With Samuel Eto'o, you have the most decorated African player ever, who also has the statistical accomplishments to back it up. He is the best African player ever.
Jay-Jay Okacha and Nwankwo Kanu. It hurt as a Nigerian not to have a Nigerian in the Top 5, but deservedly so. Jay-Jay Okacha is the definition of vibes over substance. His highlight videos are incredible, but Okacha never won much. Nwankwo Kanu, on the other hand, won a ton of trophies but did not have the statistical accomplishments to go along with it. For context, as a striker, Kanu played six seasons with Arsenal. In the 2018-19 PL season, Salah (32 goals) scored more than Nwaknwo Kanu did (30 goals) in his six years at Arsenal.
Riyad Mahrez. Mahrez lowkey has a case. He's won a Nations Cup and has played with some of the greatest teams in Europe, not to mention spearheading the shocking Leicester City premier league win. But much like Salah, Mahrez has only done it for about five years now.
Abedi Pele. He won three African Player of the Year trophies, but those all came in the early 90s. He also won a Champions League trophy and a Nations Cup for Ghana, but at the end of the day, a lot of his accomplishments came before the modern age of football.
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