Becoming the first African to claim English football’s most prestigious individual honour doesn’t necessarily make Riyad Mahrez better than these five
By: KickerGh Staff
It’s been a spectacular year Leicester City have had, with the Foxes living out a campaign no-one really mapped out for them. The undoubted star, as Claudio Ranieri’s team cruises to unprecedented success, has been Algerian Riyad Mahrez.
Scoring 17 times and laying on assists for 11 more Leicester goals, it’s little wonder Mahrez was recently crowned PFA Player of the Year. If there’s any surprise at all, it is that none of the Africans who’ve lighted up the Premier League in the past have grabbed the gong before Mahrez.
Below, KickerGH profiles five of the brilliant bunch who, at one point or the other, may have deserved it more than the currently unstoppable Leicester genius.
It’s hard to think of an African who’s thrilled the Premier League as thoroughly as Okocha did. Armed with a skill-set that seemed to get richer with each game, the Nigerian’s four years at Bolton Wanderers were memorable for all the right reasons, as he sent defences sprawling with sublime play that simultaneously awed spectators. So good was Okocha that, in only the second of his four years at Bolton Wanderers, he was named club captain, an honour few African footballers could ever dream of. And that’s why fans of the Trotters could chant about him from the terraces with gusto: “Jay-Jay – so good they named him twice!”
Stunning volleys from range, the famous finger-wagging celebration that England grew to love, a beaming, gleaming dark face sucking it all in — and that’s only part of the package Ghana legend Anthony Yeboah graced the early years of England’s revitalised championship with. Memories like those he delivered against Wimbledon and Liverpool in the 1995/96 campaign — highlighted by goals that topped months and the season itself — as well as two hat-tricks claim prominent places in the Premier League’s well-decorated album. In all, Yeboah notched 24 strikes in 44 league games for Leeds United before returning to the Bundesliga. His time in England, though brief, was hardly forgettable.
The Ivorian is one of the Premier League’s true greats and, despite never winning the PFA Player of the Year award, definitely made an overall bigger impact on the league than Mahrez has. Drogba picked the Premier League topscorer’s prize twice and is part of the division’s elite goalscoring centurion club with 104 strikes to his name. While at it, he also collected an impressive four winners’ medals. Little wonder that Mahrez, when notified of his becoming the first African to win the award, asked if Drogba never won it and seemed quite surprised by the response he received!
Long before Mahrez burst onto the English football scene, there was another African, a certain Michael Essien, who was taking the stage by storm. And, like many great players, he often toed the divide between spontaneous brilliance and sheer physicality, the former a rarely expressed trait immortalised every now and then in Premier League highlight reels of breathtaking howitzers. It certainly added to his legendary status and appeal throughout the eight stellar years his career in England — and in Chelsea’s blue — lasted.
The former Inter Milan midfielder was one of the first Africans to become hugely successful in the English Premier League, after joining capital club Arsenal in 1999. Kanu won two Premier League titles with the Gunners and scored the majority of his 30 goals in top-flight action, including that spectacular, late 15-minute hat-trick which downed Chelsea in his very first season.
An integral part of Arsenal’s historic ‘Invincibles’ squad, Kanu later had stints with West Bromwich Albion and Portsmouth and became a cult hero at both clubs with his invention and glorious footwork despite serious health problems that had earlier imperiled his career.