TORCHBEARER: MANE AFRICA’S GREAT, BIG HOPE

The Dark Continent may finally have found a true, long-term successor to its all-time Premier League greats

By: Sammie Frimpong

Africans have always had huge roles in the English Premier League’s 24-year history, ever since Peter Ndlovu became, in 1992 for Coventry City, the continent’s maiden representative in the competition’s history. And while there have been scores involved in the decades that have followed, there has/have always been one or two key figures leading the African charge in the Premier League.

Anthony Yeboah and his wonder-goals for Leeds United captivated in the early years, before Nigerians Nwankwo Kanu and Austin Okocha picked the baton around the turn of the century and handed it over to latter-day heroes like Didier Drogba, Michael Essien and Yaya Toure.

Ensuing seasons have seen stand-out names emerge, but none doing so with much consistency. Riyad Mahrez — if you could overlook Jamie Vardy’s fabled goalscoring contributions for a moment — was perhaps the biggest star as Leicester City scripted the most unlikely of title-winning tales last season, but he may be fantasizing over a future away from Claudio Ranieri’s fiefdom already, according to reports, possibly looking beyond life in England. Should Mahrez even stay at the King Power Stadium and keep his form up, it’s unlikely lightning would strike twice for the Foxes.

Toure, mentioned earlier, also played his part in remarkable Premier League triumphs, inspiring Manchester City to a couple in the not-too-distant past, but the Ivorian midfielder’s standards have since dropped to a point that new boss Pep Guardiola might not hesitate gifting him to the Chinese sharks lurking on the horizon.

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Much of the remainder are either too good at ‘small’ clubs (think Diafra Sakho) or too small at big clubs (Mikel Obi, Baba Rahman andWilfried Bony) — or [relatively] fresh faces altogether (Eric Bailly, Andre Ayew and Kelechi Iheanacho).

All that could be set to change, though, with Liverpool’s £34m acquisition of highly-rated Senegalese winger Sadio Mane this summer. The 24-year-old spent two successful seasons in the English top-flight with Southampton after moving in from Austria, even seizing for himself a fat slice of Premier League history in a blitz against Aston Villa during his very first term which yielded the division’s fastest-ever hat-trick. Still, his brilliance seemed muted in the colours of a team that, though certainly punching above its weight in recent seasons, isn’t quite strong enough to make the sort of impact Mane’s ability merits. He needed to join a club traditionally more powerful than the Saints — one he’s found in [arguably] the land’s most successful.

At Anfield, Mane finds a manager skilled in chalking success even against the odds, a team hungering for heroes, and supporters ready to idolize the biggest of those heroes. Should Mane’s talent shine through — and there’s little reason why it shouldn’t — while other factors his feet can’t control go his way as well, he could spearhead the latest wave of top African performers lighting up the world’s greatest league.

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