EPL 2016/17: SPOTLIGHT BEAMS ON AFRICA

The continent has enjoyed a summer that grants it a more pronounced role in the Premier League than ever before

By: Sammie Frimpong

African footballers have always lighted up England’s top-flight. From the era of Anthony Yeboah to Didier Drogba’s, there has rarely ever been a season of the world’s greatest league which hasn’t been heavily influenced by a wave of high-profile stars from the Dark Continent, and the latest, set to kick off on August 13, will be no different.

Indeed, the English Premier League, 2016/17 edition, promises to be perhaps the most exciting and most keenly contested in the competition’s 24-year history.

The appointment of Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola — two of the modern game’s finest managers, no doubt — by Manchester outfits United and City respectively has swept fresh euphoria into the league, along with some of football’s very best playing talents. Elsewhere, Arsene Wenger is surely dreaming of ending his 20th and possibly final season at the helm of Arsenal on a high, Jurgen Klopp readies himself to take off his first full campaign at Liverpool in style with some shrewd signings, dethroned champions Chelsea are desperate to rebuild under Italian import Antonio Conte, while reigning kings Leicester City would be eager to prove their title-winning exploits last term wasn’t as shocking and fortuitous as it seemed.

In the midst of those main characters battling it out, though, is a significant degree of spotlight that would be zoomed on Africans who’d be representing clubs in the league.

While the likes of Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ilkay Gundogan and Leroy Sane have been celebrated as some of the summer’s grandest acquisitions, transfer activity in the ongoing window has featured African stars who have made some pretty big moves, too.

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Three Premier League clubs — Watford (Isaac Success), Leicester (Ahmed Musa) and West Ham (Andre Ayew) — have dished out sums for Africans they’ve never prior paid in recruiting a footballer. Between them, the trio have been priced at £49m, a fee which certainly comes with lots of expectation and faith. The biggest headlines (from an African perspective), however, have been made by 2015 Nations Cup winner Eric Bailly and Senegalese winger Sadio Mane respectively, on whom the African transfer record has been smashed twice — first by United (£30m) and Liverpool (£34m) a little later, as the biggest clubs in the land seek to reclaim lost glories.

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And then there are all the other names that are almost certain to make some impact for their clubs: Yaya Toure, Riyad Mahrez, Kelechi Iheanacho, Odion Ighalo, Wilfried Bony, Kolo Toure, Diafra Sakho, Yannick Bolasie, Victor Wanyama, Albert Adomah, Ahmed Elmohamady, Emilio Nsue, et al.

It really doesn’t matter into which specific push — for the title, for an European ticket, or for mere survival — the efforts of these guys would be channelled into. The combined effect of their roles would be resoundingly felt — perhaps as never before.

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