At a time when Mohamed Salah is lighting up the football world, it is fair to say that the influence of African football on the Premier League has never been higher.
Should he continue his meteoric rise, he won’t be the first African player to leave a significant imprint on the biggest league of them all, nor will he be the last. The likes of Tony Yeboah, Didier Drogba and the Toure brothers have all blessed the Premier League with their talents, but were regarded as exceptions to the rule.Embed from Getty Images
Just two years ago, Riyad Mahrez was voted the PFA Player of the Year – the first African player to do so – as he starred in Leicester City’s fairy-tale season. With Salah the bookies’ favourite to pip Kevin de Bruyne to this year’s award, we could be seeing 2 African winners in 3 years. The progression of African football has been as swift as it has been surprising.
Salah and Mahrez are not anomalies though, like the aforementioned players were. They are part of a large group of top-drawer African players who are currently amongst the very best in the Premier League. Of the 5 players nominated for the BBC African Footballer of the Year 2017 award, 4 of them currently play in England’s top flight in Mo Salah, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sadio Mane and Victor Moses, with the other, Naby Keita, soon to make it 5 out of 5 when he joins Liverpool this summer. When you add players like Riyad Mahrez, Eric Bailly, Wilfried Zaha, Victor Wanyama and Idrissa Gana Gueye to that list, it is clear to see that there is a stockpile of African footballers plying their trade at the highest level.
The growth of the African influence seems to be sustainable too. With more Africans than ever before featuring in the Premier League this season, the number of players is set to rise, with more stars breaking through across Europe. Furthermore, the Confederation of African Football announced last year that the timing of the biennial African Cup of Nations would change from January/February to the summer, removing any possibility of the emergence of club vs country rows.Embed from Getty Images
Previously, the tournament prevented African footballers from playing for their clubs during what is always a crucial part of the season. With this no longer being an issue, expect Premier League clubs to look to tap into the bottomless talent pool that African football possesses.
The impact of South Americans on the Premier League has been hailed for a long time now, adding flair and quality to the division. African football can have the same effect. The sport is huge in Africa, and what is very intriguing is that stars are coming from all over the continent. Whilst the South American influence is dominated by Brazil and Argentina, the 5 players nominated for the BBC African Footballer of the Year all hail from different countries.
The best South American footballers to have played in England are known for their flair and attacking elegance. But Africa’s influence could even outstrip that of South America, due to the vast array of different styles of player the continent is producing. Whether it’s the power of Wanyama, the dynamism of Keita, the pace of Mane or that South American-like flair of Salah, Africa is producing an abundance of talent all over the pitch.Embed from Getty Images
Maybe now, with the AFCON no longer being a stumbling block for top European clubs, more African players will get the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Salah, Mahrez and Aubameyang. If that does come to fruition, African football’s recent rise to prominence is not the pinnacle for the continent, but perhaps the prelude to a period of supremacy for African football in the Premier League.
Written by Dan Walker.
21. Spanish and Economics student at University of Leeds. Jurgen Klopp worshipping Liverpool fan passionate about all things sport. Part of the 90MAAT analysis sub-team.