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Is African Football Talent on the rise in the Premier League?

William Pearson

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The latest Premier League season is well past its stage of infancy as we approach the end of October and as anticipated, the household names of Sergio Aguero, Alexis Sanchez and the rest are dominating the headlines. Yet this year these are not alone, as an African influence is making its mark on England and threatening this dominance through a cast including the likes of Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez, Southampton’s Sadio Mane and Crystal Palace’s Yannick Bolasie These three are only a handful of African footballers creeping into the limelight of the Premier League as the continent seems to be producing revelation after revelation.

This all comes in light of the recent shortlist for the African Player of the Year award, for which Yaya Toure is in the frame for a fifth successive year. Of the 37 players nominated for the Confederation of African Football’s main award, almost a third of these (eleven) are playing their football in the Premier League, highlighting just how much African football has impacted upon the top league in the past few years. Obviously there is no surprise that a name as big as Yaya Toure is on the list, but for other players like Rudy Gestede (Aston Villa), Victor Wanyama (Southampton), Christian Atsu (Bournemouth) and Dieumerci Mbokani (Norwich) to be nominated too, proves just how vital their contributions have become to their respective clubs in the last twelve months.

If more evidence was needed for the recent resurrection of African talent, the top 20 Premier League goal-scorers so far contains three times as many African footballers than South Americans; Odion Ighalo, Mahrez, Andre Ayew, Mame Biram Diouf, Rudy Gestede and Cheikhou Kouyate compared to just Aguero and Sanchez.

The immovable presence of Yaya Toure aside, perhaps the stand out African footballer so far this season is Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez, who has come out of nowhere to set the Premier League alight. After two years of being under the radar under the management of Nigel Pearson, the Algerian midfielder has almost single-handedly catapulted the Foxes into the heady heights of the top four. In true footballing cliché fashion, the statistics don’t lie, with Mahrez contributing five goals, three assists and a whole lot of attacking impetus to Leicester’s season so far.

Alongside Mahrez, the Senegalese flyer that is Sadio Mane has carried on his fine form from the end of last year to keep Southampton sniffing around the European spots. We all know what he can do after his three-minute hat trick against Aston Villa back in May, but Mane has shown he has an element of consistency about him this year which he had previously been lacking. His match-winning performance against Chelsea earlier this month was full of pace and power, exposing Chelsea’s defensive frailties to firstly score and then set up Graziano Pelle for another.

Made from a similar mould to Mane is Crystal Palace’s Yannick Bolasie, the pacey winger from DR Congo. Much like Mane, Bolasie showed what he can do last year with an eleven-minute hat trick against Sunderland to turn the game around, and much like Mane he brings a lot of physicality to the Premier League.

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As alluded to earlier, it is not just these three who are taking the league by storm though, as honourable mentions also need to go to Ighalo of Watford, Ayew of Swansea and Diouf of Stoke, who have all hit the ground running so far this season. Without Ighalo’s goals, Watford would be in a much worse position in the table than they are right now and it appears that if they are going to stay in the Premier League come the end of May then the Nigerian needs to keep up his goal scoring form of late. Swansea City and Stoke City’s season prospects are equally reliant on the performances of Ayew and Diouf if either team are to finish any higher than their usual mid-table mediocrity, with Swansea in particular looking to Ayew to replicate his form during the win against Manchester United.

It is important to note that this is not a piece suggesting that there has been little African talent in the Premier League previously. This would be a lie, as players such as Lucas Radebe, Tony Yeboah, Nwankwo Kanu and Didier Drogba (amongst others) have all left their legacy. Instead, its aim is more to recognise the abundance of talent coming from a part of the world that has not always been synonymous with Premier League stars. It speaks volumes about how far the continent has come when there are currently twelve African countries being represented in England’s top league.

Over the past decade, we have had the resurgence and dominance of South American footballers, but now maybe it is time for the likes of Aguero and co. to step aside and let the new footballing force of Africa take centre stage.

Featured Image: All rights reserved by Alex Hannam
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