August is upon us, and in the world of football, that means one thing – the start of a new season of European action. Last week, the Premier League got underway, and the big names of Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham all got off to winning starts.
These, along with Arsenal and Chelsea, are the teams that have dominated the league since its inception back in 1992, and the stars that have played for them have become legends of the game. Among their number, you will see numerous players of African origin. Those who love to watch and bet on football will be focused on the likes of Mohamed Salah from Egypt as the season progresses. But here, we take a look across the years at three other African footballers who have etched their names into the Premier League history books.
Nigeria’s World Cup record is nothing to write home about. Having qualified six times, the team has advanced from the group stage on three occasions, but never made it beyond the round of 16. One such occasion was in 1998, when the team’s indifferent form was overshadowed by the awesome showpiece skills of their star player.
It was enough to earn Okocha a contract with Paris St Germain, and the £10 million price tag made him the most expensive African signing ever. Four years later, Nigeria finished bottom of their group, but Okocha again impressed and Bolton Wanderers secured his services for two seasons that were arguably the best in the club’s history.
No player has won the Premier League with three different clubs. But the man who has come closest to doing so is Ivorian legend Kolo Toure. He arrived on English shores as a callow 20 year old and played a key role in Arsenal’s invincibles season in 2003-04. He remained with the Gunners till 2009, before transferring to Manchester City, where he was part of the 2011-12 winning side.
In 2013, Toure was the first new signing that Liverpool announced in the transfer window. The season became famous for Luis Saurez and his emotional breakdown after the Crystal Palace game. But if anyone had the right to burst into tears, it was Toure who came so close to what would have been a unique achievement.
One man, however, stands head and shoulders above the rest, in the Premier League, in Africa, or in the world. Didier Drogba became a household name across the United Kingdom and is still recognised as one of the best players in league history.
In 2015 players such as Nemanja Vidic, Pablo Zabaleta and Carles Puyol said he was the toughest opponent to come up against. To this day, the pundits are typically torn between Drogba and Thierry Henri when asked to name the best Premier League player in history. But perhaps it was his manager at Chelsea, Jose Mourinho, who summed it up best. On signing the Ivorian in 2004, he told the press: “Do not judge him now. Judge him when he leaves the club.” The rest is history.