African soccer has gotten better and more competitive in recent years. They have been doing the right things to improve their level and right now a lot of players are making life in Europe, with some of them becoming figures on some of the biggest clubs in the old continent. It wasn't easy but African players have done the right things to be considered world-class stars.
Now more than ever, African players are dominating the world’s top soccer leagues. You see them starring and leading in the best teams in the world and even though there’s still plenty of work to do, they’re finally getting the praise they deserve.
But it hasn’t always been this way. African players have had to work twice or three times as hard to some other players to pave the way for those who came after them. That’s why we’re going to honor them by presenting to you the top 30 best African players of the century.
30. Kalidou Koulibaly
Kalidou Koulibaly has forged a reputation for being one of the toughest defenders to play against. He was a pivotal member of the Senegal team that won the 2022 African Cup of Nations and Chelsea forked out €38 million to get him from Napoli.
The center-back spent eight great seasons with the Serie A team before making the move to the Premier League. He is without any doubt one of the best defenders Africa has ever produced.
29. Victor Osimhen
Victor Osimhen's career proves how hard he had to work his way up to the spotlight. The striker couldn't thrive at Wolfsburg, but he revitalized his career in Belgium and hasn't taken the foot off the gas since then. Lille bagged an impressive €22m to get him in 2019, and only a year later Napoli made him their record signing for a €75m fee.
The Nigeria international lived up to his price tag, as he became a goal-scoring machine for the Italian club in their attempt to challenge for a long-awaited Scudetto title. Osimhen also won an U-17 World Cup and an U-23 African Cup with his country, who now enjoy him at the senior level. He's still young and once it's all said and done, we'll probably be talking about one of the most prolific players in African soccer history.
28. Steven Pienaar
Steven Pienaar couldn’t shy with South Africa’s national team but he had a long, steady, and successful career in Europe’s top leagues. His versatility as both a winger or attacking midfielder allowed him to thrive in Ajax, but his finest years came in Merseyside with Everton.
Pienaar had a great feel for the game and was an outstanding playmaker. He wasn’t much of a speedster but he should know how to be a disruptive player upfront. He played for Ajax Cape Town, Ajax, Borussia Dortmund, Everton, Tottenham, Sunderland, and Bidvest Wits before retiring in 2018.
27. Sofyan Amrabat
It's safe to say Sofyan Amrabat was relatively unknown even for many soccer fans before the 2022 World Cup. But after Morocco's impressive performance in Qatar, everyone was talking about the midfielder.
Amrabat struggled to make a name for himself at the club level, as he was sent on loan many times before he finally settled in at Fiorentina. However, he played a pivotal role in his nation's unprecedented run to the third-place game in Qatar so he earned a spot on this list.
26. Benni McCarthy
Benni McCarthy was a bit of a pioneer when it came to putting African players on the map. He stood up as Africa’s best player in 1998 and never took his foot off the gas, making a name for himself as a prolific goal-scorer.
McCarthy is also the only South African player to ever win the UEFA Champions League, becoming a steady contributor for his mythical Porto squad. He then went on to join Blackburn Rovers and West Ham United before retiring with the Orlando Pirates.
25. Ahmed Hassan
Most fans won’t know who Ahmed Hassan is, but actually, he’s the all-time leader in caps for any national team in Africa. Therefore, there was no way he didn't make this list.
Throughout his career, Hassan made 184 appearances for Egypt, scoring 33 goals for them. He spent most of his prime years in Turkey and Belgium and even played for Besiktas before joining Anderlecht. Also, he won four Cup of Nations with two AFCON ‘Player of the Tournament’ awards.
24. Riyad Mahrez
Riyad Mahrez broke out as one of the world’s most impactful players during Leicester City’s historical Premier League championship run in 2016. However, it feels like staying with the Foxes for much longer really hurt his development as one of Europe’s rising stars.
Still, Mahrez went on to join Manchester City for £60m, a record for an African player by then, proving just how incredibly talented he is in the offensive end. He’s a master at set-pieces and has a cannon for a leg, and he can play both near the sidelines or behind the striker. Besides, he became the African player with the most assists in Premier League history.
23. Mahamadou Diarra
Mahamadou Diarra was the kind of player that could literally die for his team. He never hesitated to put his body on the line and challenge the most skilled players in the world with a tough tackle and a lot of physical play.
That fierceness and a great feel for defense even took him to Real Madrid and won at least one trophy over a span of six years during his time in Europe. Also, he earned Mali’s captain band and made him one of the most feared midfielders in the world during his prime.
22. Vincent Enyeama
Vincent Enyeama was Nigeria’s most-capped player ever with 101 appearances for the Eagles, until Ahmed Musa surpassed him. However, Enyeama was arguably the greatest African goalkeeper of all time, leading his nation to a historic triumph in the African Cup of Nations in 2013.
Enyeama also made a name for himself in the World Cups of 2010 and 2014, paving the way for him to join Lille for 8 years. Also, he was an outstanding penalty kicker and scored 20 career goals.
21. Alex Song
Alex Song is considered by some as one of the biggest busts in FC Barcelona history but truth to be told, he should’ve never joined the Blaugrana, as their ‘Tiki-taka’ passing offense just didn’t favor his style. He was more of a stopper, a physical player that thrived off his defense, not with the ball on his feet.
Still, Song thrived during his six-year tenure with Arsenal, establishing himself as a steady part of Arsene Wenger’s starting XI. He won one La Liga with Barcelona and made it to two AFCON tournaments with Cameroon.
Bono took the spotlight in 2020, when he shone for Sevilla to help them win another UEFA Europa League title during the pandemic. But two years later he wrote an even greater story with his country.
Yassine Bounou was Morocco's hero in their trip to the third-place game at Qatar 2022, saving crucial penalties in the shootout against Spain as well as keeping a clean sheet vs. Portugal in the quarterfinals.
Early on his career, everybody thought Gervinho was going to become one of the best wingers in the world. He was incredibly fast, and his dribbling skills were just off the charts, but his infamous tenure with Arsenal was a major letdown.
He went on to dominate in Serie A with Roma and Parma and he always came through for Les Elephants when he represented Ivory Coast, helping take some pressure off of Didier Drogba’s shoulders.
18. Frederic Kanouté
Kanouté is the first player born outside of Africa to win the African Player of the Year award. He’s a prolific scorer that became Sevilla legend for his contributions to win a couple of UEFA Europa League titles, as well as two Copa del Rey.
Frederic scored 89 goals for the Spanish side over a 6-year tenure before joining Beijing Gouan. Also, he represented Mali at the international level and scored 23 goals in 39 appearances for them.
Geremi played a bit ahead of his time. I mean, most modern-day coaches would love to have him on their ranks right now as a versatile defender that could play both as a center-back or right in the center of the pitch.
He was classy and reliable and did all the dirty work without being dirty at all. That’s why he was a part of that legendary Cameroon squad that won the Olympic gold in 2000 and a couple of Africa Cup of Nations. He also played for Chelsea and won two Champions League titles with Real Madrid, although with a lesser role.
16. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will probably be remembered as one of Africa’s greatest scorers of all time once it’s all said and done. However, most people will always question him for joining Arsenal instead of Manchester United or Real Madrid when he finally decided to leave Borussia Dortmund. He eventually joined Barcelona, but not at the club's best days.
Aubameyang is a speedster that can play on both flanks of the pitch, as an offensive midfielder, or as the main striker. He can literally do it all in the offensive end and score at a high clip, but lack of international success with Gabon and his clubs will always hurt his resume. His downfall at Chelsea won't help him either.
15. John Obi Mikel
John Obi Mikel is the true definition of hard work and effort. He did have his fair share of criticism and mockery for a couple of shenanigans during his tenure with Chelsea, but he really took things up a notch whenever he wore the Nigerian jersey.
Mikel was a tough defender that could also take the ball upfront as a box-to-box midfielder when he was at his best. Regardless of his mistakes, he cemented himself as a steady part of Chelsea’s starting XI, winning 9 titles in 11 years with the Blues, including one UEFA Champions League.
14. Seydou Keita
Seydou Keita could’ve been one of the best midfielders in the world if he didn’t play for Barcelona. Don’t get me wrong, he always excelled for them and helped them win 14 titles, but their crowded midfield didn’t allow him to thrive and be a consistent starter on Pep Guardiola’s team.
Keita could play everywhere on the center of the pitch, from defensive midfielder to right outside of the box. He had a sweet touch and great court vision, as well as an underrated ability as a finisher.
13. Achraf Hakimi
Real Madrid overlooked Achraf Hakimi before he blossomed into one of the greatest right-backs on Earth. The Moroccan defender found the playing time he didn't have in Spain at Inter Milan, with whom he won a long-awaited Serie A title before joining PSG for €68m, a record-breaking deal for a right-back.
He is still young and has many years to continue cementing a legacy, but he has already made sure to be in Morocco's history forever by helping the nation reach a historic third-place in the 2022 World Cup.
Yakubu was an unstoppable force of nature, physically speaking. He could outrun a jaguar, wrestle a bull, and jump higher than a kangaroo. That’s why he thrived off demolishing opposing defenders with his speed, strength, and athleticism.
The Nigerian striker had an impressive career in the English Premier League, scoring 96 goals in just 9 seasons after breaking out with Maccabi Haifa in the 2002-03 UEFA Champions League.
11. Kolo Touré
Kolo Touré may not have been as elegant with the ball on his feet as his brother Yaya, but he was arguably equally as successful as him, spending his finest years with Arsenal, Manchester City, and Liverpool as both a center-back or full-back.
Sadly for him, he was never able to lead his Cote D’Ivore elephants to the success everybody was hoping for in the World Cups, but he did help them win the AFCON in 2015 with his tough, physical defense.
10. Sadio Mané
Some may argue that even though Mohamed Salah has always been the biggest star, Sadio Mané was actually Liverpool’s best player and they may be right. The main difference between both of them is that Mané had embraced his role in the Red’s offense and was a way more unselfish scorer than the Egyptian.
Mané is one of the fastest players in the world. He can also play everywhere upfront and hurt you with both feet or with his head. He was one of the main reasons why the Reds made it to back-to-back UCL finals, won one UCL and the English Premier League. He left for Bayern in 2022, and nothing has been the same for Liverpool.
However, Mané's legacy also goes beyond the field. He never forgot his roots, constantly helping those in need every year. Besides, he led Senegal to an epic African Cup of Nations triumph in 2022.
9. Didier Zokora
Ivory Coast has seen quite some talent on their ranks through the past couple of decades but while most of them have come and gone, Didier Zokora has always been there. As a matter of fact, he’s the team’s most-capped player with 123 appearances.
Zokora was one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe during his finest days. If he was covering man-to-man, you know even the most skilled players were going to be in for a rough day, as he could cover a lot of ground in no time with his athleticism and speed.
8. Jay-Jay Okocha
Young fans just don’t have a clue as to how incredibly skilled Jay-Jay Okocha was. I mean, if he were Brazilian, he would’ve played for Real Madrid, Barcelona, or Manchester United, I can tell you that for sure.
He was just so crafty and smooth with the ball on his feet that he was even named BBC African Footballer of the Year twice. Sadly, he didn’t enjoy much success when it comes to winning trophies, but watching him was just a huge treat to the eyes.
7. Emmanuel Adebayor
Emmanuel Adebayor refused to call it a day and hang the cleats for a long time until he finally retired in Togo. One can understand why he extended his career so much, though, since he had the body of a 20-year old and could match up with younger defenders.
Adebayor is one of the most prolific goal-scorers in African history. He scored 97 goals in the Premier League, including a 30-goal campaign with Arsenal. He also played for Metz, Monaco, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Tottenham, and Crystal Palace.
6. Nwankwo Kanu
Nwankwo Kanu wasn’t your average player. He was unpredictable to watch and quickly became one of Europe’s biggest entertainers, as well as one of Nigeria’s greatest players ever, leading them to the Olympic gold medal.
Kanu’s career took a major bump due to constant injuries but his talent was remarkable, as you could tell from his stint at Arsenal, where he scored 30 goals in 119 caps, mostly coming off the bench.
5. Yaya Touré
Pep Guardiola wasn’t exactly fond of Yaya Touré and considered him little more than another defensive midfielder during his stint at Barcelona. Needless to say, Yaya proved him and everybody else wrong when he joined Manchester City and became one of the top 10 midfielders in the world.
Touré was the ultimate box-to-box player during his early years with the Citizens, even scoring 20 goals in 2014. Also, he led Ivory Coast to the 2015 AFCON trophy. Sadly for him, he was pretty much forced to leave City when they appointed Guardiola as their manager.
4. Mohamed Salah
Nobody, not even Jürgen Klopp, ever thought that Mo Salah was going to break out as the generational scorer he turned into. He was always incredibly talented and a force worth being reckoned up front thanks to his speed and dribbling skills, but he made an elite Liverpool team virtually unbeatable.
He surpassed Didier Drogba as the African player with the most Premier League goals, just if you were wondering how impactful was his move to Anfield. He’s unstoppable and can finish with both feet, play at every spot up front, and has quickly become one of the best players on earth. They owe their much-awaited Premier League title claimed in 2020 in great part to him.
3. Michael Essien
Essien broke out with Lille before becoming one of the main faces of the Roman Abramovich era in Chelsea, where he became the master of the midfield side by side with Frank Lampard and won 9 titles.
Michael Essien was something you didn’t find quite often: a physical, strong, defender that could also take the ball upfront with a nice touch and court vision. His combination of skills, brains, and strength made him an elite midfielder for years, although he was never able to lead his Ghanian national team to success. He won one African Player of the Year award, though.
2. Didier Drogba
Didier Drogba is a legend on and off the field. Besides being arguably the most talented African striker ever, he urged his Ivorian compatriots to cease fire on the civil war that had doomed the nation for 5 years, right after leading them to the 2006 World Cup. Sadly, he could never lead them to a trophy.
Drogba was theall-time African leading scorer both in Premier and Champions League history before Salah overtook him and scored 275 career goals, including 65 for his national team.
1. Samuel Eto’o
And even though Samuel Eto’o may not have as many records as Drogba, he’s still Africa’s best player of the century after playing a starring role in 3 UEFA Champions League titles with Barcelona and Internazionale. Also, he’s AFCON’s all-time leading scorer and Cameroon’s all-time top striker as well.
Eto’o is also a four-time African Player of the Year, won two Africa Cup of Nations, one Olympic Gold, and made it to three World Cups. If that wasn’t enough, he scored 293 club goals in 587 appearances playing for European giants like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Inter, and Chelsea.
Eto'o was a very big deal wherever he went during his career. He really left a mark in Europe and the world with his style of playing and personality. You can ask anybody in Europe and they will tell you that this guy was the best players of his continent after the African GOAT George Weah.