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. Hossam Hassan
Hossam Hassan struggled during his tenure in Switzerland and Greece, but he really lived up to his responsibilities with Egypt’s national team becoming their all-time leading scorer and playing 176 games (second-most) with 69 goals.
Hassan had a successful 24-year career and was the team’s main star during their appearance in the 1990 World Cup. Also, he won 3 AFCON tournaments with the Pharaohs, 13 Egyptian league titles, five Egyptian Cups, and one African Champions League. He’s one of the main reasons why his Al-Ahly was deemed African Club of the Century.
29. Sulley Muntari
Sulley Muntari didn’t play for the fans or the highlights but he was the kind of player every coach would crave for. He was an incredibly prolific stopper in the center of the pitch, and a die-hard hustler that was never going to give up on any loose ball.
Muntari helped Internazionale win the UEFA Champions League in 2010, as well as one Serie A, one Coppa Italia, and the Club World Cup. He would go on to join their city rivals AC Milan. He’s still playing in Europe, entering his 19th year as a pro with Albacete Balompie.
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.
We often talk about those legendary Gunners from the 2003-04 campaign but somehow, Lauren’s name isn’t always brought in the conversation. However, he was as reliable and consistent as you would’ve wanted at right-back during his stint at North London.
Lauren didn’t stand out from the rest of the pack for any given aspect of the game but he sure could do all the little things pretty well, especially when it came to defense. Besides winning a couple of Premier League titles, he also won two AFCON trophies with Cameroon, made it to two World Cups, and won one Olympic gold medal.
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. We’re not talking about Africa, we mean in the history of professional sports.
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 become Africa’s most expensive player of all time when Manchester City bought his contract for £60m, 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.
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 is Nigeria’s most-capped player ever with 101 appearances for the Eagles. He earned that right after being 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.
20. El Hadji Diouf
There was a time when people thought El Hadji Diouf had it all to become the best scorer in the world. Needless to say, that wasn’t the case, as some questionable career moves hurt his development but still, he was a huge menace during the early 2000s.
Playing both as a winger or striker, Diouf was a threat between defenders thanks to his power and ability to change pace and directions in the blink of an eye. He was a two-time African Player of the Year, but his struggles at Liverpool really hurt his career.
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 has all it takes to be 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.
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.
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. Wael Gomaa
Most fans of this side of the world may not know about Wael Gomaa, but he was one of the most dominant defenders of the past decade and the building block of Egypt and Al-Ahly’s greatest teams ever.
Gomaa was a fierce, strong, prolific defender that could’ve had a great career in Europe but like most of his compatriots, he decided to stay home throughout most of his career. Sadly for him, he was never able to make it to a World Cup, but he helped the Pharaohs win 3 AFCON trophies.
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 (third-most ever for an African player) in just 9 seasons after breaking out with Maccabi Haifa in the 2002-03 UEFA Champions League.
11. Kolo Touré
Kolo Touré may not be 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 is the biggest star, Sadio Mané is actually Liverpool’s best player and they may be right. The main difference between both of them is that Mané has embraced his role in the Red’s offense and is 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’s been on Real Madrid’s radar for some time now, so the Reds must be pretty cautious with him going forward, as he’s one of the main reasons why they made it to back-to-back UCL finals, won one UCL and the English Premier League.
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 refuses to call it a day and hang the cleats, as he recently joined Paraguayan side Olimpia at age 36. And why would he retire if he still has the body of a 20-year old and can 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 (2nd most all-time for an African player), 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, as he made the third-most substitute appearances in Premier League history.
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’s now turning 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.
Thus far, he’s scored 91 goals with 37 assists in 144 caps for the Reds, which are video-game kinds of numbers. 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 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 is the all-time African leading scorer in Premier League history (104), the all-time African leader in assists (54), and scored 275 career goals, including 65 for his national team. He’s also the all-time African leading scorer in UEFA Champions League history (44), the most-capped African player in UCL history (94 caps), and won 18 club titles.
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.