Next generation of African stars: Top young players to watch out for in Europe
Most European leagues are resuming this weekend or the following one for the 2017/2018 football calendar year, and as usual, there will be a number of African players to light up stage in the various leagues.
Players like Sadio Mane, Ryad Mahrez, Pierre Emerrick Aumbameyang and Andre Ayew are well-known the world over. However, across the top European leagues, a new generation of young players from Africa and the diaspora are creating landmark moments and maturing at a quicker rate than ever.
Moise Kean (Juventus, 17)
Not much is known about Kean, who is of Ivorian decent but have represented Italy at youth level so far.
Do you know that Kean is the first millennium born to play in the Serie A and Champions League?
Born in February 2000, Kean became the first player born in this century to appear in Serie A and the Champions League, when he came off the bench against Pescara and Sevilla last season. Juventus do not have a great record of bringing young players through but Kean could be different, a centre-forward who scored 24 in 25 games for their youth team last season.
Everything about the 17-year-old points to the fact that there is a great future ahead and it could all begin with the 2017/2018 season.
His agent is Mino Raiola, which definitely shows that the 17-year-old striker is destined for bigger things.
Naby Keita (RB Leipzig, 22)
Just a year and half ago Keita was relatively unheard of outside Austria when he left RB Salzburg – to sister club Leipzig in Germany in the summer of 2016 after a two-year stay. But before moving to Leipzig he had already been named Best Player in the Austrian top division.
The Guinean international is currently one of the hottest talents in world football. Europe’s biggest names have been interested for some time and it is not hard to see why. Liverpool have had a bid in the region of £60 million rejected by the German club this summer.
In June this year, Keita single handedly tore Ivory Coast apart at their own backyard in an African Cup of Nations qualifier
He has drawn comparison with Deco and N’Golo Kante, but he's seen as a more complete player than those two because of his long range distribution of the ball, sheer physical strength, passing accuracy; defence splitting passes and an eye for goal.
Keita and his Leipzig side ended their maiden Bundesliga campaign last season as runners up to Bayern Munich.
With RB Leipzig playing in the UEFA Champions League this time round, and also expected to make a real push for their domestic title, Keita will be crucial to their success and will be one of the continent’s players to watch out for this season - that is if Leipzig can fight off the interest from Europe’s giants.
In his first Bundesliga campaign last, he made a total of 29 appearances. The Guinea international started 17 of those games as a defensive midfielder, but also 12 games in a more advanced role. He finished the season with eight goals and seven assists and 41 chances created.
Mario Lamina (Juventus, 23)
A strong, hard-working, and dynamic right-footed midfielder, with good technique and solid distribution, Lemina is a box-to-box player who is usually deployed in the centre, due to his ability to initiate attacking plays after winning back possession.
Because of his tactical versatility, the 23-year-old Gabon player is capable of playing in several positions, and has been deployed as a winger, as a full-back, or as a wing-back, on the right flank. During his time with Marseille, he also played as centre-back in a three-man defence on occasion, during the 2014–15 season, under manager Marcelo Bielsa.
The weight of talent at Juventus’s disposal has delayed his progress at the Serie A champions, but the few times that he has had a run in the team, he’s never fail to impress. Probably a move away from the Italian champions on either loan basis or a permanent deal will afford the talented Gabonese international midfielder an opportunity to earn more game time and realise his dream.
At the time of going to press, reports in the UK had it that Premier League club Southampton were closing in on a deal for the versatile midfielder. Should the move materialise, it afford the young midfielder an opportunity to gain valuable game experience and reach his potential.
Raphael Dwamena (FC Zurich, 22)
It has been a long while a Ghanaian striker scored more than 20 goals in a football season. But 21-year-old Raphael Dwemena netted a total of 27 goals across two leagues last season
Before his move to FC Zuriech in the Swiss second tier in January this year, Dwemena found the net 18 times for Austria Lustenau. He also scored nine times for his current club FC Zurich, taking his last season’s tally to 27 goals.
Added to this, his goals also won the Swiss Challenge League for Zurich as well as promotion to the top division next season. He also scored a brace on his Black Stars debut in June against Ethiopia.
Fast, and nimble, Dwamena is currently one of the continent’s best goal scorers in Europe.
He has already hit the ground running in the Swiss Super League with two goals in the opening game of the new season.
What stands out is an ability to score many different types of goal, brilliant close control and a clearness in thinking. All of that suggests the hype might just be right and it is just a matter of time before the big clubs come circling.
Alex Iwobi (Asernal, 21)
Iwobi is a winger who is capable of gliding around the pitch. Ostensibly playing left-wing, nevertheless, he drifts into central zones to try and influence the game whenever the need arises.
The Nigerian international, who came through the Arsenal academy has often showed that he has all the qualities to become a world class player, but would have to improve on his finishing in front of goal.
His composure on the ball is admirable and he should be able to build on last season’s performance to enable him nail down a place in Arsene Wenger’s team.
Whether Arsenal buy additional wingers or not, a future in the Premier League seems certain and Iwobi is one of the exciting youngsters from Africa to look out for.
Malang Sarr (Nice, 18)
Nice’s rise to the top four of Ligue 1 caught many by surprise and the fact they did it with a then 17-year-old centre-back adds to the achievement.
It would be hard to find another young defender in Europe who performed with his consistency and he appears well on the way to mastering a position that is usually a reserve experience.
Sarr was born in Nice to a Senegalese father and joined the club aged five. He is therefore eligible to represent for either France or Senegal at senior level, though he has represented the former at youth level.
Sarr made his debut in august and scored in the same day against Rennes. Evidence of his flexibility on the pitch is the fact that he has looked equally comfortable when Nice have switched to a three-man defence; such a quality, along with his speed and strength, have not gone unnoticed by others. As usual, Arsenal and Chelsea are among those said to be interested – and a player who was barely known outside the city of Nice a year ago looks sure to become a much bigger name this season. Which is why he is one of the hottest talents from the continent to watch out for this season.
Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City, 20)
Tipped as one of the best young attackers in the world, Iheanacho first season with Manchester City’s senior squad in 2016 was very impressive. The 19 year-old has scored eight league goals, four FA Cup goals and three league Cup goals, taking his season tally to 14 goals from 35 appearances in all competitions in the 2015/2016 season under Manager Manuel Pellegrini.
However, the arrival of Pep Guardiola and the acquisition of new attackers limited the Nigeria striker’s play time last season.
Now with Leicester City after sealing 25 million Pounds move from Manchester City last week, the hope is that the 20-year-old could become Africa’s latest goal machine in Europe.
Franck Kessie (AC Milan, 20)
Kessie, 20 years old, was probably the most talked about African player coming into this summer transfer window, on the back of an impressive showing last season with Fioremtina in the Italian Serie A.
Before opting to join AC Milan, Kessie was linked with transfer to almost every top club in Europe.
The lanky Ivorian central midfielder however, joined Italian rivals AC Milan at the beginning of last May on a two-year loan deal with the obligation to buy.
Kessie who is known for his good technical abilities, will be expected to form a core pillar of AC Mila’s resurgence project, after the team was acquired by new owners from Asia last season.
Henry Onyekuru (Everton but loaned to Anderlecht, 20)
One of African’s breakout stars from last season was Nigeria’s Onyekuru who emerged as joint top goal scorers in the Belgian league for Eupen.
His performance last season had him linked with a move to Arsenal and a number of clubs across Europe, before finally deciding to join Everton FC, who has since loaned him back to Belgium with Anderlecht.
The 20-year-old striker who scored 22 goals last year cost Everton around £7 million, as the club sees him as one for the future. This season could be Onyekuru’s giving that Anderlecht is upgrade on Eupen.