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African Footballers: Africa’s premier exports

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After weeks of uneventful friendlies and European competition qualifying fixtures featuring teams no one’s ever heard, the buzz and pulsating action of the English Premier League has returned. Once again a healthy contingent of African footballers will be exhibiting their skills in front of some of the world’s most passionate sports fan. TABJ looks at eight African exports likely to make their mark this season.

Asamoah Gyan—Sunderland

Asamoah Gyan’s heroics in last year’s FIFA World Cup fired him into the media spotlight and helped Ghana to the quarter finals of the tournament.
Sunderland boss Steve Bruce shelled out £13 million to French club Rennes for his services and the 25-year old has been busy trying to repay the gaffer’s faith ever since.

Bruce has had a busy summer and has signed the young Egyptian winger Ahmed Elmohamady, following a successful loan spell with the Wearside club last term.

In January, the Mackems also signed Beninese playmaker Stéphane Sessègnon as a player who Bruce says “can play on the left, on the right, through the middle—he’s lightning quick and he’s a match-winner”.

But it is the skill and experience of Gyan that the club is most likely to rely on this season as the big spenders look to improve on last year’s underwhelming tenth place finish.

Christopher Samba—Blackburn Rovers

The loyal and dependable Christopher Samba is facing a season of uncertainty at Blackburn Rovers following the clubs disappointing run in to the 2010-11 season.

Manager Steve Kean is under pressure to deliver from both the clubs’ impatient fans and its colourful Indian millionaire owners.

The Blackburn Rovers captain started his career in France, before moving to German capital Berlin to join Hertha BSC. After three relatively uneventful years, Samba was signed by former Rovers manager Mark Hughes for just short of £500,000.

The powerful defender represents Congo and has played 20 times for the Red Devils. Since joining Blackburn in 2007 Samba has become an automatic first-team pick and has made more than 140 appearances.

Alex Song—Arsenal

Arsenal defender Alex Song was one of the Gunners’ most consistent players last term and will no doubt be striving to help the North London club win its first trophy since they beat Manchester United in the 2005 FA Cup Final.

Song made his international debut for Cameroon in 2005 and signed for Arsenal from French club Bastia in 2006 following a successful loan spell with Arsène Wenger’s side.

Having lost their star player Cesc Fabregas to Spanish giants Barcelona this summer, and with French midfielder Samir Nasri on the verge of leaving
the club Arsenal, have found themselves craving stability as the 13-times English champions head into a potentially tough season.

Song is one of several African players Wenger is hoping to utilise as he aims to add strength to his young skilful side. Recent £10.5 million signing Gervinho, a Côte d’Ivoire international, and last season’s acquisition of Moroccan striker Marouane Chamakh could go some way towards meeting the expectations of the club’s frustrated fans.

Dickson Etuhu—Fulham

Plying his trade on the banks of the Thames in West London, Dickson Etuhu has proved himself to be a talented and versatile defensive midfielder during his lengthy spell in the English Premier League.

The former Nigerian international has spent his entire career within the English league system and following spells with Manchester City, Preston North End, Norwich and Sunderland, the 29-year old seems to have found his most consistent form at Craven Cottage.

Etuhu was part of the starting XI when former manager Roy Hodgson took the club to the final of the 2010 UEFA Europa League and after another relatively successful year under Mark Hughes last season, he looks likely to play a key role this term under the recently appointed Martin Jol. 

The Fulham midfielder was part of the Nigeria’s squad that failed to set the world alive at last year’s World Cup, but has since quit international football after falling out with Super Eagles boss Samson Siasia.

Benoît Assou-Ekotto—Tottenham Hotspurs

The brutally honest Benoît Assou-Ekotto once said in a U.K. newspaper interview that he left French Club RC Lens because he would earn more money in England.

Despite his unorthodox approach to interviews with the British press, the Cameroon international has won over fans of North London club Tottenham Hotspurs with a series of uncompromising yet stylish displays on the left side of Harry Redknapp’s defensive unit.

As part of the Spurs team that qualified for the Champions League two seasons ago, Assou-Ekotto will no doubt be a key figure in this season campaign as the club looks to restore its top-four status.

His international career has taken off in the past three years and the defender played every minute of Cameroon’s three games in the 2010 World Cup. 

Peter Odemwingie—West Bromwich Albion

After starting his professional career in Nigeria for Benin City’s Bendel Insurance Football Club, Peter Odemwingie has since played in Belgium, France and Russia, before being signed by former West Bromwich Albion boss Roberto Di Matteo for an undisclosed fee last summer.

The forward finished his first season in England as the Baggies’ top scorer with 15 goals and in recent weeks has been linked with moves to Premiership rivals Tottenham and Wigan.

Despite being born in Uzbek SSR, USSR and raised in Russia, Odemwingie was forced to deal with racist abuse from his own fans during his time with Lokomotiv Moscow.

Odemwingie, who opted to play for Nigeria, was also eligible for a call up by the Russian and Uzbek national teams.

Yaya Touré—Manchester City

Arguably the most impressive of Manchester City’s multi-million pound signings last season, Yaya Touré scored both the winning goal against city rivals Manchester United in the semi-final of the FA Cup, and the winning goal in the final against Stoke. In scoring the winning goal at Wembley, Touré brought Manchester City’s fans their first taste of silverware since 1976.

Touré joined Manchester City from Barcelona in July 2010, when he linked up with his elder brother and former Arsenal defender Kolo Touré. 

The pressure is on Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City to outperform last season’s successes, and with Champions League football on the cards Touré looks set to play pivotal role in what could be another history-making season for the blues half of Manchester.

Didier Drogba—Chelsea

He may be coming towards the end of his tenure as Chelsea’s first-choice striker following the £50 million arrival of Spaniard Fernando Torres midway through last season, but no list of Africans making their mark on England’s top league would be complete without Didier Drogba.

Known in his native Côte d’Ivoire for his humanitarian commitments, the country’s all-time highest goal scorer has even found himself in Time magazine’s 100 most influential people for his role in the country’s peace process.

His medal tally includes three Premier League titles, three FA Cups and two League Cups, and he also has captained Côte d’Ivoire at two World Cups (2006 and 2010).

At the grand age of 33 it would be wise not to expect the same fireworks as he’s provided in previous seasons, but if Torres continues to struggle in his quest to hit the back of the net, there can be no doubt that Drogba will continue to pile the pressure on the Spaniard, whenever he gets his chance. 

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