African Team of the Season
Posted: 26 May 2014 Time: 12:05
So another fantastic season for African players across Europe is almost at an end.
At the conclusion of the club and continental football calendar, and ahead of the World Cup, we present the African Team of the Season.
How can any of the continent’s stoppers compare to Vincent Enyeama? The Nigerian has had a terrific year at Lille and has established himself as one of the Europe’s finest goalkeepers. His 1062 consecutive minutes without conceding a goal in the top-flight didn’t quite break Gaetan Huard’s long-standing French record, but it was evidence of a keeper playing at the absolute pinnacle of his game. He was consistently excellent this season – admittedly playing behind a solid defensive unit – and helped Les Dogues back into the Champions League.
The defender made a mid-season switch from Saint-Etienne to SS Napoli and has coped remarkably well with the transition from French to attacking football. He has delivered a string of fine performances for his new club and has established himself as one of Africa’s finest young defenders. He made his Algeria debut in March 2013, having missed out on playing time at the 2013 Cup of Nations, and looks set to be a feature in the Desert Foxes side for a decade to come. He could be an unexpected star of this summer’s World Cup.
Mehdi the Magnificent, Mehdi the Monster, Mehdi the Merciless … call him what you will, it’s hard to do complete justice to the Moroccan’s superb form with AS Roma this season. The North African has been an absolute rock for the capital club and the talents that have, for so long, gone unappreciated, were finally celebrated by a broader public. It’s no wonder that Manchester City are seeking to recruit the former Udinese man for a reported £40million this summer. Either way, Benatia is destined for the Champions League next term – it is where he belongs.
In whichever context you consider it, Aurier has been a revelation this season. He’s long been a promising prospect, but this season we have seen his reputation transformed. Many young defenders are criticised for having gallons of attacking menace but limited defensive abilities, others are solid and powerful, but lack the verve to threaten in the offensive stages. Aurier has the lot and it is no wonder that a club of Arsenal’s stature have been chasing his signature for much of the campaign. He is destined for great things.
Juventus’ poor European form was an unfortunate caveat to Asamoah’s season, but his second consecutive Scudetto earns ‘Kojo’ a place in my African selection for this season. The midfielder has consistently demonstrated his power, energy and footballing intelligence, even though his versatility have almost reduced him totally to a left-wingback role for the Old Lady. His stunning goal against rivals Fiorentina reminded the world of his sublime creative and offensive qualities as well. It may be that returning superstars such as Michael Essien, Prince and Andre Ayew push Asamoah out to a similar position this summer, but even from the flank, the Black Star has shown how he can influence contests.
Africa’s outstanding individual in terms of both form and ability, Toure would make a world team of the year, let alone a purely African selection. He scored a magnificent 20 goals in 25 games for Manchester City and managed to achieve a tangible result for his endeavour – City’s second Premier League title in three seasons. His agent’s unhappy outburst at the season’s conclusion may have cast a shadow over Toure’s miraculous form, but if the powerhouse midfielder can inspire the Cote d’Ivoire to the knockout rounds this summer, a terrific year will be complete.
Let’s be honest, Gervinho was a joke this time last season. He’s the guy who lost his nerve and looked like a terrified boy when the Cote d’Ivoire blew the 2012 Cup of Nations. Here was the guy who faded at Arsenal and seemingly became flimsier and more anonymous by the game in the Premier League. Few could throw criticisms such as these at him anymore. A switch to AS Roma and a reunion with former boss Rudi Garcia has given the Ivorian a new lease of life. Nine goals and ten assists this season tell their own story.
I always felt that Kalou never got the credit he deserved in the Premier League, where he proved himself to be a versatile player often capable of delivering a late goal or opening a tight contest with speed and movement in the dying stages of a fixture. At Lille, where he has been a bigger fish in a slightly smaller pond, Kalou has thrived under the added responsibility. He has found the net 16 times in Ligue 1 this season, winning the Man of the Match award on nine occasions, and has guided his club back to the Champions League. Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs have all been linked with a move to bring the Ivorian back to England.
Admittedly, his start to life at Swansea City was a little slow, although injuries and the club’s own internal struggles naturally affected his ability to adapt to a new beginning in Wales. Since 2014, however, things have really kicked off for Bony and the forward has come into his own amidst the hurly burly of the Premier League. The goals have come against Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Cardiff City, and the Ivorian’s performances have attracted the interest of some of the EPL’s bigger boys.
Like Ghoulam, Aubameyang has left Saint Etienne, moved to bigger things, and adapted well to life on a higher stage. The plan may well have been for Aubameyang to have replaced Robert Lewandowski earlier in the season, but in fact, the two have worked together to great effect. The Gabonese forward has scored 13 goals in 21 starts this season and has also tasted life in the Champions League. With Lewandowski set to depart this summer, Aubameyang will get his chance to lead the line for the Bavarians. He is well on his way to becoming Africa’s number one forward.
Doumbia’s dire international goal-scoring record for Cote d’Ivoire (two goals in 20 appearances) occasionally prevents him from getting the credit and the recognition he deserves. He is a fine forward, however, and will provide excellent competition for Bony and Lacina Traore in the post-Drogba era. Doumbia scored 50 goals in 64 league games for Young Boys in the Swiss top flight and has bagged another 18 for CSKA Moscow in the Russian Premier League this campaign. Averaging a goal a game is no mean feat, and it would be fantastic to see the striker either a) come good for the Elephants in Brazil this summer and/or b) receive the opportunity to grace one of Europe’s major five leagues next season.
Honourable mentions go to: Majeed Waris (Ghana/Spartak Moscow, on loan at Valenciennes), Boukary Drame (Senegal/Chievo), Ramon Azeez (Nigeria/Almeria), Emmanuel Emenike (Nigeria/Fenerbahce), Rudy Gestede (Benin/Blackburn Rovers), Curtis Davies (Sierra Leone/Hull City), Riyad Mahrez (Algeria/Leicester City), Asamoah Gyan (Ghana/Al Ain), Stephane Mbia (Cameroon/QPR, on loan at Sevilla), Vincent Aboubakar (Cameroon/Lorient), Joel Matip (Cameroon/Schalke), Ike Uche (Nigeria/Villarreal), Jeff Schlupp (Ghana/Leicester City), Efe Ambrose (Nigeria/Celtic)
A number of readers have sent me questions which I will endeavour to respond to in a Question and Answer feature with Kick Off next week. If you have any questions or issues you want to put to me, please write them in the comments section below and I will include them in the editorial.
By Ed Dove