Best African Performers so far: England
Posted: 4 October 2014 Time: 10:59
As ever, the English leagues are filled with talented and influential African performers.
The current season may still be in a nascent form, with only six matches played, but already the English divisions are taking shape.
Several key African performers – not necessarily those you would expect – have already shone and look set for strong campaigns.
In this feature we focus on England and identify the key African performers in the Premier League.
Few would have expected, half a dozen fixtures into the new campaign, that Victor Moses would be Africa’s standout player.
But football presents a narrative of such twists and turns that the Nigerian winger, who endured such an anonymous season at Liverpool last term, looks like a player reborn at Stoke City.
Over the last 18 months or so, Moses’s career has nosedived. The forward was one of Nigeria’s heroes during the triumphant 2013 Cup of Nations campaign, and at the time was making positive strides in his Chelsea career, not least in the Europa League and the League Cup.
Upon Jose Mourinho’s arrival at Stamford Bridge, however, it soon became clear that Moses was unwanted and the forward was dispatched to Liverpool.
Initially, it appeared to be a perfect marriage – it was suspected that Moses’ versatility and explosive pace would work well with the Reds’ myriad offensive talents.
Ultimately, the Nigerian was found to be off the pace and watched on as youngster Raheem Sterling grew into one of the division’s stars. Scrapping around with Iago Aspas for the occasional few minutes of playing time was not what Nigerian fans had hoped for from their one-time hero.
This summer it was no surprise that Mourinho had no place for Moses, and the West African found himself cast out to modest Stoke City. Such is his decline that some Nigerians expressed doubt that he would earn playing time at the Britannia Stadium, particularly considering the presence of players such as Bojan Krkic, Mame Biram Diouf, Marko Arnautovic and Peter Odemwingie.
How wrong they were!
Potters manager Mark Hughes has indicated that he sees Moses as a key man and considers the 23-year-old as something of a pet project.
In his four Premier League appearances to date, Moses has already begun to repay the manager’s faith; he has directly contributed two assists and has averaged 2.3 key passes-per-game, putting him in the top 15 in the division [via WhoScored.com].
The left-sided wideman also managed an assist on his debut, a 3-0 League Cup victory over Portsmouth.
Last month, it looked like Moses had reached his nadir, having been left out of Stephen Keshi’s Nigeria squad for the AFCON qualification double against the Republic of Congo and South Africa.
Now, having been recalled for the upcoming bouts with Sudan, Moses could be in line to complete an unlikely redemption.
Few have ever doubted the midfielder’s ability – he brings power, energy and competent technical poise to the middle of the park – yet it’s hard to deny that his performances have dropped.
Once upon a time he scored against Chelsea as the Hammers beat the Pensioners and was linked with the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool. It’s telling, therefore, both that Sam Allardyce was willing to offload him this summer and that his eventual destination was Hull City.
Since moving to the KC Stadium, however, he has almost immediately rediscovered the form that once made him so sought after. He scored on his debut, against his former club, and followed that up with another goal, away at Newcastle.
Ultimately, however, despite playing a little further forward than usual in the Tigers’ midfield, it won’t be goals that define Diame’s success in Humberside. He will be called upon to aid Jake Livermore in providing the bite and the dynamism to allow deep-lying playmaker Tom Huddlestone the space and time to flourish.
The man who replaced Diame at the Boleyn Ground, Cheikhou Kouyate, also deserves credit for the speed with which he has adapted to life in the Premier League, at least before he was sidelined with injury.
Despite departure and injury, there does remain one Senegalese international in the Iron’s starting XI, that being striker Diafra Sakho.
He scored against Sheffield United in the League Cup in his first start for the club, forced Curtis Davies into scoring an own goal in his second and found the net against Liverpool with a marvellous chip on his first league start at Upton Park.
This was followed by another goal, a header, in defeat against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
The Hammers were accused of lacking invention and flair in attack last season, but with Sakho, as well as other new recruits Enner Valencia and Mauro Zarate on song, there is little fear of a repeat this term.
Finally, I wish to acknowledge the performances of Saido Berahino.
A year ago, the young striker was on the verge of breaking into the West Bromwich Albion side. He was highly-rated and an England youth international, but the club were looking at Nicolas Anelka to lead the line with a teenager in a supporting role.
A year on and Berahino is leading the Baggies’ fight against relegation, despite still only being 21.
Last season, in 11 starts and 21 substitute appearances in the league, he managed five goals. This term, after only six starts, he has already found the net on two occasions.
He scored twice against Sunderland on the opening day, ensuring a point for the Throstles, before finding the net twice against Burnley in an Albion win last weekend.
Admittedly, there have been games when Berahino has struggled to get involved, but with Ideye Brown yet to find his feet in England, the Burundi-born forward is the Black Country club’s best hope of survival.
Ed is the founder of the African Football Weekly podcast: http://soundcloud.com/africanfootballweekly