Africa, a continent as diverse and colourful as they come, has provided football with some of its truly greatest players. From George Weah to Abedi Pelé, Didier Drogba to Samuel Eto’o and Michael Essien to Eusebio and Roger Milla, African players continue to overcome the obstacles put in front of them to play at the highest echelons of the game, both in Europe and the World. However, with a lack of resources and facilities at many clubs, and players with dreams of playing for Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United et al, it has become increasing difficult for clubs in Africa to hold onto their best talent. Clubs from nations such as France, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, Italy, Denmark, Norway and Sweden have vast scouting networks covering the continent, all hoping to uncover the next gem for low prices. With this trend increasing, it is rare to find top quality players still playing their club football at an African club. However, Africa does still boast some top-class playmakers yet to make the journey to Europe. Here are my 3 of the best…
Club: Espérance Sportive de Tunis
International Caps: 14 (3 goals)
Nickname(s): Darraginho, Picasso
Oussama Darragi may not be a name familiar to many football fans in Europe yet, but the Tunisian playmaker has all the attributes to succeed on a bigger stage. Although not as young as some players when they leave Africa, at only 24 Darragi still has plenty of time to make an impact, and his decision to stay in Tunisia until now is sure to have helped his overall game mature whilst playing competitive football in both the Tunisian Premier League and the African Champions League. ES Tunis won their sole continental crown in 1994, although they’ve reached the final on 3 separate occasions since then before falling at the last hurdle. Their most recent loss came only last year as they went down 6-1 over two legs to TP Mazembe of DR Congo. Espérance’s reluctance to sell Darragi has been so strong because they believe him to be vital in their quest for Africa’s top prize, yet the player, unlike in previous years, seems to have finally set his sights on bigger and better things.
SC Braga of Portugal look to be the team most interested in recruiting Darraginho, as fans of the Blood and Golds refer to him. It’s rumoured, however, that Benfica had a bid turned down last year so they may yet enter into the fray. Darragi’s name has also been mentioned alongside Real Betis, with many predicting a swap deal that would have Achille Emana move in the opposite direction.
Darragi’s ability is clear to see. Quick on the ball, capable of picking out the pass for his teammates and an adept finisher, he would fit nicely into many teams’ first eleven, though a move to a league such as Portugal’s could benefit him in his adaptation from African football to Europe’s own particular brand. Any move is likely to come at the very end of the transfer window, however, as ES Tunis try to keep their star man for as much of the current Champions League campaign as they can. They currently sit second in Group B after two games with 4 points after they defeated Africa’s most decorated team, Al-Ahly, 1-0 yesterday. Darragi netted for Tunis in their other match, a 1-1 away draw with MC Alger. Seeing as the competition doesn’t end until November though, if Espérance’s chairman gets his way Darragi might have to wait until the winter transfer window to make his big move – hopefully with an African Champions League Medal among his personal belongings.
Club: TP Mazembe
International Caps: 22 (7 goals)
Trésor Mputu has been one of Africa’s brightest prospects for a while now and, in theory, should have been making a move to Europe not too long ago. The problem, however, was that Mputu went and got himself a year-long ban for assaulting a referee during a match. Angry at an offside decision, Mputu goes to kick at the ref before pulling away. His behaviour earned him a (quite acceptable) red card, but this only worsened matters amongst an already irate TP Mazembe. One of Mputu’s teammates actually karate kicked the referee to the ground in the ensuing melee.
It’s a shame to see gifted footballers with uncontrollable tempers, but Mputu does have a habit of lashing out. During a match against Angola Mputu kicked an opponent between the legs from behind – again earning himself a red on that occasion.
Aside from his poor temperament (which may have cost him a European move) Mputu is most definitely a talented individual. 111 goals in 182 appearances for TP Mazembe speaks for itself, and it wasn’t for nothing that his teammates and coach were regretting his absence as they played the Club World Cup Final against Inter Milan. Mputu had been an instrumental part of their dominance of African football, with Mazembe winning their third Champions League in 2009 after a 41 year wait, and then successfully defending their title last year.
So used to seeing Mputu netting more than once during a game, fans even went as far as referring to him as MPut-two.
International Caps: 75 (25 goals)
Mohamed Aboutrika is no stranger to success, both domestically and internationally. With Al-Ahly he has won the domestic crown for the last six seasons, and has also lead the club to 3 Champions League wins in the last 6 years. Aboutrika finds himself an important part of the national side too, a player who seems to pop up and score vital goals at vital times. Unselfish on the ball, talented at dead-ball situations and with not-too-shabby pace for a player in his thirties, Aboutrika is at the heart of many of the Pharoahs’ best moves. Although one of Africa’s best playmakers, Aboutrika is unlikely to leave Egypt for the glamour of European football, especially when you consider his age. And why should he? A firm fan favourite at Al-Ahly, it would be a strange decision to up sticks now for a last big paycheck and Aboutrika, a devout Muslim and proud Egyptian, doesn’t seem like the type. His great wish is to represent Egypt at the World Cup and it would be a shame if a player of his talent never had the chance to do so.