Some of Africa’s biggest stars ended the season with title silverware in some of Europe’s top leagues as the campaign came to a close, with Franck Kessie and Riyad Mahrez among those to get their hands on championships.
Elsewhere, Ignatius Ganago‘s 96th-minute equaliser for Lens sent Marseille to the UEFA Champions League at AS Monaco‘s expense while Romain Hamouma‘s effort for Saint-Etienne helped the fallen giants avoid relegation to Ligue 2… for now at least.
Ultimately, AC Milan’s 3-0 victory at Sassuolo was enough to take them to the title — regardless of Inter’s convincing triumph against Sampdoria — and Kessie, Ismael Bennacer, Fode Ballo-Toure and Pierre Kalulu became Africa’s latest winners of Italian football’s top prize.
Kessie also created two goalscoring opportunities and was at the heart of Milan’s dominance, signing off on his time with the club in a perfect swansong. This was his 223rd appearance with the Lombardy giants since arriving — initially on loan — from Atalanta in 2017, and silverware is fully deserved given his class at Milan.
The powerhouse appears Barcelona-bound, having reportedly agreed a deal with the Spanish giants earlier in the year, and he has demonstrated this season just what an asset he will be to Xavi Hernandez’s revolution. During 2021 he became the first Milan midfielder to score 14 league goals in a calendar year since Kaka 13 years before, and he should fancy his chances of making a bigger impact in Spain than the Brazil playmaker.
Some Milan supporters appeared to turn against Kessie earlier in the year, when it was confirmed that he wouldn’t be renewing his contract, with the midfielder being booed by a portion of the fanbase after he had initially indicated he was planning to extend his stay with the club. Nonetheless, when the disappointment at his imminent exit subsides, he will be remembered as one of the key figures as Stefano Pioli’s side returned to the pinnacle of the Italian game. He will be missed, but his place in history is secure as the first Ivorian winner of the Italian top flight.
“This is my first trophy and it’s very important,” he told Sky Sport. “After five years in Milan and eight in Italy, I’ve won and I’m very excited.”
Napoli ended the campaign with a 3-0 victory over Spezia, but the future of Kalidou Koulibaly is sure to be the subject of intense discussion again during the summer even though the club will be playing Champions League football next season.
The centre-back registered an assist as Luciano Spalletti’s side ended their campaign emphatically, and the coach insisted afterwards the defender would be going nowehere.
“In my view, Koulibaly is not for sale, just like last season when I threatened to chain myself to the gates if he was sold,” Spalletti after the match.
“We want to have another important season, so he cannot be sold. People say you can get a younger player, but you can’t buy a leader, who developed here over so many years, who lives and breathes the city and gives that passion back on the pitch.”
Salernitana had appeared buried earlier in the campaign, only for an unlikely run of seven games unbeaten from mid-April to lift them out of the dropzone.
The result created heartbreak for the Reds’ African stars — despite Mohamed Salah’s Golden Boot triumph — and City’s Riyad Mahrez now has won as many Premier League winner’s medals as Salah, Sadio Mane, Joel Matip and Naby Keita combined.
Victory was the 31-year-old’s fourth success in the competition, putting him joint level with Didier Drogba as the African player with the most title victories in England.
Mahrez has made a massive contribution to an outstanding season for City, producing 11 goals and five assists in the top flight. Only Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne scored more and had more goal involvements than Mahrez in the City squad, but the Algerian outscored both of them combined during the club’s run to the Champions League semis.
His performances this term may not quite match his inspired displays during Leicester City‘s run to their miraculous title triumph in 2016, but he has nonetheless reaffirmed his status among the world’s finest attacking players.
Despite his big contributions this term, Mahrez’s year could easily have turned into a campaign to forget had it not been for City’s turnaround on Sunday.
Not only did he endure a disastrous Africa Cup of Nations campaign with Algeria, as the reigning champions were dumped out in the first round, but he also missed a decent chance against Liverpool in April and a penalty against West Ham United in City’s penultimate match to leave Pep Guardiola’s side with work to do on the final day.
With Erling Haaland set to arrive, and City’s machine showing no sign of slowing, don’t be surprised if Mahrez next season becomes the first African player to win five Premier League titles.
Elsewhere on the final day in the top flight, Mane and Salah were both among the goals as Liverpool “did their bit” at home against Wolverhampton Wanderers to secure a 3-1 triumph.
Salah’s goal ensured he tied Son Heung-Min on 23 goals for the Golden Boot, eclipsing Drogba to become the first African player to have led the Premier League scorers on three occasions.
Wilfried Zaha scored the only goal of the game as Crystal Palace defeated his former club Manchester United 1-0 at Selhurst Park, while his Ivorian compatriot Maxwel Cornet scored Burnley‘s consolation goal as their battle against relegation ended in failure with a 2-1 home defeat by Newcastle United.
Finally to France, where Africa’s stars were at the heart of the action during a rollercoaster final day that saw Saint-Etienne evade direct relegation and Marseille secure Champions League qualification at AS Monaco’s expense.
European qualification was settled in the sixth minute of stoppage time on the final day as Ganago met Kevin Danso ‘s free kick with a left-footed effort from close range to break Monagesque hearts and send OM, who defeated Strasbourg 4-0, into the Champions League.
While the weekend’s results mean Champions League football for Marseille’s African stars Cedric Bakambu and Amine Harit — who registered an assist against Racing — there will be no European football for Franco-Senegalese midfielder Boubacar Kamara after he was unveiled by Aston Villa on Monday.
Andy Delort signed off with a hat-trick as defeated French Cup finalists Nice come from 2-0 down to defeat Stade de Reims 3-2 to finish fifth, while Sehrou Guirassy‘s equaliser at Lille secured a 2-2 draw for Rennes as they ended the campaign in fourth.
That draw, coupled with Metz’s 5-0 thumping by PSG, sends the Grenats down to the second tier, while Saint-Etienne can save themselves if they defeat Auxerre in the playoff.
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