As the 2021-22 season launches across Europe, ESPN profiles the top 10 African stars to watch across the continent’s biggest leagues this campaign.
1. Achraf Hakimi, French Ligue 1
The arrival of Lionel Messi has put Paris Saint-Germain firmly in the global spotlight like never before, and the former Barcelona superstar headlines a swathe of superb additions for the Ligue 1 giants.
Still only 22, new boy Hakimi already has experience in four of Europe’s major leagues, and he’s already won the Champions League — with Real Madrid — and the Serie A title with Internazionale last season.
He scored a stunner on his PSG debut against Troyes at the weekend, and could establish himself as the world’s finest right-back this term following his £51.3 million arrival from Inter.
Some may argue he’s there already.
2. Samuel Chukwueze, Spanish LaLiga
This has the feeling of a ‘crossroads’ season for Chukwueze, as continues working under Unai Emery at Villarreal, and has the prospect of Champions League football to look forward to.
No one can doubt his pace, confidence or movement, while he’s certainly a threat when cutting in on his left foot from the right flank.
However, a return of seven goals and four assists across the last two LaLiga seasons isn’t good enough for a player who — at 22 — should be taking his game to new heights.
He missed the Europa League and Super Cup finals with injury, but once he’s recovered from that hamstring problem, Chukwueze must set about proving he can be a difference-maker on a consistent basis.
3. Silas Katompa Mvumpa, German Bundesliga
The 2020-21 was a rollercoaster season for the player previously known as Silas Wamangituka.
He burst onto the scene in the Bundesliga, netting 11 goals in 25 outings, but his campaign was then cut short by an anterior cruciate ligament injury, before his public acknowledgement that he’d been playing under an assumed identity and with a false date of birth.
New season, new name, new date of birth — but once Silas, now 22, returns from his suspension and his injury, expect some of the old magic to return.
4. Mbwana Samatta, Turkish Super Lig
There were great expectations when Samatta joined Aston Villa in January 2020, becoming the first Tanzanian to play in the Premier League, scoring on his debut, and also netting in the EFL Cup final defeat by Manchester City.
That was as good as it got, as Samatta struggled to adapt to life in England’s top flight, dropped out of the side as rookie Keinan Davis was preferred, and was loaned to Fenerbahce after only six months as Dean Smith signed Ollie Watkins.
Now signed permanently by Fener, the 28-year-old has the opportunity to enjoy his peak years at a genuine giant.
He’s struck up an encouraging relationship with ex-Arsenal playmaker Mesut Ozil, and should build on his five goals last term.
5. Kelvin John, Belgian Jupiler League
Sticking with a Tanzanian theme, Belgian heavyweights KRC Genk — Samatta’s former employers — have looked back to the East Africa this transfer window to recruit one of Africa’s brightest wonderkids.
The 18-year-old John was unexpectedly included in Emmanuel Amuneke’s 39-man provisional squad for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations — when aged only 15 — and made his Taifa Stars debut later that year.
Nicknamed ‘Mbappe’ due to similarities in the two players’ styles, he was included in The Guardian’s Next Generation 2020 list, and has the potential to be the next breakout star in Belgian football.
6. Victor Osimhen, Italian Serie A
It was a mixed debut season in Serie A for Osimhen, who just about won over Napoli fans despite not quite meeting the immense expectations that accompanied his signing from LOSC Lille, made worse by Nigeria Football Federation chief Amaju Pinnick suggesting he could ‘surpass Maradona’ in Naples.
His 10 goals were a decent return, but it’s imperative Osimhen kicks on from here — even without former mentor Gennaro Gattuso, who was sacked in May.
New Napoli coach Luciano Spalletti has a track record for getting the best out of strikers — Edin Dzeko, Mauro Icardi, Francesco Totti — while Osimhen’s preseason form certainly bodes well.
7. Al Musrati, Portuguese Primeira Liga
Jehad Muntasser’s brief cameo for Arsenal in 1997 remains a rare instance of a Libyan footballer has represented one of European football’s heavyweights, but that could all change if defensive midfielder Musrati secures a move from SC Braga to Benfica.
The former European champions instigated negotiations with Braga for the defensive midfielder earlier in the window, although an asking price of €20 million appears a stumbling block — for now.
The 25-year-old has cut his teeth in the Portuguese top flight since signing for Guimaraes from Al-Ittihad Tripoli in 2017, and his performance against Maritimo in Braga’s opening-day victory — five combined interceptions and tackles — shows why the big boys are interested.
8. Arnaut Danjuma, EFL Championship
It’s something of a surprise that Danjuma remains in the Championship with Bournemouth, having caught the eye in the Premier League in 2019-20 before excelling in the second tier last term.
He ended the year with 17 goals and seven assists — arguably the finest player not to secure promotion to the top flight — and prompted interest from Villarreal, who had a bid for his services rejected by the Cherries.
A move may yet materialise before the window closes, while Danjuma’s international future is also in the balance.
He hasn’t been capped by the Netherlands since 2017, can still switch nationality according to the new FIFA ruling, and hasn’t closed the door to representing Nigeria’s Super Eagles in the future.
9. Amine Gouiri, French Ligue 1
OGC Nice are going to be an exciting watch this season, with new owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s influence being seen on the Riviera, and a swathe of new arrivals joining Les Aiglons.
He has a reputation for developing talent, and will surely be delighted to work with Franco-Algerian wonderkid Gouiri, who netted 16 goals across Ligue 1 and the Europa League last term.
The youngster is an all-round attacking threat, and the €7 million Nice paid Olympique Lyonnais to sign him should prove to be a bargain.
10. Kevin-Prince Boateng, German Bundesliga
This one is going to be fun.
After a career that’s taken him to the likes of AC Milan, Barcelona, and Tottenham Hotspur, Boateng has now returned to the German capital in an emotional return he describes as a ‘dream come true’.
Some 14 years after leaving Hertha Berlin for Spurs, while still only 20, the midfielder returns to the city of his birth in one of the great romantic tales of the transfer window.
At 34, the Champions League-winner still has a lot to offer, and he’ll relish the challenge of dragging the perennial underachievers to new heights.
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