The Premier League, which first kicked-off 30 years to this week, has been a wonderful gift to the world, deserving of the fanfare that has marked its latest milestone.
Africa, too, has been a gift – one that keeps on giving – to the Premier League, supplying hundreds of players that have set the championship alight.
From the lot, Ink & Kicks strings together the most formidable five-a-side team possible.
It took a while to get a top African goalkeeper into the Premier League – the era arrived a bit too late to find Zimbabwe’s Bruce Grobbelaar at his best – but the wait, for Edouard Mendy‘s 2020 arrival at Chelsea, has been absolutely worth it.
In two seasons, the Nations Cup winner has raised the bar for African/Black goalkeeping, not just in England, but throughout Europe. He has already reeled in quite the haul thus far in West London, and a first Premier League title seems only a matter of time, if the Blues can get their post-Roman Abramovich rebuild right.
Mendy may have been a late bloomer and is already 30, but goalkeepers do age like fine wine, and what is ahead for him could be much better than what has already been accomplished in so short a while playing elite-level football.
Not many African goalkeepers would ever make it to the Premier League anyway, so, you know, no pressure at all.
It’s almost embarrassing to find Kolo Toure’s name omitted from many a debate about the Premier League’s greatest-ever centre-backs, but the Leicester City coach has certainly earned the right to be mentioned in the same breath as the John Terrys and Nemanja Vidics.
Narrow the conversation to one strictly about African defenders to have played in England, and it’s utterly impossible not to place Kolo right at the very top.
One half of the centre-back pairing that shielded Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles from losing a single game in their triumphant 2003/04 campaign (Sol Campbell the other half), Kolo was an absolute rock in the Arsenal backline, before going on to help Manchester City win a first league title in 44 years.
He’d also spend time at Liverpool, albeit with less success, but the overall complexion of Kolo’s 14 years as a Premier League footballer – deemed good enough to play for three of the country’s most successful teams – is all shades of spectacular.
The younger Toure, Yaya, only played for City – his spell there coinciding with his brother’s – while in England, but the mark he left behind is no less noticeable.
There is a reason some have pined for a statue in his likeness to be erected outside the Etihad Stadium, alongside those of former teammates Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Sergio Aguero, as Yaya was just-as-pivotal a pillar upon which City’s latter-day successes have been built.
Relentless and elegant in his box-to-box midfield role, Yaya proved the connective tissue that linked City’s sturdy defence with its prolific attack in those early years spent trying to establish the Citizens as legitimate contenders.
It’s hard to imagine the club winning its first two titles of the Emirati-led reign – or, indeed, any of the next four that have added up to make City the second-most successful Premier League club – without Yaya’s sterling contributions.
Looking past the Michael Essiens and Augustine Okochas – brilliant midfielders in their own right – for this one was tough, but there are no pangs of guilt whatsoever that the imperious Yaya gets the nod.
Mohamed Salah’s first stint in the Premier League — a brief, unfulfilling stop at Chelsea — has quickly become a forgettable footnote to his second, during which he has served class with consistency at Liverpool for the last half-decade.
The staggering return brought up by the Egypt star has well and truly sealed his place as a bona fide Premier League great, regardless of the category under which you file those numbers.
Only two Liverpool players have scored more Premier League goals than Salah’s 119 in the club’s colours – and he is just two shy of overtaking the guy immediately ahead of him – while he has already cracked the top 20 of the league’s all-time list of prolific scorers.
Among fellow Africans, though, Salah trails no-one, well-clear on the scoring charts. With three Golden Boot wins and one league title, Salah’s name is already etched into Premier League folklore, and the recent extension of his stay in the red half of Merseyside should see him embellish that legacy.
Didier Drogba was the man Salah overtook last season as the Premier League’s top-scoring African, having bowed out with 104 goals — first to reach a century, in fact — along with two Golden Boot prizes to show for his efforts.
But despite ceding that position at the summit, Drogba still holds a special place in the African chapter of the Premier League story. None from the continent has more titles to their name (4), and the Ivorian was every bit as essential to the success of Chelsea’s 21st Century revolution as his compatriot, Yaya, was to City’s.
The 44-year-old embodied what the typical Premier League No.9 should be: physical, powerful, potent, mobile, and intelligent. He remains a reference point, seven years after he last kicked a Premier League ball, adored at Stamford Bridge and revered pretty much everywhere else.
To lead this team upfront – and there are other eligible options, from Emmanuel Adebayor to Yakubu Aiyegbeni – is an honour he is certainly worthy of.