Six of the Premier League’s greatest ever AFCON players
The 2019 Africa Cup Of Nations is underway, featuring many of the Premier League’s brightest stars, but can any of them join the pantheon of the tournament’s greats?
Liverpool‘s Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah head into the tournament having just won the Champions League and will be hoping to win more silverware with their respective countries, Senegal and Egypt.
The Premier League’s greatest AFCON player not be exactly who you expect. For example Didier Drogba, arguably the best African player in the Premier League’s history, never delivered a Cup Of Nations for Ivory Coast, despite them often being favourites and making three finals. Others that did make it are far from the Premier League’s most high-profile African stars.
Eto’o’s short stints with Chelsea and Everton are little more than a footnote on a glittering club career that famously featured back-to-back Trebles with Barcelona and Inter. In fact, it’s easy to forget he was a Premier League player for 18 months.
But there’s no forgetting his exploits at the Cup of Nations. He scored in six different tournaments (a joint record), was the top scorer in 2006 and 2008 and is the all-time AFCON top scorer with 18 goals in total. With Cameroon, he also won it in 2000 (where he scored in the final as a 19-year-old) and again in 2002.
Asamoah Gyan’s time in England burned very brightly for a short time. After a brilliant 2010 World Cup with Ghana, he scored 10 goals in his first season at Sunderland before moving the Abu Dhabi side Al Ain.
But he’s been Mr. Consistent for his country, and ties Eto’o for Cup Of Nations scored in – six in total.
After a bizarre captaincy row in which he announced he was retiring from international football, he’s been convinced to change his mind and play for Ghana once again. He could get the record all to himself if he scores in Egypt.
McCarthy was largely slowing down in the final years of his career while he was in the Premier League, with diminishing returns after he scored 18 league goals in his debut season with Blackburn Rovers.
But the South African enjoyed a great career before he came to England, peaking with a Champions League in 2004 for Jose Mourinho’s Porto.
He was a handy player for his national team, too – he was the top scorer (seven goals) and player of the tournament as South Africa finished runners-up to Egypt in 1998.
Nobody has played in more Africa Cup Of Nations tournaments than the former Liverpool and West Ham defender, who remarkably made it to eight. He captained a great Cameroon side to their triumphs in 2000 and 2002.
Song scored the winning penalty in 2000, and was named the player of the tournament two years later as Cameroon won it without conceding a single goal.
He also inadvertently played a part in one of the tournament’s most bizarre moments, and one of Garth Crooks’ greatest meltdowns, when he was lying injured on the floor as Andre Bikey was sent off for pushing one of the medics on the pitch to treat him.
The Leeds United cult hero is just as loved in his home country. The centre-half was a huge figure as they won the Cup Of Nations in 1996, which had symbolic importance in post-Apartheid South Africa just as the Rugby World Cup did a year before.
“Winning the tournament was the making of us – Bafana Bafana were national heroes,” he told FourFourTwo in a 2018 interview.
“We beat Tunisia in the final at Soccer City and the atmosphere was incredible. We met Madiba [Nelson Mandela] before the game, which was inspiring, and a lot of the nation’s cricket and rugby stars were there. It brought the country together.”
The Nigerian was just 20 when he featured for Nigeria in their Cup Of Nations win in 1994, and 10 years later would be named player of the tournament as the Super Eagles suffered penalty shootout heartbreak in the semi-finals against hosts Tunisia.
That 2004 tournament came as he was dazzling Premier League audiences during an unforgettable spell at Sam Allardyce’s Bolton.