Pele predicted an African nation would win thsporte World Cup by the year 2000. That didn’t happen, but stars from the continent have nevertheless thrilled for decades.
And with the Africa Cup of Nations underway in Angola, the latest episode of The List trumpets the greatest players from the continent in history.
From Ghana’s Abedi Pele to ‘King’ George Weah, Africans have wowed the world with their pace, dazzling ball control and athleticism.
Week after week we toil over our selections, and like nothing more than hearing your thoughts.
As a caveat for the eagle-eyed out there, Mozambique-born Portuguese legend Eusebio does not feature as our List only concerns those born in Africa who played for an African nation.
10) Lucas Radebe (South Africa)
Radebe remains a hero over at Elland Road after his time in Yorkshire left an indelible mark on the club he captained just before the financial implosion which sent them spinning down the leagues.
The former Kaiser Chiefs centre-back could have formed a family team if he’d wanted to – he is one of 11 siblings. He made his international debut on July 7, 1992 against Cameroon before moving to the Premier League in 1994.
He was a member of the South Africa team that won the Africa Cup of Nations in 1996 and captained Bafana Bafana in the 1998 and 2002 World Cups.
Captain fantastic: Lucas Radebe in action for South Africa against Denmark at the 1998 World Cup finals
9) Kanu (Nigeria)
Kanu’s time in European football has lasted 17 years, a successful time which has seen him become the most decorated African footballer in history.
A Champions League and UEFA Cup winner, he has two Premier League titles and three FA Cup winners’ medals. He really has done the lot.
Testament to his time at Arsenal, he was voted 13th in the Gunners’ Greatest 50 Players pols, ahead of such luminaries as David O’Leary, Sol Campbell and Pat Rice.
Decorated: Kanu in action for Nigeria against Angola in a World Cup qualifier in 2005
8) Tony Yeboah (Ghana)
Yeboah scored 25 goals in 48 league appearances for Leeds United, but that only tells part of the story – he set the Premier League alight with some of the most ferocious goals we have ever seen, with a huge grin fixed to his face.
Yeboah loved to score for his national side, too – he bagged 29 goals in 59 appearances, the second highest goalscoring total in the nation’s history behind Abedi Pele.
Two years in England may not have resulted in any trophies but his gift to the league was some great goals. He even managed to win back-to-back Goal of the Month awards in 1995.
Yeboah: in action for Ghana against Zaire in the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations
7) Hossam Hassan (Egypt)
Evergreen goalscorer, hero, legend, recored breaker – just some of the words you need to describe Hassan who amassed 169 caps for Egypt, and scored 69 goals, both of which remain national records.
He will be remembered by many after appearing for his country at the 1990 World Cup, where they were unlucky to be eliminated after two draws and the narrow 1-0 defeat to England after Mark Wright‘s headed goal sent them out.
Egypt legend: Hassan playing against Tunisia at the Africa Cup of Nations in 2000
6) Michael Essien (Ghana)
Don’t pigeon-hole Essien, admittedly best known for being a box-to-box midfielder – he can score goals, too – see his memorable strikes against Barcelona in the Champions League last season and another stunner against Blackburn.
The Bison was, for a time, the most expensive African player of all time until Emmanuel Adebayor’s move to Manchester City last year and the two-times French Ligue 1 winner with Lyon became a Premier League champion with Chelsea in 2005.
Midfield star: Michael Essien in action for Ghana against Japan last year
5) Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon)
The former Real Madrid and Barcelona star has been a cut above the rest for many years. His tenacity and skill have made him one of this generation’s finest strikers.
Eto’o scored more than 100 goals in five seasons with Barcelona, and his early goal in last season’s Champions League final win over Manchester United made him only the second player to have ever scored in two separate Champions League finals.
He was a member of the Cameroon national team that memorably won gold at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, and also featured in two World Cups and five Africa Cup of Nations tournaments.
One of the very best: Samuel Eto’o scores for Cameroon against Sudan at the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations
4) Jay-Jay Okocha (Nigeria)
‘So good, they named him twice’ is the famous quote about the talismanic Nigerian who arrived at the Reebok seemingly in his twilight. But he was a revelation in four years with Bolton.
The Africa Cup of Nations (1994) and Olympics gold medallist (1996) with Nigeria helped the Potters avoid relegation, took them to their final in nine years – the League Cup Final in 2004 which they lost to Middlesbrough – and into Europe for the first time in their history.
So good they named him twice: Okocha in action for Nigeria against Ivory Coast in the 2006 africa Cup of Nations
3) Roger Milla (Cameroon)
It was all about the dance, the smile and the goals as the then 37-year-old lit up the World Cup in 1990 as the Indomitable Lions almost went all the way to the final during a memorable tournament run – courtesy of Milla’s goals.
Even his name is entertaining – Albert Roger Mooh Milla was voted one of the 125 greatest living football players in 2004 by the Pele but many young football fans around the world showed their own appreciation of Milla when, after scoring a goal, they’d run up to the corner flag and do that dance.
He had retired from international football three years before Italia 90, but we’re glad he had a change of heart and brought a smile to all those who watched him score four goals at the World Cup 20 years ago.
Unforgettable: Roger Milla runs past Colombia goalkeeper Jose Higuita on the way to scoring at the 1990 World Cup finals
2) Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast)
As strong as any forward to have played the game, Drogba is a mountain of a man to match his his personality and appetite for goals.
However, the former Le Mans, Guingamp and Marseille striker isn’t all about power and hustle, he has the technique and finishing ability to match any other goalscorer the game has ever seen.
Two Premier League titles and a brace of FA Cups have come in his six years at Stamford Bridge and the way he’s knocking them in this season, who’s to say he wont have added to that tally come May?
Simply brilliant: Drogba scores for Ivory Coast against Guinea at the Africa Cup of Nations in 2008
1) George Weah (Liberia)
A remarkable man who has enjoyed just as exciting a career on the pitch as he has experienced off it. Weah is a character who rates as our top African player of all time, not just by virtue of the strength of his personality, but because he had real talent on it.
By his own admission, he was a criminal and gang member in his youth but football got him out of his country – in 1995 he was voted world footballer of the year while with Paris Saint-Germain, he also ended up living in New York and commuting to training sessions in Monaco by Concorde. Such was the life of Weah.
World, European and African Player of the Year in his time, Weah scored goals at every club he went to and won league titles in France and Italy with PSG and AC Milan respectively.
And when his career ended, such was his popularity in his native Liberia that he ran (unsuccessfully) for President. Quite a character, certainly a fine player and easily our No 1.
Our number one: Liberian star George Weah playing against Nigeria in 2001