On Wednesday, the 3rd of June 2009, Sepp Blatter – the beautiful game’s equivalent of the Simpson’s Mayor Quimby – and his merry men overwhelmingly passed a landmark motion in the football-barmy Bahamas. The new ruling removed the age limit for players who had previously played for another national team at youth level. Interestingly, the motion held greater significance for the nation that proposed it to FIFA: Algeria.
It was just after their re-election of their President Mohammed Raouraoua that the Algerian FA initiated a relentless recruitment drive to entice young players of dual-nationality in the diaspora, most notably in France. But enthusiasm for the initiative went out about as quickly as their national team, the Fennec Foxes, who failed to score a single goal and exited during the group stage at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Meanwhile Laurent Blanc, who replaced Domenech after France’s disastrous performance in the same tournament, attempted to restore pride in the Tricolore for a new generation. However, a series of leaked recordings between Blanc and the French Football Federation discussing a quota system to reduce the number of young black and North African players being selected at elite academies caused further disillusionment. A paranoid reaction to the Algerian motion, this covert conversation is part of a discourse that reached beyond the elite confines of football. It is part of a wider discussion about disenfranchised communities already on the periphery in the banlieues.
For every positive African assimilation like Moroccan defender Mehdi Benatia, who is doing well at Bayern, there are those who are equally as turbulent as they are talented. Kevin-Prince Boateng is a good example. Yet, a new wave of European-based stars are playing for African nations with pride. These are the ones I think you should watch out for in the forthcoming season:
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is a forward whose potential has turned into prolific form in the last five seasons in Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga. He hails from a footballing family; his father is a former Gabon international and his two elder brothers are fellow professionals. The speedy and skilful Aubameyang finished last season as Borussia Dortmund’s top goalscorer with 26 goals in all competitions.
The Gabon captain is known for his superhero goal celebrations, donning a Spiderman and Batman mask after scoring at the Westfalenstadion last season.
From the Conference to the Congo, the Lyon-born and London-bred Bolasie has had a steady ascent into the football ranks via Plymouth, Bristol and even Malta. Finally settling in South London, DR Congo’s run to third place at African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in 2015 served as the catalyst for the Crystal Palace winger to add finishing to his cavernous box of tricks in the second half of the Premier League last season.
An avid aficionado of grime music, Bolasie took part in an MC battle with fellow footballer Bradley Wright-Phillips at cult event Lord of the Mics last year.
A standout player in Leicester City’s remarkable run for survival in the Premier League, Mahrez is akin to Bolasie as he also served his apprenticeship in the lower confines of French football for Quimper and Le Havre. Born in the Parisian suburb of Sarcelles, the Algerian international who has a tricky and direct playing style a bit like Arjen Robben, has matured since his arrival on British shores 18 months ago. He played for the Fennec Foxes at World Cup 2014 and AFCON this year.
Initially content to stay in Ligue 1, a timely phone call from Algerian international team-mate Djamel Abdoun (previously of East Midland rivals Nottingham Forest) convinced him to move to the King Power Stadium.
Another young African talent to emerge from Leicester City’s survival season is Hamburg-born left-wing back Jeffrey Schlupp. A striker in his formative years at City’s youth academy, Schlupp showed strength and stamina in defence. This consistent form had previously led to a trial with Manchester United. The Ghanaian international recently scored his first goal for the Blackstars against Mauritius in qualifying for AFCON 2017. Schlupp also won both Young Player and Player’s Player Awards at Leicester’s annual club award ceremony.
Having joined the club as an 11 year old, Schlupp was the first Foxes player to score a hat-trick during his debut since 1945 versus Rotherham United in August 2011 .
French-born striker Nouha Dicko, a key component of the high-scoring Wolverhampton Wanderers side that narrowly missed out on the Football League Championship playoffs last season, ended the recent campaign as joint-top scorer with 15 goals. Selfless with a low centre of gravity, the Mali international should fire the West Midlands club into the Premier League at the conclusion of the 2015/2016 league season.
Last season, Wolves won an impressive 68% of matches that Dicko and former striker partner, fellow Malian international Bakary Sako started together.