The highly-anticipated UEFA Champions League final is set to take place on Saturday, with Real Madrid facing Atlético Madrid in Milan for the ultimate European bragging rights.
The Madrid Derby will no doubt provide an entertaining spectacle this weekend and while African players are not involved in this year’s final, footballers from the continent have been successful in past title matches of Europe’s flagship club competition.
Here are six of Africa’s best players who have won Champions League medals during their careers.
While Ghanaian Abedi Pelé was the first African player to win the UEFA Champions League in 1993 with Marseille, compatriot Sulley Muntari repeated the feat with Serie A club Inter Milan 17 years later. The defensive midfielder was a decisive contributor to José Mourinho’s successful Champions League winning season with the Italians in 2010.
The player is often known for his controversial antics and quick temper but he controlled himself during Inter’s 2-0 defeat of Bayern Munich in the final thanks to a double from Diego Milito. His determination in midfield is visible in his ability to destroy opposition attacks while adding to his yellow-card collection. But his value for the Nerazzurri was not purely in defence, as he provided them with an additional attacking option on the counter.
The tough-tackling midfielder made his way to the top of the podium in the Champions League with Barcelona on two occasions, in 2009 and 2011. The Ivorian worked incredibly hard in midfield for the Blaugrana, winning possession and disrupting the flow of opposition play to relaunch effective counterattacks. During his time at Barca he played a number of positions in midfield and defence, proving his versatility.
The four-time African Player of the Year was a vital cog in a team that some consider the best European club of the last decade, with tireless running and physical prowess that ensured his dominance in midfield. The 2009 Champions League final saw Touré and company defeating Manchester United 2-0, while the 2011 title match was a replay of the final two years earlier, with Barca emerging 3-1 winners against the Red Devils at Wembley. Since moving to Man City he has not managed another Champions League final, while birthday wishes have also been elusive at times.
The all-time leading Bafana goal scorer may have been remembered for his struggles with weight-gain towards the end of his career but there is no doubt that one of his fondest memories will be his UEFA Champions League victory for Porto in 2004. McCarthy’s contributions throughout the season helped the blue and white side to reach the final in Germany, where they managed a 3-0 win against Monaco.
The Portuguese side triumphed against the team from the principality, while McCarthy made a late appearance on the night when coach José Mourinho sent him on as a 78th minute substitute, allowing him to celebrate with team-mates after the final whistle.
Former Cameroon international Geremi won the Champions League in 2000 and 2002 during a three-year stint playing for Real Madrid. Much like Yaya Touré, his versatility allowed the Galácticos the ability to use him in defence and midfield.
This was particularly useful due to his work ethic and ability to cover for any absentees through injury. Two European titles followed, and he left the club as a double Champions League winner. A little known fact about Geremi is that he has 17 siblings in Cameroon, and it could be argued that his father (and five wives) attempted to reproduce enough kids to enjoy an 11-a-side football match, falling just short of the 22 required.
A player who needs no introduction, Didier Drogba made his mark on the tournament by scoring 44 Champions League goals, cementing his place as the top scoring African in the high-profile competition. Despite the incredible number of goals he was responsible for, the Elephants legend only has one title to his name.
The Ivorian crowned a successful European footballing career with the ultimate club prize in 2012 when Chelsea became the first London club to win the Champions League. Drogba was crucial to the success in that final against Bayern Munich, scoring the equalising goal at the Allianz Arena to send matters to extra time at 1-1, before slotting in the final penalty in the shootout, solidifying his place in Chelsea folklore.
Some players can list their trophies and awards on a single piece of paper but between club and personal accolades, Cameroon legend Samuel Eto’o would need an entire notepad. The former Indomitable Lions striker is a multiple UEFA Champions League victor and became the first African to win the tournament with two different clubs.
The formidable attacker scored six times for Barcelona during their victorious 2005-06 Champions League season and one of those was an all-important strike in the final against Arsenal to secure a 2-1 victory. Eto’o scored the opening goal in the 2009 final against Manchester United and Barca went on to win 2–0, making him the only African to have bulged the back of the net in two Champions League finals. He continued to be a good luck charm for teams in the Champions League when he transferred to Inter Milan in 2009, winning his third title as a fundamental part of José Mourinho’s 2010 squad.