As the 2015/16 season football season reaches a close, many teams have identified this period as the perfect time to give the talent in their youth ranks some valuable first-team experience.
Here are five players, of African descent, who have shown enough talent this season to be contenders for the first team once next season commences:
The 19-year-old Nigerian-born striker was relatively unknown until Sergio Aguero’s injury problems forced Manchester City to put their trust in him. The youngster did not disappoint, scoring two late winning goals along with two hat-tricks in the League Cup and FA Cup respectively.
He has, in total, amassed 36 appearances and 14 goals in all club competitions. That form has resulted in him getting called up to the senior Nigerian national team in the AFCON qualifiers.
Iheanacho claimed the CAF Most Promising Talent of the Year in 2013 and has surely lived up to the accolade, establishing himself as a firm favourite amongst the Manchester City faithful. He is only going to get better with Pep Guardiola set to be at the helm next season.
Another Nigerian on the list, this 20-year-old made his Premier League debut for Arsenal on October 31 against Swansea. From then onwards the youngster, nephew of Nigerian great Jay-Jay Okocha scored his first goals for the club in their wins against Everton and Watford respectively.
With several injury problems amongst Arsenal’s starters, Iwobi took his chance and claimed the the right-wing position as his own for the time being. He sparked up a somewhat formidable partnership with Alexis Sanchez, linking up with the Chilean to score some important goals. His vision and willingness to run at defences has impressed Arsène Wenger, agreeing a contract extension that will keep him at the club until 2021.
In a season full of disappointment for Chelsea, fans can at least take delight in the rise to prominence of this 20-year-old Burkina Faso international. The player has been on the Chelsea roster for years, going out on loan on several occasions. But current manager, Guus Hiddink, has proven to be the one to put the most faith in Traoré, awarding him numerous first team appearances in the second part of the season. He repaid this faith by scoring a goal with his strike against Stoke City.
Traoré is on the road to becoming a major African player, noticable by how he impressively made his full international debut at the age of just 15! With Antonio Conte set to manage Chelsea next season, it is certain that the youngster will be a strong contender for a starting berth next season.
The ‘fro-haired, Egyptian defensive midfielder sealed a dream move to Arsenal in January 2016 from FC Basel. He made his debut on the January 31 in a 2-1 win against Burnley in the FA Cup fourth round but had to wait until March to play consistently. His performances in March and April saw the 23-year-old consecutively pick up Arsenal’s vitality player of the month award, scoring his first goal in the Champions League Round away at Barcelona.
As a relative unknown to the Arsenal faithful, he was thought to be brought in as more of an addition to the Arsenal midfield but his ball winning, strong tackling, distribution and goal threatening skills have seen him establish himself as a firm favourite amongst his manager and fans alike. He has seized his opportunity on the centre-stage and it would not be surprising if he was one of the first names on the team sheet come next season.
Coincidentally, the only player on the list who does not play in England. Boufal is a Moroccan attacking midfielder who plays for Lille in the French Ligue 1. In his most prominent season for Lille, he has made a total of 29 league appearances, nothing up 11 goals and 4 assists. He is a tricky player with an eye for a goal and various French media have nicknamed him the ‘next Eden Hazard’.
Boufal’s superb performances this season have already established him as a star in Lille, named the best African player in the Ligue 1. His contribution to nearly half of the club’s goals this season has resulted in him becoming an integral part of the Morocco national team that will compete in the 2017 AFCON tournament in Gabon. He has attracted interest from several English clubs, including Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.