The beautiful game of football has seen many great players over the years dazzle on the pitch, displaying skills that others could only dream of.
Africa has produced its fair share of these rare gems: Abedi Pele, Jay Jay Okocha and George Weah to name a few. The impact they made on the game is often immeasurable; many have gone on to inspire the next generation of talented African and global names in football.
There was an aura about them once they stepped onto the pitch, delighting spectators with their intelligence, athleticism and alluring ball control, while sending shivers down the spines of their opponents at the mention of their names on matchday. They never failed to disappoint.
What would a team consisting of these league of extraordinary gentlemen look like? It would sure be called the Africa Legends XI.
This was a tough choice between Nigeria’s Peter Rufai, Cameroon’s Carlos Kameni and Thomas N’Kono. N’Kono got the nod because among other things, he is one of only two goalkeepers to be crowned African footballer of the year, twice – in 1979 and 1982. He was undoubtedly one of Africa’s finest goalkeepers.
If he didn’t convince onlookers of his talents before the Italia 1990 World Cup, he certainly made a huge impact afterwards. His heroic performance even inspired Italian Gianluigi Buffon to become a goalkeeper.
There were a few choices but first pick for the centre-back position is none other than Ghana’s Samuel Kuffour. He started out at Bayern Munich, where he went on to make over 200 appearances, winning 16 major titles – including a UEFA Champion’s League medal.
If that was not impressive enough, Kuffour holds the record for the youngest defender of all time to score in a Champions League game, when he was 18 years old. He’s also the only African player to have made 60 appearances in the Champions League. Who could forget the anguish on Kuffour’s face when Manchester United made a dramatic comeback to win the Champions League in 1999?
One of South Africa’s most famous footballing exports, Radebe made over 200 appearances for Leeds F.C.
When he retired, he was given a testimonial match that saw 38,000 fans come to pay their last respects to the dedicated player. Not bad for an African legend.
Known for his unique hairstyles (which could be spotted from a mile away), Taribo West was one of the Super Eagle’s best defenders in his prime.
His career saw him ply his trade at Inter and AC Milan, among other great football clubs.
An easy choice for us, this versatile player was comfortable playing in any position in the back four.
Best known for playing with Chelsea, he was a key player for the side and contributed to their success in early 2000s. He also enjoyed a good spell at Madrid while being a notable dead-ball specialist.
There is no-one better in this position than Michael Essien. When Chelsea needed someone to anchor the midfield, they looked to none other than Essien.
After transfering from Lyon, he made an immediate impact and went to become a household name in England with his athleticism, strength and a belter of a right foot. Anyone who remembers his stunning left foot volley against Barcelona knows it was a sight to behold.
In his prime, Mustapha Hadji dazzled the world of football with his amazing dribbles.
His left foot is probably still a bad memory for defenders that faced him and Hadji is one you can never get bored of watching.
This was a difficult decision moving this player to a wide position but it had to be done to accommodate two midfield geniuses on the pitch. Dribbling, heading, deft touch etc. – Abedi had it in abundance.
Having won the African Footballer of the year three times over the course of his playing career, Abedi Pele’s impact in France is one that won’t be forgotten any time soon.
What can be said about this midfield maestro that hasn’t been said already?
He always wore a smile on the pitch and put them on the faces of football coaches, player and fans worldwide (aside from his opponents) with his amazing dribbling skills. He was recently honoured at PSG for his impact at the club. One search on YouTube and you don’t need anyone to tell you why the French giants haven’t forgotten Jay-Jay just yet.
Voted 13th in the Gunners’ Greatest 50 Players polls in 2008 (ahead of Arsenal legends Pat Rice and Denis O’Leary), Kanu is one of the most decorated African players to date.
He plied his trade in Europe for more than 15 years, winning titles with Arsenal and Ajax.
Many pundits and former colleagues tagged him the greatest African player ever, having been crowned the World Footballer of the Year in 1995.
In addition, Pele had a spot for him in the FIFA 100 – ‘The World’s Greatest Living Players’. A complete striker, George Weah would be on any one’s starting XI if he were still playing today.
An all star starting 11 is only complete with an all-star bench. Any one of these players could come off the bench to change the course of the game. Are there any players you would have chosen? Tweet us @_trueafrica
Laureano ‘Lauren’ Bisan Etamé-Mayer