The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations came to a close on Friday, as Algeria prevailed over Senegal with a 1-0 victory, so now seems like a perfect opportunity to reflect on some of the greats of African football.
From George Weah to Mohamed Salah, this is a list celebrating the very best the continent has has had to offer the world.
Here are the 50 greatest African players of all time.
?50) Didier Zokora
Didier Zokora is the most-capped player in Ivory Coast’s history, having represented Les Elephants 123 times over 14 years.
The defensive midfielder enjoyed a varied club career where he played his football right across Europe, featuring for the likes of Saint-Etienne, ?Tottenham and Sevilla. While he was a solid defensive midfielder, goals were few and far between as he netted just three goals in 18 years.
49) Vincent Enyeama
The best African goalkeeper of the past decade, Vincent Enyeama is Nigeria’s joint-highest appearance maker with 101 caps to his name.
Enyeama acted as the Super Eagles’ vice captain for their 2013 Africa Cup of Nations triumph and starred in the 2010 and 2014 World Cups – notably putting in a sensational performance against Argentina and Lionel Messi in the former tournament.
48) Benni McCarthy
Benni McCarthy first made a name for himself at the 1998 Africa Cup of Nations, finishing the tournament as the top scorer and best player.
He’s the only South African to ever win the Champions League, lifting the trophy with Porto in 2004, enjoyed a decent spell in the Premier League with Blackburn and finished his international career as Bafana Bafana’s top scorer.
47) Sulley Muntari
Ghanaian midfielder Sulley Muntari spent four years at ?Inter between 2008 and 2012, playing his part in I Nerazzurri’s most successful period of the 21st century.
He earned eight titles during his time in Milan, which followed a single season in England with Portsmouth where he also played a central role in Pompey’s FA Cup win in 2008. On the international scene, Muntari appeared in two World Cups – scoring a sensational goal against Uruguay in 2010.
46) Alex Song
In his prime, Alex Song was a formidable midfielder who was a regular fixture in ?Arsenal’s midfield during his six years in North London, before going on to win La Liga with Barcelona in 2013.
The Cameroonian also performed well for the national team as he was named in the AFCON team of the tournament in 2008 and 2010, despite being unable to win any honours with his country.
Gervinho’s time at Arsenal was disappointing to say the least, but he has since gone on to forge an impressive career in Serie A, demonstrating his undeniable ability.
He was outstanding for Parma in 2018/19, netting 11 goals and three assists in 30 Serie A appearances, which was his most prolific season since his successful stint at Lille. It was especially impressive as he had only just returned from two years in the wilderness of the Chinese Super League.
44) Patrick M’Boma
Patrick M’Boma spearheaded Cameroon’s period of success at the turn of the millennium, leading the line for the Indomitable Lions as they earned the gold medal at the 2000 Olympics, and won the 2000 and 2002 Africa Cup of Nations.
He was voted as the African Footballer of the Year and BBC African Footballer of the Year in 2000, but his success on the international scene was unfortunately not replicated during a rather uninspiring club career.
43) Joseph Yobo
Alongside Enyeama, Joseph Yobo is the joint-highest appearance maker for Nigeria, featuring 101 times between 2001 and 2014.
Yobo is best known for his lengthy spell with Everton, where he proved himself to be a solid central defender, acting as a consistent force at the back for the Toffees for over seven years.
42) Tony Yeboah
Tony Yeboah is fondly remembered for his spectacular goals during his time with Leeds United, but he was also a well-rounded striker who proved himself to be capable in front of goal throughout his time in Europe.
He became the first black captain in Bundesliga history when he was given the armband at Eintracht Frankfurt, finished as the top Bundesliga scorer twice in 1993 and 1994 and then went on to score 32 times in 66 appearances for Leeds – becoming a cult hero in the process.
41) Kwadwo Asamoah
Kwadwo Asamoah has spent the entirety of his career in Serie A, representing Udinese, ?Juventus and most recently Inter, while also making over 70 appearances for Ghana.
He played an integral role in Juventus’ six league titles between 2013 and 2018, playing as an orthodox left-back, left wing-back and occasionally as an attack-minded wide midfielder. His versatility has also seen him play more centrally in the past, using his physicality and agility to great effect.
40) Marc-Vivien Foe
A hard-working defensive midfielder who was a key component for Cameroon, Marc-Vivien Foe’s life was tragically cut short after suffering heart failure at the 2003 Confederations Cup.
Foe earned plenty of success for Cameroon, as well as helping to win Ligue 1 with Lyon in 2002, before finishing his career with Manchester City.
39) Emmanuel Amuneke
Emmanuel Amuneke was frequently held back by injuries, which arguably prevented him from reaching his full potential.
The Nigerian’s talent was obvious, as he earned himself a £2.5m move to ?Barcelona in 1996, but he simply couldn’t stay fit enough to have any lasting impact in Spain. His international record was more impressive, helping the Super Eagles to AFCON success in 1994, while he won the BBC African Footballer of the Year award that same year.
38) Mustapha Hadji
Mustapha Hadji is fondly remembered by Coventry City supporters, as he spent two seasons with the Sky Blues between 1999 and 2001 under the reign of Gordon Strachan.
The Moroccan was an accomplished attacking midfielder, who was unfortunate not to achieve much success with the Atlas Lions on the international stage. However, he was able to leave a mark on the 1998 World Cup, where he put in a dazzling individual display against Norway – which contributed to him being named African Footballer of the Year.
37) Mohamed Barakat
A five-time winner of the African Champions League with Al Ahly, Mohamed Barakat is one of the most decorated Egyptian players of all time.
Despite acting as a playmaker on the right side of attack, Barakat was a hard-working individual who was able to contribute in defence, making him a key figure in Egypt’s AFCON success in 2006.
36) Rashidi Yekini
The scorer of Nigeria’s first ever World Cup goal in 1994, Rashidi Yekini also finished as the top scorer of the 1992 and 1994 AFCON tournaments.
Yekini played right across Europe during the 90s, cropping up in Spain, Portugal, Greece and Switzerland, but his best form came for the Super Eagles, as he netted 37 goals in just 58 appearances.
35) Wael Gomaa
Wael Gomaa was the defensive rock at the back for Egypt and Al Ahly, winning plenty of silverware during a hugely successful 20-year career.
An old fashioned and uncompromising centre-back, Gomaa played every minute of Egypt’s three consecutive AFCON triumphs between 2006 and 2010 – being named in the best XI for all three tournaments – and won an incredible 31 titles with Al Ahly.
34) John Obi Mikel
John Obi Mikel was frequently a target for ridicule during his time with ?Chelsea, but the Nigerian midfielder, while not spectacular, was certainly efficient.
He earned plenty of titles with the Blues and cemented his place as one of Nigeria’s finest players when he captained them to AFCON success in 2013.
33) Theophile Abega
Nicknamed the ‘doctor’ for his technical and tactical intelligence, Theophile Abega was a pioneering Cameroonian midfielder who captained his country to their first ever AFCON success in 1984.
Abega scored the winning goal in the final against Nigeria and went on to be named as the player of the tournament. He also won two African Champions League titles with Canon Yaounde in 1978 and 1988.
32) Ahmed Hassan
Ahmed Hassan was declared as the player of the tournament at the 2006 and 2010 AFCON tournaments, acting as another key member of Egypt’s dominant side.
Unlike a number of his international teammates, Hassan tested himself in Europe, spending time in Belgium and Turkey, winning league titles in both countries for Besiktas and Anderlecht.
31) Doctor Khumalo
Theophilus ‘Doctor’ Khumalo remains one of the all-time greats for Kaizer Chiefs, having made just shy of 400 appearances for the South African outfit over 15 years, before becoming a player manager upon his initial retirement in 2002.
A classy midfielder with an eye for goal, Khumalo was capped 50 times by South Africa. In that time, he won AFCON on home soil in 1996, represented Bafana Bafana at the 1998 World Cup and most significantly, score the country’s first international goal against Cameroon in 1992.
30) Kolo Toure
Fondly remembered for his all-action approach to defending, Kolo Toure kicked off his lengthy Premier League career by playing his part in Arsenal’s ‘invincible’ season, before going on to achieve further success with ?Manchester City and ?Liverpool.
He could often appear a little unorthodox but, on his day, Toure was one of the most formidable defenders in the Premier League, as very few strikers could match his sheer physicality. He capped off his international career by winning AFCON in 2015, also becoming the country’s second-most capped player with 120 appearances to his name.
29.) Hossam Hassan
Hossam Hassan failed to make much of an impression during his brief time in Europe, but the Egyptian striker remains one of the finest players to have represented the national team.
He is Egypt’s top scorer with 69 goals to his name, is the second most capped player in men’s international football and played in seven AFCON tournaments – winning in 1986, 1998 and 2006.
28) Rigobert Song
An icon of Cameroonian football, Rigobert Song is the most-capped player of all time for the Indomitable Lions having pulled on the national team jersey 137 times over 17 years.
Song played at eight AFCON tournaments, winning two and, interestingly, he is one of only two players to be sent off at two World Cups – the other being Zinedine Zidane.
27) Lucas Radebe
A Leeds legend, Lucas Radebe is the best South African player of all time, having excelled during his nine-year spell in England, eventually hanging up his boots in 2005 after making 200 appearances for the Whites.
Radebe started off his career as a midfielder, eventually making the transition into an elegant centre-back who was capable of holding his own at the highest level. He was promoted to club captain at Leeds in 1998, guiding them to fourth and third in consecutive seasons, two years after inspiring South Africa to AFCON success.
26) Mohamed Aboutrika
Mohamed Aboutrika was another member of Al Ahly’s ludicrously successful side of the 2000’s, who primarily played as an attacking midfielder in behind the striker – and did so to great effect.
He made 100 appearances for Egypt, was a part of their 2006 and 2008 AFCON winning squads and was voted African Footballer of the Year in 2008. He also featured at the 2012 Olympics, where he registered two goals and two assists as Egypt reached the quarter-finals.
25) Frederic Kanoute
The first player born outside Africa to win the African Footballer of the Year award in 2007, Frederic Kanoute enjoyed an impressive career mostly spent with the likes of West Ham, Tottenham and Sevilla.
A natural born goalscorer, the Malian’s best form came during his seven-year spell in Spain with Sevilla, where he scored 89 goals, and won six titles – including two Copa del Rey titles and two UEFA Cups. He also made 39 appearances for Mali, scoring 23 goals in the process.
24) Thomas N’Kono
Thomas N’Kono frequently battled for the Cameroon number one jersey with Joseph-Antoine Bell, but the former Espanyol keeper was generally preferred between the sticks.
He featured in three World Cups – including Cameroon’s incredible run to the quarter-finals in 1990 – and his aggressive approach to goalkeeping also inspired a young Gianluigi Buffon to start playing between the sticks.
After impressing for Maccabi Haifa during their 2002/03 Champions League campaign, Yakubu earned himself a move to the Premier League with Portsmouth, before he went on to represent Middlesbrough, Everton and Blackburn in the English top flight.
Living up to his nickname ‘the Yak’ was a physically dominant striker who scored 96 Premier League goals between 2003 and 2012, making him the second-highest African goalscorer in the league’s history. He also scored 21 goals for Nigeria, making him the third highest scorer for the national team.
22) Emmanuel Adebayor
It’s a shame that Emmanuel Adebayor is often remembered as a tempestuous striker because he was frequently able to demonstrate that he could be a force to be reckoned with.
He enjoyed fruitful spells in north London with Arsenal and Tottenham, with his 30-goal 2007/08 season being the highlight. He was always consistent for his country, almost single-handedly dragging Togo to the 2006 World Cup against all the odds.
21) Bruce Grobbelaar
Bruce Grobbelaar’s lasting legacy has been somewhat tainted by the match-fixing allegations labelled against him, but he still remains one of Liverpool’s finest goalkeepers.
He became a Liverpool legend in 1984 when his wobbly-legged heroics helped the Reds win the European Cup on penalties. Born in South Africa, Grobbelaar went on to represent Rhodesia and Zimbabwe.
20) Mahmoud El-Khatib
Mahmoud El-Khatib spent the entirety of his career with Al Ahly, making just shy of 200 appearances for the Egyptian giants between 1972 and 1988 – winning a multitude of titles along the way.
A consistent and prolific goalscorer, his performances for Al Ahly led him to be names as the Arab Sportsman of the 20th Century.
19) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
The jury is still out regarding Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at Arsenal but, no matter how you may feel about the Gabonese striker’s overall game, you cannot ignore his record in front of goal.
Aubameyang scored 98 goals for Borussia Dortmund, making him the club’s sixth highest-scorer of all time, won the Bundesliga Golden Boot in 2017 and, most recently, shared the Premier League Golden Boot with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah in 2019.
Arguably the most underrated member of Arsenal’s invincibles, Lauren was an ever-present at right back for the Gunners during 2003/04, contributing to their unmatched unbeaten Premier League season.
He was a solid, traditional full-back who also played his part in Cameroon’s two AFCON victories in 2000 and 2002. His international career was short-lived, as his last appearance came at the 2002 World Cup.
17) Seydou Keita
Seydou Keita was never able to establish himself as a regular starting midfielder for Barcelona, but his contributions to La Blaugrana did not go unnoticed.
A versatile midfielder capable of carrying out any role in the centre of the park, Keita made over 100 appearances for Barcelona during their hugely successful period under Pep Guardiola, where they won 14 titles.
A two-time Champions League winner with ?Real Madrid, Geremi proved himself to be an excellent squad player for Los Blancos and Chelsea – as well as Middlesbrough and Newcastle.
Capable of operating in midfield and defence, the Cameroonian won countless titles for club and country, including two AFCON trophies. He was at his peak during the early 2000’s, when he was also nominated for the Ballon d’Or.
15) Essam El Hadary
The most decorated African goalkeeper of all time, Essam El Hadary was a serial winner who won over 30 domestic titles – 26 of which came for Al-Ahly – and won AFCON four times.
Aged 45 years and 161 days, El Hadary became the oldest player to ever feature in a World Cup match in 2018, starting for Egypt against Saudi Arabia in their final group stage match – fittingly saving a penalty in the process. Now 46, El Hadary is playing his football with Nogoom.
14) Sammy Kuffour
Sammy Kuffour was an ever-present at the back for ?Bayern Munich between 1993 and 2005, contributing to a total of 14 honours, including six Bundesliga titles and a Champions League.
The Ghanaian wasn’t the tallest of central defenders, but he made up for it with acute positional awareness and sheer strength. He was voted as the BBC African Player of the Year in 2001 following Bayern’s Champions League success and at the time was generally considered to be one of the most complete defenders in Europe.
13) Riyad Mahrez
Very few would have predicted it at the time, but Riyad Mahrez’s £400,000 move to Leicester from Le Havre in 2014 would go on to become one of the biggest bargains of all time.
The Algerian was the jewel of Leicester’s scarcely believable Premier League triumph in 2016, being voted as the PFA Player of the Season and two years later, he became the most expensive African player of all time after joining Manchester City for £60m.
12) Rabah Madjer
Rabah Madjer was one of the most important players in Porto’s history, having made over 100 appearances for the Portuguese outfit between 1985 and 1991, scoring 51 goals in the process.
The Algerian striker played a starring role as Porto won nine major titles in that time, with his most significant contribution being his goal in their European Cup final win over Bayern Munich in 1986. He also performed well on the international stage, being named as the player of the tournament as Algeria won AFCON in 1990.
11) Jay Jay Okocha
There are very few players in Premier League history who can be placed in the same bracket as Jay-Jay Okocha when it comes to technical flair. The Nigerian – who settled at Bolton Wanderers after stints at Eintracht Frankfurt, Fenerbahce and PSG – was a master with the ball at his feet, rivalling the likes of Ronaldinho when it came to montage-worthy tricks and flicks.
Okocha didn’t enjoy a particularly successful club career with regards to silverware, but he achieved plenty of individual recognition during his playing days – including seven Nigerian Footballer of the Year awards and two African Footballer of the Year awards.
10) Sadio Mane
Plenty was expected of ?Sadio Mane when Liverpool snapped him up from Southampton in 2016, but even the most optimistic of Reds’ supporters wouldn’t have been anticipating the Senegalese winger to grow into one of the world’s best.
Alongside Roberto Firmino and Salah, Mane has helped to form one of the world’s most feared attacking trios and, after a relatively quiet 2017/18 season, the 27-year-old was the pick of the bunch in 2018/19. He shared the Premier League Golden Boot with Salah and Aubameyang and was on fire during Liverpool’s run to their sixth European title.
9) Michael Essien
Michael Essien was one of the most successful signings of the early Roman Abramovich era at Chelsea, joining the Blues from Lyon in 2005 before going on to dominate the midfield alongside Frank Lampard.
The Ghanaian was able to expertly match technical prowess with explosive power, making him an asset in defence and a threat going forward. He won four titles with Lyon, nine with Cheslea, but was unable to inspire a talented crop of Ghanaian players to any silverware.
8) Mohamed Salah
?Mohamed Salah seemed destined to fade into obscurity when he was pushed out the door by Chelsea following an uninspiring spell at Stamford Bridge.
Undeterred, the Egyptian soon got himself back on track with impressive performances for Fiorentina and Roma, before he made his triumphant return to the Premier League with Liverpool in 2017. The rest, as they say, is history. Two consecutive Premier League Golden Boots, a PFA Player of the Year Award and a Champions League winners medal all point towards the fact that Salah is currently one of the most complete forwards in the world.
7) Nwankwo Kanu
Nwankwo Kanu was by no means a prolific goalscorer, but he earned plenty of plaudits for his unpredictable and unorthodox style that saw him achieve great success with Ajax and Arsenal.
The Nigerian first made a name for himself at Ajax, scoring 25 goals in 54 appearances, earning him a move to Inter. Injuries held him back, which led to a move to Arsenal, where he went on to win five domestic titles. He also became a Portsmouth hero in 2008, as he scored the winning goals in the FA Cup semi-final and final for Pompey.
6) Roger Milla
Roger Milla may be best known for his hip-waggling corner flag celebration, but he is more than just a symbolic figure in the history of African football.
He was prolific at club level in France for the likes of Monaco, Bastia and Montpellier and was Cameroon’s talisman as they won two AFCONs in 1984 and 1988 – finishing as the top scorer in the latter. He also remains the oldest player to ever score at a World Cup, having found the back in 1994, aged 42.
5) Yaya Toure
Previously considered to be a rather unspectacular defensive midfielder, Yaya Toure took his game to another level when he joined Manchester City from Barcelona, becoming one of the Citizens most influential players of the past decade.
The Ivorian midfielder was the outstanding individual during City’s first two Premier League triumphs and became only the second midfielder to score 20 goals in a single Premier season in 2014. Despite gradually falling out of favour following the arrival of Pep Guardiola, he was able to secure one more league title in 2018 before moving on to Olympiacos.
4) Abedi Pele
A three-time African Footballer of the year, Abedi Pele built his legacy in France with Marseille, where he wont three league titles and one Champions League.
A graceful and intelligent attacking midfielder, Pele was unfortunate not to feature in a single World Cup, but he did win AFCON with Ghana in 1982 and a decade later win the Golden Ball as the Black Stars fell in the final against Ivory Coast.
3) Didier Drogba
The highest scoring African to ever grace the Premier League, Didier Drogba was an unstoppable force of nature for Chelsea and stakes a claim as one of the greatest foreign players to arrive on the shores of England.
Drogba’s trophy-laden spell at Chelsea included three Premier League titles and a Champions League, but he was unable to guide Ivory Coast’s ‘Golden Generation’ to any international titles.
2) Samuel Eto’o
Samuel Eto’o was the complete striker. Strong, fast, hard-working and lethal, he was the star of the Cameroon side which has already been mentioned countless times on this list.
He’s AFCON’s all-time top goalscorer, Cameroon’s all-time top goalscorer and, at club level, he won three Champions Leagues with Barca and Inter – scoring in two of the finals – as well as four league titles.
1) George Weah
George Weah may not have won as many club honours as some other players on this list, but he remains the only African player to ever win the most coveted individual prize of them all – the Ballon d’Or.
The Liberian striker was arguably the most complete forward of the 90s, tearing opposition defences apart for the likes of Monaco, PSG and ?Milan. The neatest summary of his frankly absurd ability was his solo strike against Hellas Verona in 1996, where he effortlessly took the ball from the edge of his own box to the goal in a matter of seconds.