As European club football gets back underway again following an engrossing international break, We name 15 African players who are shaping up to enjoy a big campaign in league competitions broadcast by ESPN in Africa.
We begin in Scotland, where the Old Firm clash between Celtic and Rangers is the season’s biggest fixture.
The two teams head into the Glasgow derby this weekend unbeaten after nine and ten fixtures respectively, adding spice to a contest that’s already do-or-die at the best of times.
Now at Rangers, Nigeria s Leon Balogun is getting his career in the United Kingdom back on track after an underwhelming spell at Brighton & Hove Albion.
The Super Eagles defender left Mainz in 2018, after a decade in German football, but he managed just eight league games across two years with the Seagulls, failing to break into the Lewis Dunk-Shane Duffy partnership at the heart of the backline.
He’s settled well at Rangers, however, demonstrating the composure in possession that marked his time in the Bundesliga.
Even with Nigeria during the international break, as the Super Eagles were held by Tunisia, the value of Balogun’s ability to carry the ball out of defence was clear.
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard is already a fan, having described Balogun as a “warrior” after the Nigerian’s debut against Aberdeen, but will the defender’s battling qualities come to the fore in his first Old Firm derby — in which former teammate Duffy will be in opposition for Neil Lennon’s Celtic.
Turkey has long been a hotbed for African talent, and recently it has become a refuge for continental stars looking for a way back to the top having fallen short in the major leagues of Western Europe.
Max-Alain Gradel certainly falls into this category, after enduring a miserable campaign with Toulouse as he captained them through their relegation from French Ligue 1 last season.
The premature end to the French season bought heartbreak for Toulouse fans but Gradel may have welcomed the confirmation of the club’s inevitable relegation with relief, having fallen out with the faithful dramatically in the spring.
It was a sad end to the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations winner’s time in south-western France, but now he has the chance to reaffirm his quality in the more modest climes of Sivasspor; and scoring the winning goal in the come-from-behind victory over Erzurumspor in his second match was a decent way to get started.
Also in the Super Lig, one-time Ghana rising star Bernard Mensah is back on the up at Besiktas, having impressed at Kayerispor last term.
Mensah failed to make the grade at Atletico Madrid after signing for the Spanish giants from Vitoria Guimaraes in 2015, but his form in the Super Lig last term prompted a move to the domestic heavyweights and a return to the Ghana squad after five years in the wilderness.
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Such has been Michael Olise sensational start to the Championship season that English Premier League clubs Leeds United, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Arsenal were rumoured to be considering a move for the Reading player.
The Franco-Nigerian starlet’s assets are clear to see: Delicious left foot, fantastic passing technique, and the ability to glide past players when in possession.
Last season, he contributed one assist all campaign; this term, however, he has already posted two assists and one goal — a superb volley against Barnsley — in four games for the Royals, and he has the potential to be the Championship’s breakout star.
Chuba Akpom is another player in the second tier eligible for the Super Eagles, having returned to the English game after time in Belgium and Greece.
He never made the grade at Arsenal — where he won England Under-21 caps and featured four times in the Premier League — but his form for PAOK Salonika prompted of Middlesbrough manager Neil Warnock to part with £2.75 million to take him to Teesside.
Two goals in his first two outings suggest Boro might have pulled off a coup.
Morocco international Sofyan Amrabat made something of a sideways move when he joined Club Brugge after impressing with Feyenoord during the 2017-18 season, but, now 24, he’s finally found an environment befitting his myriad qualities after signing for Fiorentina.
He knows Serie A well, having previously impressed for Hellas Verona, and boasts the qualities that could make him a snip at €20 million.
Amrabat is a midfield all-rounder who excels in all aspects of the game, either as a ball winner or a player capable of picking out more ambitious passes.
His energy and dynamism are reminiscent of N’Golo Kante.
He’s created three goalscoring opportunities for teammates across the same number of appearances already this term, and averages two completed dribbles per match — just outside the top ten in Serie A.
He’s definitely one to watch this term.
Amadou Haidara hasn’t hit the ground running quite like some of his RB Leipzig teammates during the club’s recent years of success.
Tipped to emerge as Naby Keita’s successor after the Guinea star moved to Liverpool, Haidara, from neighbouring Mali, has started the season strongly, and there’s optimism that he might have finally found his groove in the Bundesliga after previously being beset by injuries.
He opened his Bundesliga account in the first game of the season against Mainz, after scoring in the German Cup triumph over Nurnberg, and he maintained his fine form in the draw with Bayer Leverkusen and the demolition of Schalke before the international break.
He’s the fourth most effective dribbler in the Bundesliga so far this term, and looks set for a big season after neutralising Thomas Partey in Mali’s 3-0 victory over Ghana during the international break.
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Kevin Akpoguma is another African player who enjoyed an international break to remember, having made his debut for Nigeria in their defeat by Algeria.
The 25-year-old former Germany Under-21 international played at right-back for Gernot Rohr, but he has made his name in the heart of TSG Hoffenheim’s defence, and made 18 appearances last term as they qualified for the Europa League.
Deceptively fast for his six foot four frame, Akpoguma was rewarded with the Fritz-Walter medal — awarded to the most promising German youth player in various age groups — seven years ago, and a masterful display in Hoffenheim’s 4-1 thumping of Bayern Munich last month served as a reminder that his promise is not lost.
Newly promoted Lens have made a magnificent start to the season — with 13 points from their first six matches, including a victory over reigning champions and UEFA Champions League finalists Paris Saint-Germain — and two African players have been at the heart of their success.
Gael Kakuta and Ignatius Ganago have each scored four goals — 80% of Lens’ overall goals — across their strong start to the season.
Kakuta’s name may be familiar, as he once was Didier Drogba’s protégé at Chelsea, with the Blues having broken transfer regulations to sign him from Lens.
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He struggled to make the grade at Stamford Bridge despite once being tipped by Carlo Ancelotti to be the future of the club — injuries played their part — and he went on to play for 11 further clubs during a nomadic career.
There have been plenty of glimpses of his quality through the years — not least at parent club Amiens — and now back where it all began, albeit on loan, he is firmly in his prime.
At the other end of his career, Ganago is a €6 million arrival from Nice, and has already managed more this term than in the entirety of the 2019-20 season with Les Aiglons.
Now back as a leading man after being shoehorned into wide roles at Nice, he could be primed to be the breakout star of the Ligue 1 campaign.
Accrington Stanley might be something of an unlikely destination for a Chelsea starlet, but it’s where Tariq Uwakwe will spend the 2020-21 season on loan after Frank Lampard opted to give him more gametime in the lower leagues.
He’s one of three Stamford Bridge loanees at the Wham Stadium this term, and his stamina, game-reading and astute positioning should make him a valuable addition to Stanley’s midfield.
At 26, journeyman winger Gime Toure finally finds himself in the professional game after working his way up through the fourth and fifth tiers of the French pyramid and then cutting his teeth in the National League.
Even after his long road to the fully professional ranks, the dribbling master has the potential to be a difference-maker for Carlisle United this season.
A goal on debut for the Blues against Fleetwood Town was a strong start — even if it was later marred by a red card — and the six foot two attacker has continued to play with innovation and invention in the final third to trouble opposition backlines.
There aren’t many players in the fourth tier with Toure’s maverick qualities, and expect him to be climbing further up the Football League ladder if he can continue to amass the goal contributions — as he did at Hartlepool United.
All eyes will be on Hakim Ziyech as he likely makes his debut for Chelsea this weekend, but one of his replacements at Ajax Amsterdam, Mohammed Kudus, has already been winning over admirers.
Concerns that Kudus, A €9 million signing from FC Nordsjaelland, might struggle to step up from the Danish Super Liga to the Eredivisie have been dismissed by his commanding early-season form.
A goal threat from midfield — he netted nine in the Danish top flight last term — Kudus is a good all-rounder, whose technical class and intelligent use of the ball should also help Ajax to forget Manchester United new boy Donny van de Beek.
He missed the international break due to injury, but will hopefully make his UEFA Champions League debut when Ajax host Liverpool on Wednesday.
The Championship kicks off on ESPN across Africa this weekend, with fans throughout the continent able to catch weekly action from the Scottish second tier.
And Jonathan Afolabi and Frankie Musonda are two players of African interest to watch this term.
Afolabi, like Southampton striker Michael Obafemi, was born in Dublin, Ireland, but is also eligible to play for Nigeria.
Celtic snared him from the Saints in 2019, and he impressed on loan at Dunfermline Athletic in the second tier last term, averaging a goal every three games before the coronavirus pandemic led to the premature conclusion of the campaign.
Afolabi, who made the Team of the Tournament at the Under-19 Euros last year, has the opportunity to build on that form now he is on loan at Now on loan at Dundee.
English-born Musonda — who has Zambian origins — was a member of the Luton Town Under-11 team that defeated Bayern Munich in 2009, and played for the Hatters in the lower leagues, but he was released this summer after 15 years at the club.
“I loved my time at Luton but now I’m very much focusing on improving and learning under a different manager,” he said upon his arrival at Raith Rovers.
“It’s a good opportunity for me to make a name for myself, not being under the Luton umbrella any more.”