Comparison is odious but like variety – it’s the spice of life.
Samuel Eto’o has just called time on international football with Cameroon. The prolific striker who recently signed a two-year deal with Barclays Premier League side Everton is the most decorated African player. But was he the greatest?
We take a look at five retired players who can also lay claim to that exalted position as Africa best ever player.
Honorary mention: Laurent Poukou, Abdul Razak, Ibrahim Sunday, Theophile Abega, Opokou Nti, Rashidi Yekini, Lakhdar Belloumi, Thomas Nkono, Austin Okocha, and Didier Drogba.
Abedi Ayew Pele
It took eight years for Europe, nay the world, to notice the talent of the player once described as ‘the skinny lad with Octopus legs’. Eight years of ‘wilderness’ in Qatar, then later Republic of Benin. But diamond cannot be hidden for long and Abedi Pele showed his virtuosity at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza during a European Club’s Cup quarter-final first leg match between Milan and his club Marseille. The game ended 1-1 and Pele’s was not among the scorers. He was rather the cynosure.
Any time I play for Marseille, I have the feeling I am playing in two or three teams. I play for the team Marseille, all blacks in this world and particularly Africans – Pele, 1993.
73 caps; 33 goals; 1982-1998
Prince of Qatar Cup: 1983 with Al-Sadd
UEFA Champions League: 1993 with Marseille
French Ligue 1 Winner: 1990-91, 1991-92, 1992-93 with Marseille
Pro-League: 1999-2000 with Al Ain
President’s Cup: 1999 with Al Ain
African Cup of Nations Winner 1982
West African Nations Cup – SCSA Zone III Winner 1982, 1983, 1984
“Order of the Volta” (Civil division) – Highest Ghana National award
African Footballer of the Year Winner: 1991, 1992, 1993
FIFA World Player of the Year: 9th 1992, Nomination 1991
African Player of the Century by IFFHS – 3rd
Top 30 African Footballers in the last 50 years (2007) 5th Place
African Footballer of the Year Nominations: 1985, 1986, 1987,1988,1989,1990
Italian Serie A Best Foreign Player Winner: 1995-96
Fifa All-Star Forward: 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997, 1999
1992 African Nations Cup Player of the Tournament: Golden Ball Winner
BBC African Player of the Year Winner: three times
George Oppong Weah
When FIFA declared him king of world soccer on January 8, 1996, Weah became the first man on earth to win the African, European and World best player titles all in the same year. The margin of his victory was even more spectacular. Weah got 170 votes against 80 for his Milan teammate Paulo Maldini and 58 for Jurgen Klinsmann. Saying he also won the Italian and Liberian best player awards is a moot point. He’s not called ‘King George I’ for nothing – and why not?
African players have the talent already and what is left is for African countries to provide the facilities to enhance their talents – Weah, 1997.
60 caps; 22 goals; 1987-2007
Liberian Premier League: 1985-86 with Mighty Barrolle
Liberian Cup: 1985-86 with Mighty Barrolle
Liberian Premier League: 1986-87 with Invincible Eleven
Coupe de France: 1991 with Monaco
Ligue 1: 1993-94 with Paris Saint-Germain
Coupe de France: 1992-93, 1994-95 with PSG
Coupe de la Ligue: 1995 with PSG
Serie A: 1995-96, 1998-99 with Milan
FA Cup: 1999-2000 with Chelsea
African Footballer of the Year: 1989, 1994, 1995
UEFA Champions League Topscorer: 1994-95
BBC African Footballer of the Year: 1995
Onze d’Or: 1995
Ballon d’Or: 1995
FIFA World Player of the Year: 1995
ESM Team of the Year: 1995-96
Onzes d’Argent: 1996
FIFA Fair Play Award: 1996
African Player of the Century: 1996
FIFA World Player of the Year (Silver award): 1996
With or without the heart ailment which caught the attention of the world, Kanu would still have merited his place in the annals of legends out of Africa. Kanu’s 1996 achievements with his club Ajax and at the Olympics with Nigeria were always going to be good enough to fetch him the honour. Before it was equaled by Cameroon in year 2000, the Olympic gold medal was Africa’s highest achievement in world football. Kanu’s two goals sent Brazil out in the semi-final.
I’ll be back! – Just before he was wheeled in for the heart operation to fix his weak aorta valve at Cleveland hospital in Ohio, USA, 1996.
87 caps; 12 goals; 1994-2011
Nigerian Premier League: 1992-93 with Iwuanyanwu Nationale
Eredivisie: 1993-94, 1994-95, 1995-96 with Ajax
UEFA Champions League: 1994-95 with Ajax
UEFA Super Cup: 1995 with Ajax
Intercontinental Cup: 1995 with Ajax
UEFA Cup: 1997-98 with Inter
Premier League: 2001-02, 2003-04 with Arsenal
FA Cup: 2001-02, 2002-03 with Arsenal
FA Community Shield: 1999
FA Cup: 2007-08 with Portsmouth
FIFA U-17 World Cup: 1993
Olympic Gold Medal: 1996
Afro-Asian Cup of Nations: 1995
2000 African Cup of Nations: Runners-up
African Footballer of the Year: 1996, 1999
BBC African Footballer of the Year: 1997, 1999
He left the shadows of Algerian teammate Lakhdar Bellounmi when he was made the national team captain – a sign of recognition by his country that he was then their number one player. He guided the national team to victory at the 17th Africa Cup of Nations on home soil where he emerged player of the tournament. He will always be remembered for the cheeky goal he scored for Porto against Bayern Munich in the 1987 European Cup final.
The virus never leaves you – Madjer on football, 2013.
87 caps; 29 goals; 1978-1992
Algerian Cup: 1978-79 with Hussein Dey
European Cup: 1986-87 with Porto
Intercontinental Cup: 1987 with Porto
Portuguese League: 1985-86, 1987-88, 1989-90 with Porto
Portuguese Cup: 1987-88, 1990-91 with Porto
Portuguese Supercup: 1986, 1990 with Porto
Africa Cup of Nations: 1990; Runner-up 1980
Afro-Asian Cup of Nations: 1991
African Footballer of the Year: 1987
Arab Footballer of the 20th century: 2004
Algerian Footballer of the 20th century: 2009 (with Lakhdar Belloumi)
Algerian Footballer of the Year: Several awards
African Footballer of the 20th century: Fifth place
The stories of the 1990 and 1994 World Cups will not be complete without a certain Roger Milla. On both occasions, he came out of retirement to shine at the biggest stage in world football. At Italia ’90, Milla scored arguably the most dramatic goal of the tournament when he robbed Colombia’s keeper Rene Higuita of the ball and slotted it into an unguarded net. At USA ’94, Milla at age 42 became the oldest player to score in the World Cup, during Cameroon’s 6-1 loss to Russia.
Nobody dribbles Milla – After robbing Higuita of the ball, 1990.
Cameroon League and Cup Champion: 1972, 1973 with Leopards de Duala
African Cup Winners Cup: 1975 with Tonnerre de Yaunde
French Cup: 1980, 1981 with Bastia
French second-division champion: 1987 with Montpellier
CAF Africa Cup of Nations winner: 1984, 1988
CAF Africa Cup of Nations joint-top scorer: 1984 (4 goals), 1986 (4 goals)
CAF Africa Cup of Nations best player: 1986
CAF Best African Player of the last 50 years: 2007
African Footballer of the Year: 1976, 1990
Comparison can also be tedious so let us know your pick of the pack – from those we included and those we left out.
AT A GLANCE
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