Where Is The New Generation Of African Superstars?

With the careers of Didier Drogba, Samuel E’too and Michael Essien all winding down – the question has to be asked; where are the next generation of African superstars?

The three players mentioned above were unquestionable world class players of the highest order in their prime, however with the exception of Yaya Toure (another player who is not getting any younger) there is nobody from Africa who is at that elite level right now. There are unquestionably several very good footballers from the continent competing at the top of the game, yet none have reached, or look liked reaching, the world leading peaks of those mentioned here.

It’s difficult to pinpoint why we have not seen a new generation of superstars emerge. It should, however, not be ignored that African football was in many ways spoilt to have such a plethora of stars at its disposal. So to expect the next generation to provide the same quantity of names is perhaps a little unfair. A look at the African Footballer of the Year winners prior to 2003 when E’too first took the title highlights this, given that the likes of El Hadji Diouf, Patrick Mboma and Mustapha Hadji were just a collection of the winners in the preceding five years – all decent players but hardly at the E’too or Drogba level.

Further to that, it’s hard to argue that the overall depth and quality of African is football is not as strong as it ever was, so whilst the pool of superstars might be diminishing the number of high quality footballers from the continent has grown – With the number of African’s playing in Europe’s top leagues now at an all-time high. The hope will be that with the quality continuing to grow, it will only be a matter of time for the next new superstar to emerge.

As already stated, there is a host talent playing their trade successfully around Europe but it should not be dismissed that they ply their trade for the top sides. In England only Toure was a consistent starter last term for a side in the top four, Demba Ba was merely a bit player at Chelsea despite coming to the club on the back of a superb scoring run, as were Gervinho and Kolo Toure at their respective clubs. It was a similar story in La Liga, where of the three sides who qualified for Champions League football none contained any Africans.

The Italian champions Juventus did contain one African in Kwadwo Asamoah, although he was not a guaranteed starter, whilst Napoli who finished second contained none – it is worth noting though that Milan who finished just behind contained four, however only the impressive Kevin Prince Boateng and Kevin Constant were regular starters.

In Germany neither Bayern Munich nor Borussia Dortmund needed any African assistance in their impressive seasons.

A look at Ligue 1 as you might expect is a little more pleasing with runners up Marseille in particular relying  heavily on a strong African following, although champions PSG contained only Mohammed Sissoko. This analysis clearly highlights that whilst the number of Africans participating in the top leagues is increasing, their involvement with the top sides remains limited – highlighting the current lack of world class talents.

There have been players who in recent years who have showed promise but struggled to live up to it, Asamoah Gyan being the most notable of these. Having been one of the star names of the 2010 World Cup the Ghanaian earned himself a move to the Premier League – yet rather than develop his skills in England he chose the money of the Middle East. There are others who have simply struggled to make the next step, for example both Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba have seen their stars fade over the last twelve months for a variety of reasons.

Others, such as Jon Obi Mikel, have simply been unable to live up the hype that was made of them in their early years. Then there is Andre Ayew who possesses all the talent in the world, yet his career has stumbled somewhat whilst his decision to opt out of international football has hardly endeared him to the African public – although at 23 he is still young, particularly when you consider Africans do tend to develop fairly late. Boateng is another who has the potential to light up the continent and was probably the star performer last season, however again turning his back on the national team does little for African football.

On a more positive note there are several players who have the potential to make it huge. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the most promising of these – having excelled in Ligue 1 last season he earned himself a move to German giants Dortmund, and if his debut hat trick is anything to go by he could take the Bundesliga by storm.

Mohamed Salah made a real impact last season in the Europa League with Basle and at 21 his best years are still to come, if Egypt make the World Cup then he has the potential to prove a huge name given his undoubted raw talent. Wilfried Bony having taken Holland by storm last season will be playing his football in England this term with Swansea and if he can transfer his form across then a move to one of the league’s biggest clubs should not be far off. Nigeria’s ACON win recently highlighted the young talent they have available – with Ahmed Musa in particular showcasing the potential to go far. Further to this there is an entire raft of youngsters who have shown the potential to be a huge success at a big club one day, however such is always the way with African football young talent does not guarantee a future quality footballer.

So undoubtedly the talent is there, but whether this can be utilised into world class players remains to be seen. African football is unquestionably getting stronger, however just like any sport the game needs superstars – the type of players which are somewhat lacking throughout the continents raft of footballing talent.

The gap unfortunately seems all the more wide given the players of the most recent generation and the hope will be that one or two of the next generation can at least get near the heights reached by the likes of E’too and YaYa Toure.