Top 25 African players of 2018
19. Marvelous Nakamba – Brugge – Zimbabwe
While Khama Billiat and Benjani have been the biggest names in Zimbabwean football in recent memory, it is Marvelous Nakamba of Brugge that has made the biggest impact this year. Having added Nakamba to their ranks in 2017, Brugge were able to reclaim the league title from Anderlecht with Nakamba playing a crucial role from defensive midfield. Following their title win, Brugge were placed in an extremely tough Champions League group alongside Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Monaco, all of which have reached at least the semi finals in the last five years. Despite the stern opposition, Brugge held their own and picked up at least a draw against all three sides, with the icing on the cake being a famous 4-0 win away at Monaco. Having been linked with the likes of Fiorentina, Torino and even Liverpool in recent months, it seems that the future is bright for Nakamba.
18. Geoffrey Kondogbia – Valencia – Central African Republic
Out of everyone on this list, Kondogbia is the only one who only began representing an African national team this year. While he had previously represented France at youth level, Kondogbia surprised the world by switching allegiances to the lowly Central African Republic. Having previously struggled in his big money move to Inter Milan, he went back to the league where he originally made his name to play for Valencia and in his first season there proved to be one of the best midfielders in the Spanish top flight. With his trademark style of technical dribbling mixed with a strong physical frame, Kondogbia was key in Valencia making it back into the Champions League although they have already been eliminated by Juventus and Manchester United and will now play in the Europa League.
17. Anice Badri – Esperance de Tunis – Tunisia
2018 saw Esperance de Tunis win the CAF Champions League for the third time in their history, and it was in no small part due to the contributions of their key forward Anice Badri. The 28 year old finished the competition as top scorer with 8 goals, and many of these came at crucial moments such as the winner in the semi final against Primeiro de Agosto as well as the nail in Al Ahly’s coffin in the final. Badri also played a key role in Taraji winning the Tunisian league title, and made two appearances for Tunisia at the World Cup where he came off the bench in Tunisia’s comeback win over Panama.
16. Naby Keita – Liverpool – Guinea
A product of the famous Red Bull scouting network, Naby Keita earned a move to Liverpool that saw him become the most expensive African player of all time. While the start to his career on Merseyside has been somewhat derailed by injuries, he has been able to show his immense quality in his first few months as Liverpool progressed to the Champions League knockout stage and are currently top of the Premier League. Prior to that, Keita had been one of the best midfielders in Germany for Leipzig although both he and his teammates failed to live up to the heights that they had set the season before. With Guinea, Keita has been the star man in a side that look on course to finish at the top of their qualification group ahead of Ivory Coast, although they are guaranteed to qualify regardless of whether that happens or not.
15. Nicolas Pepe – Lille – Ivory Coast
Lille have had extremely contrasting fortunes in the last two seasons. In 2017-18 they narrowly avoided relegation in 17th place, while they are currently 2nd in the table only behind Paris Saint Germain. The one constant, however, has been the superb form of Ivorian winger Nicolas Pepe, who scored 13 goals last season and is already close to matching that tally for 2018-19. The phenomenal numbers that Pepe is putting up have put him on the radar of many of Europe’s elite, namely Arsenal, with a potential fee rumoured at way over 50 million Euros. Pepe has only been a relatively recent addition to the Ivory Coast set up but already he is part of one of the most feared attacking lines in Africa and could be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
14. Baghdad Bounedjah – Al Sadd – Algeria
The only Asian based player in this list, Bounedjah has gone from strength to strength since linking up with Xavi at Al Sadd in Qatar. In 2018, only new Pyramids signing Jhon Cifuente has scored more league goals than Bounedjah anywhere in the world, with the Algerian scoring 36 goals in just 18 league games. Since the start of 2017-18, there have only been two games in which Bounedjah has failed to score in the Qatar Stars League and his goalscoring almost took Al Sadd the distance in the AFC Champions League before they were knocked out in the semi finals by Persepolis. The highlight of Bounedjah’s year is probably scoring seven goals in one game against Al Arabi in an emphatic 10-1 win, and he now appears to be leading the line for the Algeria national team ahead of Islam Slimani.
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