Riyad Mahrez

Riyad Mahrez and the African idols who’ve rocked the Premier League

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Leicester City and Algeria’s Riyad Mahrez has been flying the flag for Africa in the Premier League this season but who are the other stars from the continent who have shone in the top flight over the years?

Signed from French outfit Le Havre in January 2014, Algerian Riyad Mahrez was an unknown quantity when he arrived at Leicester City.

The winger helped fire the Foxes to the Football League Championship title in his first year and has been a revelation in the Premier League this term.

Leicester’s fairytale owes a lot to the goals and wizardry of the 25-year-old who topped off an incredible season when we was named the 2016 PFA Player of the Year.

Mahrez joins a list of distinguished Africans to have graced the English game. Zimbabwe’s Peter Ndlovu was the first African to play in the Premier League with Coventry City, but who are the others who’ve taken the top flight by storm?

Jay-Jay Okocha (Nigeria)

Okocha’s flair for the spectacular proved a massive hit at Bolton Wanderers when he arrived in 2002. His heroics helped the Trotters beat the drop and earned him the BBC African Player of the Year. The following year, wearing the captain’s armband, Okocha led Bolton to the League Cup final where they finished runners-up. There is a stadium named in his honour in his native Nigeria, while Okocha’s nephew is current Arsenal starlet Alex Iwobi.

© FootballSkills // YouTube

Nwankwo Kanu (Nigeria)

Kanu’s many honours include Premier League and Champions League medals, and an Olympics gold medallist from Atlanta in 1996. His club career took him to Ajax, Inter Milan, Arsenal, West Brom, and Portsmouth and he made a total of 273 appearances in the Premier League scoring 54 goals. In 1996, the 6ft 5.5 inch striker underwent surgery for a heart defect which led him to found the Kanu Heart Foundation to care for African children with similar health issues. Kanu now ones his own modelling agency in the Nigerian city of Lagos.

Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast) 

The younger brother of fellow Premier League professional Kolo, Yaya Toure is the driving force at the heart of Manchester City’s midfield and is a two-time league champion. He arrived in England via Barcelona, where he won two La Liga titles and the Champions League. At international level, Toure captained the Ivory Coast to the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations title. Not only is he a United Nations ambassador against elephant poaching, but along with his brother, is the inspiration behind one of the greatest football songs of all time.

© Thomas Jones // YouTube

Michael Essien (Ghana)

Powerful midfielder Michael Essien propelled Chelsea to multiple trophies including two Premier League titles in a 9-year spell at the west London club. He was voted BBC African Player of the Year in 2006. Known for his box-to-box dominant displays, Essien’s tough-tackling style earned him the nickname “The Bison.”

Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast)

Few African players are as decorated as Ivorian Didier Drogba. Winner of two Premier League titles with Chelsea, Drogba also scored the match-winning penalty to win the 2012 Champions League final. With 104 goals, no African player has scored more times in the Premier League. Drogba is also the all-time top scorer with the Ivory Coast, and was twice named African Footballer of the Year

Apart from his charity work, many credit the striker, now playing in the MLS with Montreal Impact, with helping to end civil war in his homeland. When the Ivory Coast qualified for the 2006 World Cup, Drogba’s plea led to a cease fire after five years of fighting. His work for peace saw him named as one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time magazine in 2010.

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04 2016 The Red Bulletin

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