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The Number of African Football Players in European Leagues Tops 500

The number of African football players in European leagues tops 500 [Graphics: Hope Mukami]

Demand for Africa’s footballing talent is growing worldwide, with more than 500 African footballers including some of the biggest names in the game now having a considerable impact on Europe’s professional club leagues.

Seth Onyango, bird story agency

On April 16, Senegal talisman Sadio Mané struck twice in a thrilling match against Manchester City, to send Liverpool into the FA Cup final against Chelsea.

Mané’s spectacular performance for The Reds, came slightly over a month after the Senegalese forward converted a decisive penalty against Egypt to earn his West African nation its first Africa Cup of Nations title.

At the African showpiece final, Mané was, coincidentally up against Egyptian striker and fellow Liverpool team-mate, Mohamed Salah. Both are ranked in the KPMG report as Africa’s most valuable players.

African footballers in European leagues

The audit firm’s figures show there are over 500 African footballers in European leagues. The number of players playing abroad is far higher if other, non-European leagues, like the Middle East and China, are factored in.

“African footballers are contracted by these clubs’ first teams in the 11 leagues, which constitutes approximately 6 per cent of their total player base. Unsurprisingly, most of them come from West-African countries,” reads the November 2021 report dubbed “The African Power in Europe” in part.

Senegal, Morocco and Nigeria produce the highest number of players in European leagues, with 62, 55 and 54 players respectively, as of November 23, 2021.

Others are Ivory Coast (50), Ghana (46), Algeria (32), Mali (32), Cameroon ((28), DR Congo (23) and Guinea (13), with West African states dominating the chart.

After the recently-concluded AFCON, more African players who featured in the tournament are expected to be signed by clubs overseas.

More signings are expected at the World Cup 2022 in Qatar, which is also expected to provide the five participating African countries with a great stage to showcase their talents.

In order to assess the significance of African footballers in Europe, KPMG looked at 11 prominent top tier leagues and their African nationals.

“It is important to note that the primary nationality was the key criteria; players of African origin who play for non-African national adult teams are excluded from the analysis,” it said.

French League 1 contracts the highest number of African footballers with 107, Belgian Pro League (82), Turkish Süper Lig (82), Portuguese Primeira Liga (48), English Premier League (44), Italian Serie A (42), German Bundesliga (29), Dutch Eredivise (28), Spanish LaLiga (25) Russian Premier Liga (18) and Austrian Bundesliga (9).

While League 1 employs more African players, it pales by comparison when it comes to the average market value of African players in the English Premier League (EPL).

KPMG argues this is because Liverpool duo Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané, being on top of the list of the most valuable players, gives a boost to the average value of African footballers in the English top tier.

“The proportion of EPL players among the more valuable footballers is also higher: for example, concerning the 21 players with a market value over 30 million euros, we find 13 players from EPL clubs and only two from Ligue 1 clubs,” the audit firm’s figures show.

“With Salah and Mané in their ranks, it is unsurprising that Liverpool is also the club with the highest total squad value attributed to African players, with Guinean midfielder Naby Keita and Cameroon defender Joel Matip also part of the team.”

Interestingly, KPMG notes that it is not uncommon that most African players often choose to represent an African nation due to family roots without ever playing in the professional league of that country.

“Such players either moved to a European football academy at a young age or were born and raised in Europe but later decided to represent the nation of their ancestors. For example, SSC Napoli centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly was born in France to Senegalese parents, thus he was eligible to represent both nations at the international level,” it analysed.

“Koulibaly actually played for the France national under-20 team before ultimately deciding that he would play for Senegal from 2015 onwards — today he is the captain of the team. Similarly, Liverpool’s Joel Matip was born in Germany and started his career there with FC Schalke 04, before opting to play international football for Cameroon.”

Africa offers a vibrant and diverse pool of talent that cuts across sporting disciplines.

However, because of the nature of the sports ecosystem in Africa — which has yet to develop a fair and representational value chain — Africa has become a hunting ground for talent by agents from other regions in the world.

bird story agency

Also Read: Afcon Demands Global Respect, Opens a New Chapter for African Football


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