In this new annual feature, we at Outside of the Boot aim to unearth the best performing footballers from each of the 5 primary Confederations in the past calendar year. Rather than do the work ourselves, we had the bright idea of crowd-sourcing the answers and the football-sphere has spoken with its votes.
Drum roll please. And the winners of Global Series: Africa is…
10. SOFIANE FEGHOULI
The Algerian winger, part of a fast growing talent pool for the North African nation, has been a key player for Los Che for the last few seasons. Having made his debut for Grenoble, and helped them to promotion to Ligue 1, Feghouli made his move to Valencia when given the opportunity. He was loaned out to Almeria for a season, but was introduced to the first team upon his return. He’s grown in importance over the years to become one of the key creative forces of this Valencia side.
Just this season, he’s made 17 appearances for the team, scoring 4 times. Crucially, two of his goals have been the difference in tight Champions League games against Lyon and Gent, and could be the contributions that allow them to enter the Round of 16. Earlier too, he made the difference in qualifying, with a goal and an assist in the 3-1 home win against Monaco proving enough to take Valencia into the group stage. Feghouli pretty much always starts on the right wing, but isn’t a touchline hugging winger. His creativity and link up play mean that he’s drifting in very often to play at his best.
Gervais Yao Kouassi, given the nickname Gervinho by his Brazilian coach has been a popular player almost wherever he’s been. He got his first taste of European football in Belgium before a 4 year stint in France, with the latter 2 years at Lille being more successful. He had shown enough to sign for Arsenal, where he had a rough start after getting sent off on debut. He never really got his Arsenal career going, and most Arsenal fans were pleased to see him leave for Roma after a couple of seasons. It is in Rome that he’s really made an impact. Being reunited with his coach at Lille, Rudi Garcia, Gervinho has become an important cog in the Roma attack. His pace, skills, and direct play have added a dimension, and a target for their creative players like Pjanic and Totti.
In his 14 appearances this season, Gervinho has been an important contributor to the good early season form that Roma had, with 7 goals and 2 assists. In fact, his loss due to injury has coincided with a slight slump for the capital club. This is a definite improvement in form to last season, when injuries, and a trip to the AFCON reduced his ability to contribute at club level. As a team too, Roma seem to be posing a much stronger challenge, and the positive form of Gervinho surely bears some correlation.
8. ROBERT KIDIABA
Kidiaba is the veteran goalkeeper at TP Mazembe, is one of the most decorated African players in the game today. Kidiaba started off his career at AS Saint Luc, and his success there prompted the national team to take him to the AFCON in 1998. This brought attention to the young keeper, and he signed for Mazembe after the tournament. Ever since then, he’s been a constant in their side, winning league titles galore, and 3 African Champions League trophies as well.
TP Mazembe are the reigning African champions, and will represent the continent at the Club World Cup this year. Of course, Kidiaba has been to this stage before, taking his team all the way to the final in 2010 where they ended up losing to Inter Milan. Kidiaba is also an internet star for his very famous goal celebration. But weird celebrations aside, Kidiaba is generally a very difficult man to beat. Known for his reflexes and his agility, Kidiaba kept 7 clean sheets in the 13 match tournament the Mazembe has in last season’s Champions League. What’s more incredible is that this is an average he has maintained over the course of his career. The 39 year old has only gone back on a desire to retire once, but he might be nearing the end of a distinguished career soon, as he takes baby steps into politics.
7. AYMEN ABDENNOUR
Aymen Abdennour is a Tunisian center back currently playing for Valencia. He’s still a young player, who’s enjoyed a fair bit of success in his career so far. Having started out at Etoile du Sahel, he had a loan move to Werder Bremen, which ultimately proved to be unsuccessful. Despite that, he was a regular for his national side, making his debut at the age of 20. His performances had made him a fan favourite, for his club and national team.
The past year has been a good one for the young defender, as his positive performances for Monaco, especially in the second half of last season earned him a move to Valencia in the summer. Having been brought in to replace Otamendi, Abdennour hasn’t been able to make the expected impact so far in La Liga, thanks mainly to the injuries he’s suffered. But that doesn’t take away from his time at Monaco, where he was pretty much a fixture in the team. As a defender, he is the model that many modern defenders are. He’s got good ball skills, and excellent technical ability. Aerially too, he’s brilliant, winning a vast majority of his duels. He’s also a mainstay in the Tunisian national team, despite being just 26 at the moment.
6. ANDRE AYEW
Andre Ayew is the son of a famous father, being the second born son of the legendary Abedi Ayew. But to call him simply his father’s son is to do a great disservice to the man himself. He’s forged an impressive playing career himself, with success at Marseille followed by a good spell at Swansea so far. He was one of the young players to impress at the World Cup in 2010, his first World Cup, and even ended up as top scorer in the AFCON earlier this year, as Ghana finished second to Ivory Coast.
His last season with Marseille was a good one, with goals and assists, but as it drew to a close, the feeling that Ayew was stagnating a little was rife, as the club failed to win the Ligue despite a great start under Bielsa. A move to Swansea in the summer followed, and he’s done very well for the Welsh club ever since signing up. 3 goals in his first 4 appearances, including one at Stamford Bridge, and a goal and an assist against Manchester United meant that he was the player of the month for August, hardly a slow start. Obviously, he hasn’t been able to keep up with that, but he’s been a more than handy addition to the side. 6 goals and 2 assists in his 16 appearances so far make him a very useful attacking option at Monk’s disposal, but unfortunately could not do enough to stop Monk from getting the sack.
5. YACINE BRAHIMI
The incredibly gifted attacking midfielder, Yacine Brahimi has made quite the journey from Rennes to Porto. Having floated between various youth academies, Brahimi turned professional at Rennes, graduating with players like Yann M’Villa among others. He made his debut for Clermont Foot, on loan there from Rennes, and enjoyed a successful season there before returning to Rennes amidst interest from the likes of Arsenal. He eventually moved to Granada where he won the LFP award for African Player of the year in 2013-14, following which he was signed by Porto.
It’s only been an upward climb for Brahimi since his move to Portugal, as he’s established himself as a key member of Lopetegui’s team. His good pace, coupled with neat technical ability and a bag of tricks make him very difficult to handle as an opposing wing back. Brahimi has also displayed a tendency to drop a bullet of a long shot more than just once in a while, showcasing his power and strength as well. Playing primarily on the left hand side, Brahimi has notched up 4 goals and 5 assists in his 16 appearances, which is a fair record. Moreover, he’s actually made an impact on some big matches as well. He scored a long range stunner in the Champions league round of 16 tie against Basel, aside from providing an assist. Brahimi certainly looks like an important part of this growing Porto side, and as of now at least, his main goal should be to start performing at a match winning level consistently for his club team.
4. SADIO MANE
Mane has had a fast, and extraordinary rise to the top. The Senegalese star started his career in France, and continued it in Austria, winning trophies there. After this, we saw one of Ronald Koeman’s masterstrokes, as he was brought to Southampton towards the end of the transfer window.
Mane made an instant impact in the League Cup win against Arsenal, and the Premier League win against QPR. He scored his first goal for the Saints in their excellent 8-0 win against Sunderland. Mane displayed his excellent form throughout the season, forming an impressive combination with Pelle and Tadic, helping Southampton into the top half of the table. He ended the season in style as well, with the fastest hat-trick of the Premier League being scored against Aston Villa by him in just 2 minutes and 56 seconds. His performances last season were good enough for him to earn links to, and serious interest from clubs like Manchester United this past summer, but he has stayed put at Southampton for the time being. It has proven to be a good decision, as his performances have only improved, and 7 goals and 7 assists in 20 appearances so far, despite the bad form from Southampton is a good haul. Going forward though, Southampton may want to be aware of interest in him, especially with their faltering performances. United may have been spurned in the summer, but if they do come calling again, mane may be very justified in seeking a move.
3. MOHAMMED SALAH
Salah is an Egyptian player who was formerly with Basel, and made a huge impact in the Champions League and Europa League with that team. His pace, goal scoring ability, performances, and talent made him a target for many top European clubs, with Liverpool in particular striving to get his signature. That deal was hijacked at the last minute, and Salah ended up moving to Chelsea. Though he never really managed to establish himself there, there was no shortage of suitors for his signature, and at the start of the year, he moved to Fiorentina as part exchange in the deal for Cuadrado.
He was a big hit in the Serie A, with his 6 goals and 3 assists endearing him to the Viola fans. He also did well for them in the Europa League, and the Italian Cup. His performance against Juventus was a particular highlight, as he scored two virtuoso goals in a 2-1 first leg win. His performances were good enough for Fiorentina to want to make the deal permanent, but Roma also wanted a player, and a scuffle for his signature ensued. Roma eventually won out, despite allegations of foul play. The winger has been a regular for the Romans this season, with 6 goals and 2 assists making for a very respectable record in his 15 appearances. The player’s pace and dribbling ability, combined with his superb finishing sets him apart, and makes it hard for defenders to keep up with him. He is mostly deployed in the wide areas, from where he looks to attack the gap between the center back and the full back. He’s still very young, and has a lot more to do in his career. He will be important to Roma and their hopes of progress, not only in the Champions League, but also their Serie A title challenge.
2. YAYA TOURE
A former Champions League winner with Barcelona, Yaya Toure signed for City at the height of their spending years to add a frightening new presence at the heart of their midfield. Toure is well established as a key member of the current City team, and is well loved and respected by fans from across the world, His performances in the past have helped City to 2 Premier league titles, with a 20 + goal contribution during the second title win proving crucial.
The first half of last season was difficult for Toure due to personal reasons, and the media constantly attacking him didn’t help him, but the big Ivorian bounced back. His languid style of play often drew criticism, but manager Pellegrini seems to have discovered the formula to get the best out of a slightly older Yaya. Starting him in a 3 man midfield, with Fernando and Fernandinho behind him seems to give him the chance to charge forward and affect opposing defences with his powerful running and shooting skills. Winning the AFCON was another important event in his life, and the fact that he captained his side to this important win must mean even more to him personally. He’s got 3 goals and 5 assists so far this season, and hasn’t really hit the straps, but don’t be surprised if City surge to the top on the back of some impressive performances from Yaya Toure.
1. PIERRE-EMERICK AUBAMEYANG
Initially brought into Dortmund to replace Lewandowski in the long run, Aubameyang has done a swell job, and is living up to his billing. Currently in his third season at the Ruhr club, Aubameyang has enjoyed some success in his time here. He was content with playing second fiddle to Lewandowski is his first season, and scaring defenders with his speed, but he moved into a central role last season, and began truly thriving in that role recently. He eventually ended the season with 25 goals. This season though, he’s taken it to a new level, with 25 goals already in just 23 appearances.
Aubameyang is a player whose main strength is his incredible pace. Opposing defenders quake in their boots at the prospect of having him run at them, and he even proved to be faster that Usain Bolt over 30 meters in one trial! Aside from the pace, he’s developed a deadly finishing ability this season, and has managed to get on the end of a lot of quick Dortmund breakaways to apply the finishing touches. He’s managed to score in 8 consecutive games this season, and gotten 2 consecutive hat-tricks as well. He has a lot to do with Tuchel’s ultra attacking Dortmund and their success so far. He’s also got fair dribbling ability, and most defenders would hate to be in a one on one situation against him. His evolution to a lone striker has been fruitful for both him, and his club. He’s not just been a player to run in behind the opposing defence, he has also done well to effect strong interplay with his attacking midfielders.
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