In the second edition of this annual feature, we at Outside of the Boot aim to unearth the best performing footballers from each of the 5 primary Confederations. Rebranded as ‘The Best Series’, we champion football’s top individuals based on performances in the past calendar year.
5. MOHAMED SALAH
24 // Egypt // Roma // 2015 Ranking: 3 ↓
The Egyptian International’s Premier League stint didn’t go according to plan as he was yet another creative midfielder deemed surplus to requirements at Stamford Bridge. With his career suddenly stalled, Salah looked to Serie A to get himself back on track. After a loan spell at Fiorentina, Salah made his way to Rome and hasn’t looked back since. He finished the 2015/16 season with 14 goals and 8 assists to his name. The 24-year-old has begun this season in even more stellar fashion as he has already matched his goal tally at the time of writing while also producing 8 assists. The main benefactor of these assists has been Edin Dzeko as the duo have dovetailed to form a formidable partnership.
It would be fair to say that the fortunes of the Egyptian national team rely heavily on the pacy winger. Salah is the main man and while it’s still early in his International career, the records speak for themselves. The 24-year-old has had a direct role to play in his country’s last 4 World Cup qualification goals. scoring 2 and setting up 2 in the wins against Congo and Ghana.
Written by Arnab Ray
4. SADIO MANE
24 // Senegal // Liverpool & Southampton // 2015 Ranking: no change
The Senegalese international Sadio Mane was found thanks to the extensive scouting network of the Red Bull group who took him from Metz in France all the way to Salzburg. The pacy forward flourished in Austria before making the move across to Southampton, after being picked up by yet another excellent scouting network. His performances at St. Mary’s really highlighted his ability, and he was picked up this summer by Liverpool for what is rumoured to be around 30 million pounds.
Mane has all the potential to do well at Anfield, and his start in his new surroundings has showcased all his talents. Brought in by Klopp, the manager has utilized the player very well, and Mane already has 7 goals and 3 assists at the time of writing. His pace on the break has been used to devastating effect, and is the stuff of many a meme!
While his recent success at Liverpool bodes well for him, and his club and country, Mane has been a fairly consistent performer over the last couple of years in England. He finished last season as Southampton’s top scorer with 15 goals despite not scoring for a stretch of 4 months in a row. He’s also got the record for the fastest hat-trick in the Premier League.
Overall, as one of the most expensive African players in history, Mane has quite the tag to live up to, and if he can lead Liverpool to a title challenge this season, it will be viewed as quite the achievement.
Written by Vishal Patel
3. HAKIM ZIYECH
23 // Morocco // Ajax & Twente
With our eyes constantly cast on Europe’s top five leagues, there are always a handful of brilliant young players who fly under the radar – Hakim Ziyech is one of them. After coming through the ranks at SC Heerenveen and then performing brilliantly once in the first team, Ziyech went on to FC Twente to register a ridiculous 34 goals and 30 assists in just 76 Eredivisie appearances, prompting Ajax Amsterdam to pull the trigger and bring him to the Amsterdam ArenA.
Since his arrival, Ziyech has seamlessly fit into an attacking Ajax team bursting with young talent as usual. Now playing in a deeper central role under Peter Bosz, Ziyech has formed an excellent midfield partnership with captain Davy Klaassen and Lasse Schone. Capable of controlling the match and pulling strings from deep, or picking the ball up and getting forward to effect proceedings in and around the area, Ziyech has quickly developed into the complete midfielder in an attacking sense. At present, his 3.58 key passes and 4.11 chances created per ninety-minutes are a testament to his importance in the side. On top of his creative nature, he shows a willingness to add to the team goal tally, averaging 4.64 shots for ninety-minutes, putting him at seven goals in eighteen total appearances between Twente and Ajax in the season to go along with his six assists. One for the Future? No…one for the present AND the future.
Written by Andrew Thompson
2. PIERRE-EMERICK AUBAMEYANG
27 // Gabon // Borussia Dortmund // 2015 Ranking: 1 ↓
2016 hasn’t been short of any surprises for the Gabon international plying his trade at Borussia Dortmund. Having started the year brilliantly when the Bundesliga resumed after the break, Aubameyand played a key role in Tuchel’s BVB chasing after Bayern Munich for the domestic titles, including the DFB Pokal. Though the team efforts may have gone in vain, Aubameyang enjoyed immense success as he became the first African to be awarded the Bundesliga Player of the Year award. He has continued to keep up with that name tag this season as he does not look to give up on his title, scoring goals for Dortmund in all competitions, 13 goals so far in 11 Bundesliga appearances and that tally rises to 17 in all competitions after stellar performances for the German outfit in the Champions League.
Unfortunately for him that he missed the game against Legia, where Dortmund scored for fun, we would have definitely witnessed fireworks from the Gabon international as well. Aubameyang also won the coveted African Player of the Year award, which left Yaya Toure quite disappointed. An accolade that is considered quite prestigious, as we dawn on 2017, Aubameyang will only look to win more personal and team trophies.
Written by Alankrith Shankar
1. RIYAD MAHREZ
25 // Algeria // Leicester City
Riyad Mahrez provided the X factor in Leicester City’s Premier League fairytale, allying his tricks and flicks with a remarkable quality of end product – 17 goals and 10 assists in 37 PL appearances. From twisting Cesar Azpilicueta inside-out before curling one in against Chelsea to laying on chance after chance for his team-mates, Mahrez was the breakout star of the 2015/16 season. He claimed multiple individual awards – PFA Players’ Player of the Year and PFA Fans’ Player of the Year, as well as being voted into the Premier League PFA Team of the Year. The Leicester No. 26 has even had none other than Xavi being quoted as saying “Mahrez is good enough to play for Barcelona”.
Although he has suffered with the increased opposition attention in the Premier League this season, Mahrez’s form has carried over into his debut season in the UEFA Champions League – 4 goals and 1 assist in 5 games. He has scored the winner in matches against Club Brugge and FC Copenhagen and assisted the winning goal against FC Porto. Having helped Leicester secure top spot in their UCL group before matchday 6, 2016 has most definitely been Riyad Mahrez’s year.
Written by Mark Ooi