The role of African footballers usually goes under the radar. A few of the best players stand out from the crowd, but the conveyor belt that is African football isn’t viewed in the same way as Europe or South America.
That’s a shame because the continent is a major exporter to the biggest leagues in the world, including the EPL.
There’s more – the people who make the trip are essential to the strength of the brand. Without African footballers, the Premier League would be much worse off than it is now. Here’s why.
African Players Bring the Joy
Previously, many of the players who hailed from Africa were used in defensive positions. Other than Yaya Toure and Didier Drogba, it was the case for the majority of the league.
However, this isn’t the case in 2021, since the most watchable men are from the likes of Egypt, Algeria, and Senegal. Yes, Riyad Mahrez, Mo Salah, and Sadio Mane are currently the most profitable assets in the EPL.
There’s no secret why. It’s because they are goalscorers and assist-makers who add another dimension to teams such as Liverpool and Man City, two of the most successful sides in the last couple of years. Without Mahrez’s guile and dribbling ability or Salah’s and Mane’s clinical finishing skills, Premier League supporters wouldn’t have been as entertained.
This is highlighted by the early Premier League betting market that has City and Liverpool as two of four potential favourites at 4/6 and 11/2 respectively. Of the other sides in the mix, African players were crucial to their success, too.
For instance, Chelsea wouldn’t have finished in the top four or won the Champions League without Morocco’s Hakim Ziyech.
Teams Are Weaker Without Them
Unusually, it’s easy to gauge the importance of African footballers due to the African Cup of Nations.
The ACoN takes place during the middle of the EPL season, which means people like Mo Salah and Sadio Mane take leave to compete on the international stage. During this period, it’s evident how much weaker Liverpool are without their big guns.
Even though Roberto Firmino is still there, the stats show how much the team’s attacking threat diminishes. For example, Liverpool would have lost 13 goals, three assists, and 27 chances from Salah alone in 2020/21 if the tournament went ahead. Including Mane, the total increases to 19 goals, five assists, and 23 chances created.
121 – Since Mohamed Salah made his debut for Liverpool, only Cristiano Ronaldo (140), Lionel Messi (156) and Robert Lewandowski (177) have scored more goals than the Egyptian (121) across all competitions within the top five European leagues. Example. pic.twitter.com/kWK5R56RUh
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 6, 2021
In comparison, Firmino added five goals, three assists, and 17 created chances in the same timeframe. Liverpool FC is only one example, yet there are several throughout the league that suffers when the ACoN takes place.
They Shatter the Glass Ceiling
As you can tell from the statistics above, the Premier League can only benefit from employing more high-class African footballers. Unfortunately, African players in the lower leagues don’t always get the breaks they deserve. When they do, they shine, as evidenced by N’Golo Kante and his Malian heritage.
Thankfully, people like Kante and everyone else mentioned in this post blaze a trail for aspiring footballers. They see what their idols have done and understand they can follow their leads. The same goes for Premier League clubs who may not have believed players from the continent were ready, previously.
Today, the number of footballers of African descent is skyrocketing as the EPL is finally beginning to work out what they bring to the table. It’s attacking flair, entertainment, and the joy of winning with a smile.
To answer the question, they are very essential to the Premier League. At the moment, you may argue footballers such as Mahrez, Mane, Salah, and Kante are the lifeblood of the league. That’s some journey from the ninth-tier of French football!