The commencement of the various European leagues this weekend – the Premier League and Ligue 1 got a head start – brings with it news of the exploits of Africa’s leading lights. The likes of Hakim Ziyech, Sadio Mane, Eric Bailly, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang dominate their respective leagues, and make headlines by the week.
However, there are some that are not quite as familiar, and not for a lack of ability. Their relative youth means they are somewhat unknown, but that could well be set to change. Here are five under the radar Africans to watch this season.
Jordan Torunarigha (Hertha Berlin)
The young defender won the Bundesliga Rookie of the Month award in May, and has been compared to defender Jerome Boateng by manager Pal Dardai. He has also represented Germany at various youth levels, and is capable of playing at left-back, just like his idol. So what’s not to like?
Born into a footballing family(his father was a professional footballer, as is his elder brother), Torunarigha has enjoyed a meteoric rise to prominence, and is now set to make the step-up this season. under Hungarian Dardai, Hertha are tough to break down and lethal on the break; in their young Nigerian, they have the perfect platform.
Yann Karamoh (SM Caen)
No other league produces lightning-fast wingers quite like Ligue 1. In Caen’s Yann Karamoh, another comes off the conveyor belt. A precocious talent with mesmeric dribbling ability and an eye for goal, the Ivoirian has already been linked with Italian powerhouse Inter, who reportedly even had a 5 million euro bid knocked back, as well North London clubs Arsenal and Tottenham.
It now looks like the youngster will stay, but he goes into the new season knowing that the spotlight will be on him to push on from last season, when he scored five and assisted four in 35 games in the league for Caen. He certainly has it in him to become the next big thing.
Dennis Bonaventure (Club Brugge)
The departure of Henry Onyekuru has left the throne of Belgium’s Nigerian wing wizard vacant, and in has come the marvellously-named Emmanuel Dennis Bonaventure to sit on it. The forward arrived at Club Brugge this summer, after impressing in his very first season in Europe with Zorya Luhansk in Poland.
He has hit the ground running straightaway, scoring five goals in his first five appearances for the Blau-Zwart, including one in the Champions League qualifier against Istanbul Basaksehir. This has attracted interest from Europe’s elite, with reports stating both Manchester clubs are keeping tabs on the moustachioed 19-year-old.
If he carries on in this vein, he could very well toe Onyekuru’s path to the bright lights of the Premier League.
Tanguy Ndombele (SC Amiens)
This versatile midfielder was big in Amiens’ promotion to Ligue 1 last season, and is an exciting prospect at age 20. Capable of playing both in a defensive and offensive capacity, there is much to admire about the remarkably mature Ndombele, who is of Congolese parentage.
The challenge for Amiens will be staying up, and there has been little to inspire confidence so far, with two losses from the opening two games. Ndombele endured something of a baptism of fire on the opening day against PSG, and was substituted after an hour. However, if Amiens are unable to retain their top-flight status, it is almost certain they will not be returning with their powerful midfield gem.
Joel Obi (Torino)
Now 26, it seems like an age ago that this midfielder was being lauded as the next successor to the great Jay-Jay Okocha. He has so far failed to fulfil that expectation, and not just because it is an unreasonably lofty one; injuries have truncated whatever form he has managed to build up, but there is no doubting his natural abilities.
As such, he is due a ton of credit for his pluck, which has seen him fight his way back to full fitness. He has begun the season in good cheer for Torino, scoring in the Coppa Italia thrashing of Trapani, a welcome continuation of his prolific preseason form. This may well be the season when he finds much-needed redemption and return to the reckoning for the national team.