Goal 50: Which absent African is most deserving of inclusion?

Many of the continent’s big names missed out on Goal’s celebration of the world’s greatest players.


As is often the case with sporting lists celebrating the best or worst in a particular field, it’s often the names who haven’t been included who generate as much discussion as those who have.

African players have consistently been represented in the Goal 50, and this year is no different, with Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Kalidou Koulibaly all making the cut.

These inclusions won’t prompt too much disagreement; Salah is coming off the back of a sublime maiden season with Liverpool, while Mane has been unfortunate to have been in the Egyptian’s shadow at Anfield after enjoying an excellent campaign himself.

Koulibaly has also continued to bolster his reputation as one of the finest centre-backs in the European game, and was a key component of the Napoli side that ran Juventus close last term.

He certainly would have been an asset for Chelsea or Manchester City, for example, had either ultimately moved for his services during the summer.

However, while this trio are unlikely to provoke too much dissension among Goal readers, could a few more African players have fancied their chances of being included?

Hakim Ziyech Ajax Amsterdam

While Salah has made the cut as North Africa’s representative, there’s no place for Hakim Ziyech of Ajax despite his outstanding form in the Eredivisie.

De Joden were pipped to the title by PSV Eindhoven last term, but Ziyech was arguably the division’s outstanding player.

He registered 15 assists and nine goals, and followed that up with a World Cup debut, in which he was a key component of a Morocco side who played some of the best football of the first round and were unfortunate not to have advanced beyond the group stage.

Unlike a few other African players who failed to build on last season’s success this term, Ziyech has maintained his consistent excellence this season.

He’s been the key protagonist in Ajax’s fine start to the campaign, having netted seven goals and set up a further four already this term.

Surely a bigger league than the Eredivisie beckons, and surely Ziyech can be hopeful of a spot in next year’s Goal 50 if he maintains his outstanding levels of performance.

Andre Onana Ajax

One of the Moroccan’s Ajax teammates, Andre Onana, has arguably established himself as Africa’s premier goalkeeper during 2017.

Success in the Africa Cup of Nations on home soil next season may well see Onana make the cut, and make up for missing out this year!

In terms of players who could have muscled their way into the Goal 50 this season had they maintained their 2017-18 form, Naby Keita and Thomas Partey are two names who stand out.

The latter was arguably Africa’s most improved player last term, as he established himself as a first-team fixture at one of Europe’s biggest clubs.

Not just that, but the powerhouse also emerged as a key man for Atletico Madrid—on occasion settling matches on his own—and the central component of Kwesi Appiah’s new Ghana side.

He hasn’t hit those same heights this season, however, so his absence is understandable.

Naby Keita | 2018-19 stats

As is that of Keita, who’s yet to translate his imperious Bundesliga form to the Premier League.

Naby Keita Liverpool

Both of these two could—if their fortunes improve—make the cut next season.

Wilfried Zaha might also feel that he could have made the cut for 2018.

The Ivorian has enjoyed some excellent form at Crystal Palace, where he’s arguably been the Premier League’s best player outside the top six, and has appeared—at times—to be one a one-man mission to keep the club in the top flight.

Wilfried Zaha | 2018-19 stats

Injuries have affected Zaha’s progress, and perhaps explain why he’s missed out to the likes of Florian Thauvin and Ciro Immobile.

Riyad Mahrez is another who might have entered the discussion.

One of the world’s best 50 players? Quite possibly.

Has he demonstrated it enough in 2018? Probably not.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang Arsenal 2018

Finally, the most surprising omission from the Goal 50 is Arsenal hitman Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

The Gabon frontman swapped the Bundesliga for the Premier League in January, departing Germany as the top flight’s reigning top scorer, and he hasn’t truly received the credit he deserved for adapting to life at the Emirates Stadium so quickly.

Considering the confusion of the final days of Arsene Wenger’s tenure, and the inevitable bedding-in period for new coach Unai Emery, the former Borussia Dortmund man has done exceptionally well to maintain his consistency in front of goal.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang | 2018-19 stats

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He has scored 19 in all competitions for Arsenal in 2018—more than any other player—and has adapted comfortably to life in a fourth major European league.

Even though the Londoners have struggled for form somewhat in recent weeks, the club’s fans can be optimistic that, with Aubameyang still in his prime, they can outgun their opponents in 2019.

Will it be enough for the in-form hitman to return to the Goal 50?