10 Young African Players Poised to Break out in 2014/15
This feature profiles 10 young African players who could be poised to enjoy breakout campaigns over the 2014/15 season.
For the purpose of this piece, we are looking for players who may be set to enjoy a sudden rise in their status or reputation based on their on-field performances over the coming year.
Thus, those featured in the coming slides are players who we are backing to improve their standing within the world game over the coming 12 months.
Some are complete rookies, barely taking their first baby steps in the game, while others are already established internationals who look primed to take their game to another level this season, or indeed to “break out” in a new league or a new context.
It is important to note that while all of the players listed here are eligible to represent African nations, some currently feature (or have featured) for the youth sides of European countries.
Britt Assombalonga may have missed out on promotion to the Championship with Peterborough United last season, but the Congolese forward seemed destined for the second tier regardless of the outcome of Posh’s campaign.
The striker was duly snapped up by Nottingham Forest, with new boss Stuart Pearce making the former Watford man the club’s record signing.
Not bad work for a 21-year-old!
Speaking about his new signing, as reported by the Daily Star, Pearce said the following: "You pick things up from just 15 minutes—his work rate and his personality [have] really impressed me.
"We hope £5m will be a real bargain. You pay for potential sometimes in football as well as the finished product.”
The forward hasn’t wasted any time in repaying the fee splashed out for him. He has scored three goals in his first three Championship matches and has been Man of the Match on two occasions.
Amidst their expensive squad, Paris Saint-Germain boast two young forwards who could go on to become stars of Ligue 1. Admittedly, it will be tough to make the grade at PSG, particularly as the club’s standards continue to increase, but Jean-Christophe Bahebeck and Hervin Ongenda have demonstrated enough so far to suggest there might be hope.
The former is the subject of this slide, but Ongenda made an impressive start to his life as a professional last term, creating two assists in two Ligue 1 starts.
It is Bahebeck, however, who has already featured this term, suggesting that he is perhaps slightly ahead of his younger teammate in the pecking order.
The Cameroonian forward, who has scored two goals in three games for France U21s, hasn’t always looked like a natural goalscorer. He scored only two in 19 at Valenciennes last season, and he managed only three in 27 at Troyes before that.
However, he can boast of some remarkable pre-season form, when he was the club’s stand-out performer.
Six goals over the summer have led to interest from Arsenal, according to Simon Jones of The Daily Mail, but the 21-year-old may prefer sticking around at the Parc des Princes to stand fifth in line behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Lucas.
As Cameroon seek to rebuild following their World Cup debacle, the Indomitable Lions could also do a lot worse than turn to the PSG youngster.
It was always going to be a huge ask for diminutive midfielder Shadrach Eghan to immediately find first gear after moving to Holland last summer.
There were some excellent performances, however, particularly in Twente’s 6-0 demolition of Utrecht in August 2013 and their 5-2 rout of NAC in November.
His best performance, though, came in the club’s 5-0 demolition of Groningen, where Eghan scored twice and picked up the Man of the Match award.
Expect him to claim a few more of these over the coming campaign.
The youngster looks up to Sulley Muntari and Kwadwo Asamoah, but he was tutored personally by Patrick Kluivert upon his arrival in the Netherlands.
This season might be the one where we can begin to judge just how close the midfielder will get to emulating this celebrated trio.
Moneybags Monaco, along with Paris Saint-Germain, enjoy (in principle) the pick of the cream of Ligue 1. It is telling, therefore, that the club decided to pick up former Stade Rennais midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko this summer.
The 20-year-old was acquired earlier in the summer.
Bakayoko made his true Ligue 1 breakout season last term, making 19 starts for Rennes and scoring one goal. Indeed, he was one of the league’s most impressive players in his position—averaging 2.8 tackles-per-game according to WhoScored.com.
Sitting in front of the defence, Bakayoko brings exceptional consistency, solid tackling and astute defensive positioning.
He has been capped by France at U18 level, but he is eligible for the Ivory Coast. The prospect of Bakayoko anchoring the Elephants’ midfielder alongside Yaya Toure is mouth-watering.
So, with Bakayoko gone to Monaco, who will Rennes turn to in central midfield?
Step forward, Abdoulaye Doucoure.
The Malian midfielder is a different kind of player than the younger Bakayoko, but he has the potential to be an equally (if not more) effective midfield presence.
The academy prospect is a much more energetic presence than his departed teammate, and he operates as the Red and Blacks’ engine room. He is another versatile operator and enjoys little more than harrying opposition, winning the ball and then leading his team forward in attack.
Doucoure is intense and single-minded in his defensive work, but he also contributes an end product. He managed six league goals and five assists for Rennes last season, and he has already set up one goal this term.
It’s a shame that we won’t be able to see a maturing duo of Doucoure and Bakayoko playing together and complementing each other in the future.
Seventeen-year-old Kelechi Iheanacho is arguably the least-established performer on this list, but few players have made such an impact in pre-season as the Nigerian.
He was a key figure for Manchester City in their tour of America, and he took to the added demands of playing for an elite side like a duck to water.
The boy has pedigree as well—he is the reigning CAF Most Promising Talent of the Year and starred at the 2013 U-17 World Cup. He won this event with Nigeria and also picked up the Silver Boot as the competition’s second-highest goalscorer.
He also picked up the Golden Ball, following in the footsteps of World Cup winners Cesc Fabregas and Toni Kroos.
It’s unlikely to be with City this season, but should he make a loan move, then some lucky club could receive a wonderkid primed to break into the big time. AfricanFootball.com (h/t Dave Martinez of EmpireofSoccer.com) have reported that a loan move to New York City FC may be imminent.
To date, Zakaria Labyad has largely struggled to live up to the great expectations that so many of us set for him when he broke onto the scene with PSV.
His move to Sporting Lisbon didn’t quite work out—or at least, it hasn’t done just yet. And since January, the playmaker has been back in Holland with Vitesse Arnhem, trying to make up for lost time.
He impressed over the second half of last season, contributing three goals in eleven starts, and he will surely relish having a full campaign in the first team this time around.
Two goals and a Man of the Match performance in Vitesse’s 2-2 home draw against SC Cambuur this weekend suggests that we are right to be expecting big things.
Labyad hasn’t been called up for Morocco since September 2013. If he impresses over the coming months, however, could he be recalled to the hosts' squad in time for the 2015 Cup of Nations in January?
It’s been almost a year since Chelsea signed Christian Atsu, but English football is still yet to truly experience the winger and his excellent array of skills.
Could this be the season when "the Ghanaian Messi" finally makes his mark on the Premier League?
It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Atsu emerges as the EPL’s star youngster this season. Unlike others on this list, he is already accomplished, having amassed over 25 caps for the Black Stars and played in a World Cup.
He has also featured in the Champions League and is a Portuguese league winner.
Before the start of the Premier League season he was recruited by Everton on a season-long loan deal. The move should suit all parties and gives the 22-year-old Atsu a perfect platform upon which he can assert himself within the English game.
Another Moroccan hoping for a spot in the Atlas Lions’ squad of 23 at the AFCON is NAC Breda winger Adnane Tighadouini.
The 21-year-old is yet to make his debut for the national side, but he featured for the U23 team at the CAF U-23 Championship back in 2011.
Since scoring the winner against local rivals Algeria in the group stage, and guiding the team to the final, big things have been expected.
Could this be the year?
Last season, the youngster struggled in the Eredivisie. He started three games, toward the end of the campaign, but he was largely restricted to substitute appearances.
This year, however, he has begun the campaign in fine fettle. NAC may not have won either of their opening two matches, but Tighadouini has been on the scoresheet on both occasions—in a 1-1 draw against Excelsior and a 6-1 defeat against PSV Eindhoven.
Last season, Saido Berahino alluded to what he is capable of doing in the Premier League. The young forward started 11 matches and scored five goals.
However, a combination of West Bromwich’s struggles, a well-publicised contract grumble and the inconsistencies of youth meant that Berahino faded for spells of the campaign.
Four of his goals, including one in the victory over Manchester United, came on or before 1 January. After that, he only managed one more.
This season, he may well be asked to shoulder the side’s attacking burden. Brown Ideye has arrived for a club record £10 million, but an international scoring record of five in 24 doesn’t inspire too much confidence.
The young Burundian forward started the campaign with a bang, however, scoring twice as the Albion drew with Sunderland.
Could he emerge as one of the Premier League’s stars this term?