Africa has a long list of legendary footballers, and narrowing our list to just 10 wasn’t easy because Africa is home to legions of amazing athletes. But several names, like George, Yaya, Jay-Jay, and Rashidi kept coming up.
Here are our top 10 greatest African footballers of all time, in no particular order:
- George Weah – Liberia
Born in the slums of Monrovia, George Weah started playing football at age 15 through a youth club. His skills progressed, and opportunities followed. At age 22, Claude Le Roy, the national team coach for Cameroon, recruited Weah. Weah honed his skills even further, becoming a key contributor and helping the team to win the French Cup in 1991.
When he switched teams, he took his championship skills with him, helping Paris Saint-Germain win the French Cup in 1993 and the Ligue 1 title in 1994. He did it again in 1994-1995, ultimately being crowned the African, European and FIFA World Player of the Year. His prowess on the field continued with stints with AC Milan, Chelsea, Manchester City and Marseille, and Al-Jazira.
Weah is also beloved off the field for his ambassadorship in the fight against HIV/AIDS and personal investments in Liberia’s national team, the Lone Stars.
- Roger Milla – Cameroon
Two-time African Player of the Year, Roger Milla is an incredibly skilled Cameroonian footballer who was instrumental in leading Africa’s first team to the World Cup’s quarterfinals.
Milla started his amateur career at the Éclair club of Douala 1965. Seven years later in 1972, he experienced his first national championship with the Leopards of Douala. In 1975, he scored big time for Cameroon: the winning goal in the Cameroon Cup final. He also shined in the first African Cup Winners’ Cup. Like many African footballers, Milla played for several French clubs.
Milla helped Monaco and Bastia win the 1980 and 1981 French Cup finals.
Back home in Cameroon, Milla led Cameroon’s national team to two African Cup of Nations victories (1984 and 1988) as well as played in the World Cup finals in 1982. In 1990, he joined the national team as a substitute in the World Cup, scoring four goals and taking the team to the quarterfinals. At age 42, Milla came out of retirement for the 1994 World Cup — earning another accolade: the oldest player to score a goal in the finals of the World Cup.
- Abedi Ayew – Ghana
Known as the Ghanaian “Pele” due to his world-class skills comparable to Brazil’s masterful player, “Pele” (Edson Arantes do Nascimento), Abedi Ayew was fast and nimble on the field. In 1978, Ayew signed on with Ghana’s Real Tamale United. His dazzling techniques quickly captured the imagination of international scouts who promptly recruited him — this was unprecedented at the time for African football players, making Ayew a pioneer.
He battled racism in France, ultimately proving his worth on the Marseille team with a 1993 Champions League win against AC Milan. In Ghana, Ayew played for the national team for 16 years and captained it for six years. He also played in five Africa Cup of Nations.
In 1991, 1992, and 1993, Ayew won the African Player of the Year award. He was the first man to have done so three consecutive years. When Ayew retired in 1998, he received the highest honor the Ghanaian government bestows on civilians, the Order of Volta.
- Samuel Eto’o – Cameroon
VIGO, SPAIN – AUGUST 28: Samuel Eto’o of Barcelona celebrates scoring his team’s first goal against Celta de Vigo during the Primera Liga match between Celta de Vigo and Barcelona at the Balaidos stadium on August 28, 2006 in Vigo, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Born in 1981, Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o is a four-time African Player of the Year. In 2011, he held the distinction of being football’s highest-paid athlete.
As a teenager, Eto’o longed to sign with a French soccer club, but was turned down due to his age. Still a teen, Eto’o joined Real Madrid’s youth academy in 1997 where he had the opportunity to play for multiple clubs. He joined the national team, helping it win the gold medal at the 2000 Olympics and two Africa Cup of Nations championships in 2000 and 2002.
Eto’o joined RCD Mallorca, becoming Mallorca’s all-time leading domestic league scorer and ultimately earning three African Player of the Year awards in a row. In 2010, he earned his fourth African Player of the Year award — a record.
Eto’o is known for being a lethal striker and a major force in the sport. He is also known for commanding one of the highest soccer salaries in the world. As of June 2015, Eto’o is still actively involved in the sport of football, having recently signed a three-year contract with Antalyaspor.
- Nwankwo Kanu – Nigeria
Born in 1976, Nwanko Kanu has a long list of championship titles and awards to his name including: an Olympic gold medal, two African Player of the Year awards, a UEFA Champions League medal, and three FA Cup Winners medals to name a few. Over the course of his 20-year career, Kanu played for several clubs including: FC Heartland, AFC Ajax, Inter, Arsenal FC, West Brom, and Portsmouth FC. He played in three FIFA World Cups and Five African Nations Cups. One look at Kanu’s stats, and you’ll see that he’s arguably one of the all-time great African footballers on the field.
Kanu is also great off the field. After undergoing heart surgery for a serious heart defect, Kanu launched the Kanu Heart Foundation, which helps young African children with heart defects and homeless children. The Kanu Heart Foundation has helped more than 400 children receive life-saving heart surgeries. Kanu also serves as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. Though Kanu retired from the game of football, he continues to score as a philanthropist.
- Didier Drogba – Ivory Coast
Born in 1978, Didier Drogba is an Ivory Coast footballer known for his speed, one-touch passing, and ability to score. Drogue has a long list of achievements to his name including: two African Footballer of the Year awards (2006 and 2009), three Premier League titles, three FA Cup titles, two Carling Cup titles, two Community Shield titles, and a mix of Süper Lig, Champions League, and Turkish Cup wins. When he wasn’t leading his teams to Victory, Drogba was bringing them quite close. He was a finalist in multiple cup matches including African Cup of Nations, UEFA Cup, Carling Cup and Champions League Cup.
Though best known for his time with Chelsea, where he was voted the club’s “greatest player ever,” Drogba is the former captain of the Ivory Coast national team — and is Ivory Coast’s all-time top scorer with 65 goals from 104 appearances.
- Yaya Touré – Ivory Coast
Often referred to as a “human train,” Yaya Touré is one of the most versatile footballers on our list of all-time greats. Touré often switches from offensive to defensive stances and plays several midfield positions. He has a powerful striking ability, often resulting in goals from afar. Touré was born in 1983 and currently plays for the Ivory Coast national team and Manchester City. He has played in six Africa Cup of Nations matches, finally winning in 2015.
Touré has been voted African Footballer of the Year four consecutive times (2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014) — an amazing feat that speaks to his greatness.
- Rashidi Yekini – Nigeria
Rashidi Yekini, one of Nigeria’s greatest soccer players and the nation’s first to score a World Cup goal has been called “a legend” and “the Goalfather” for his ability to reliably score goals. Over the years, Yekini played for numerous clubs. Career highlights include scoring 45 goals out of 53 appearances for the Shooting Stars, 90 goals out of 108 appearances for Vitória Setúbal, and 37 goals out of 58 appearances for Nigeria’s national team.
Yekini represented Nigeria in five major tournaments and was named the African Footballer of the Year in 1993. In addition to playing in the 1994 World Cup, he also played in the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations, 1998 FIFA World Cup, and 1988 Olympics.
Sadly, this all-time great footballer died at age 48 after a series of personal setbacks and an extended illness.
- Jay-Jay Okocha – Nigeria
“So good, they named him twice,” Jay-Jay Okocha is a great footballer from Nigeria. In fact, Nigeria named him the Nigerian Footballer of the Year, many, many times (1995, 1997, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005). Other awards include the FIFA 100, 2003 and 2004 BBC African Footballer of the Year, November 2003 Premier League Player of the Month, and 2005 Bolton Wanderers Footballer of the Year.
Okocha also played on the 1998 FIFA World Cup All-Star Team, in the 1994 African Cup of Nations, 1995 Afro-Asian Cup of Nations, and 1996 Olympics to name just a few of his many championship appearances.
As a midfielder, Okocha scored 85 career goals out of 454 appearances and 15 goals out of 75 national team appearances. Okocha is known for scoring an epic goal in 1993. So epic, it was named Goal of the Year in Germany.
- Hossam Hassan Hussein – Egypt
Egypt’s Hossam Hassan Hussein was born in 1966 alongside his twin brother, Ibrahim, with whom he shared a love of the game and a long footballer career. Though both men are exceptional athletes, Hossam Hussein is notable for being Egypt’s all-time top goal scorer with 68 goals out of 176 appearances. Career-wise, Hussein scored 179 goals out of 402 appearances. Hussein played for the national team from 1985 to 2006, taking it to 1990 World Cup and 7 African Cup of Nations tournaments.
Throughout his career, Hussein appeared in numerous championship matches, earning honors such as: Top Scorer 1998 African Cup of Nations and “Best African Footballer in the Past 50 Years” from the Confederation of African Football. After retiring as a player, Hussein entered the coaching profession and currently serves as the head coach for Al-Ittihad Alexandria.