The ten best goals scored by African players in the Premier League
Ever since Rupert Murdoch invented football in 1992, African players from all over the continent have lit up the English Premier League and helped turn the competition into a continent-wide obsession. Arsene Wenger, whose side will play in Abuja, Nigeria, this summer, recently said he had been “frightened” when he saw for himself the intensity of Arsenal’s popularity in Nigeria and Kenya.
The number of Africans playing in England’s top division grows every year, and they can’t stop scoring. While the Premier League was busy anointing Wayne Rooney’s jammy overhead shinner from last season as the official “Goal of the 20 Seasons” – presumably only fans under the age of seven were allowed to vote? – Newcastle’s deadly Senegalese forward Papiss Demba Cisse was busy bending his extraordinary banana shot past Petr Cech.
Cisse’s exquisite strike invites the question: what is the greatest goal scored by an African in the English Premier League? Here’s the run-down of the ten best goals scored by African players in the Premier League…
10. Cheikh Tiote vs Arsenal (5 Feb 2011)
Arsenal had been four up at half time at St James’ Park, but Abou Diaby’s red card and a couple of generous penalties put away by Joey Barton left Newcastle trailing 4-3 in the dying minutes. Gael Clichy headed Barton’s free-kick high into the air, and when the ball dropped steeply towards the lurking Tiote, the Ivorian simply battered a crushing left-foot volley into the bottom corner. The goal Paul Scholes wishes he’d scored, it’s safe to say the strike was well-received on local Geordie radio.
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9. Michael Essien vs Arsenal (10 Dec 2006)
Another late equaliser against Arsenal, this goal was so good it had Andy Gray pulling out the “Take a bow, son” routine that the old growler usually reserved for Steven Gerrard. With six minutes left, Chelsea’s seemingly interminable undefeated home run under Jose Mourinho looked like finally coming to an end. Essien’s strike was as sweet as it was sudden, and the curve of the ball bent so far outside of Jens Lehmann’s far post that the mad German never had a chance of reaching it.
8. Didier Drogba vs Everton (17 Dec 2006)
Drogba is the leading African scorer in Premier League history with 100 goals and his announcement this week that he has played his last match for Chelsea means there will be no advance on that nicely rounded figure. There have been plenty of towering headers to savour and his goalward charges have left scores of defenders shrugged aside, but the classic Drogba goals have always been about his unmatched ability to shoot on the turn with awesome force and control. This dead-eyed, swiveling blast against Liverpool is a goal that no player would have attempted but the Ivorian in his prime, and which no defender or goalkeeper could have done anything to stop. Among his century of league goals, that strike is only bettered by his late winner on a cold December night at Goodison Park, which came just a week on from Essien’s effort above. “Six minutes from time,” wrote Andy Hunter, “Drogba controlled a flick from the substitute Andrei Shevchenko, spun and smacked an incredible 30-yard volley over Tim Howard.”
7. Emmanuel Adebayor vs Tottenham Hotspur (15 Sept 2007)
The trouble with Adebayor playing for Tottenham is that he only seems to play really well when he’s playing against them. Arsenal were leading 2-1 late into the game that would see Martin Jol fired as Spurs manager. Cesc Fabregas fired a firm pass to the feet of Adebayor, standing with his back to goal on the edge of the box, a couple of yards ahead of Michael Dawson. Rather than hold up play and look to play in Alex Hleb, who was shuffling about unmarked on the Arsenal left, the giant Togolese gently scooped the ball up across his body and in one fluid movement blasted it in right-footed. The two touches could hardly have been more different: the first nothing but tenderness, the second absolutely ferocious. What made the goal even better was that just seconds earlier, Denilson had squandered a one-on-one in the most pitifully apologetic fashion. The Brazilian’s timidity made the sheer conviction of Adebayor’s strike all the more awesome.
6. Peter Ndlovu vs West Bromwich Albion (18 Jan 1995)
In the first Premier League season, 1992-1993, there were, I think, only three Africans in the competition – Bruce Grobelaar, Peter Ndlovu and Efan Ekoku – and incredibly two of them were Zimbabweans: Bruce Grobelaar and Peter Ndlovu. Ndlovu, endlessly mispronounced “Und-love” by commentators, was a star of the Coventry side of the mid-90s. Nicknamed the “Bulawayo Bullet”, his goal against West Brom in 1995 was a vintage example of the relish with which he tormented opposing defenders.
Andy Morrison, who had to mark Ndlovu while playing for Blackburn in 1994, recently told the Coventry Telegraph he thought the Zimbabwean had single-handedly wrecked his career: “I was at Blackburn, had broken into the first-team squad and was in the plans of the manager, Kenny Dalglish. But I got ripped to shreds by Peter Ndlovu… Blackburn still had a chance to win the title and were pushing for an equaliser. Time and again I was left one-on-one with Ndlovu and he tore me to pieces. He beat me on the inside and the outside until I was put out of my misery after 80 minutes. I came across him a few years later and told him that he had ruined my career. He, of course, had no idea what I was talking about.”
5. Jay Jay Okocha vs West Ham (19 April 2003)
So good they named him twice. Or as the Telegraph match report had it, “almost too classy for the Premiership”. This was a six-pointer between two clubs fighting relegation. Picking up a loose ball, Okocha surged towards the West Ham goal from deep inside his own half, shrugged off Joe Cole, before steadying himself and lashing the ball into the roof of the net from 25 yards. The Nigerian legend scored other great goals in England, but this was his best.
4. Papiss Demba Cisse vs Chelsea (2 May 2012)
A goal so good it made hardened journeyman Steve Claridge throw up his hands and whimper with fear on live radio. The goal’s wow-factor lies in just how implausible it was, at the moment when Demba Ba chested the ball down for Papiss Demba Cisse (this manœuvre is now known as the “Double Demba”) that Cisse could possibly beat Petr Cech from a position wide out on the left wing by striking the ball with the outside of his right foot. But that’s exactly what he did.
3. Tony Yeboah vs Liverpool (21 Aug 1995)
“Yeboah’s two goals against West Ham on Saturday were spectacular enough,” wrote Guy Hodgson in The Independent, “but last night’s had a quality that threatened to defy physics. Tony Dorigo crossed from the left, Rod Wallace headed back and Yeboah, showing no compromise to a range of 25 yards, thumped a right-foot volley that hurtled through the sultry air and crashed past David James with awesome ferocity.”
“I hate that goal,” said David James recently. ”At the time, I spent quite a few weeks afterwards moaning about the fact that I should have saved it.”
It’s difficult to imagine how he would have done that. Watch it again, and bear in mind: the Ghanaian is left-footed.
2. Nwankwo Kanu vs Chelsea (23 Oct 1999)
Two nil down at Stamford Bridge, with 15 minutes left, Kanu came up with an incredible match-winning hat-trick. Great goals can be judged in lots of ways. One is their level of difficulty, and what Kanu did against Chelsea in the dying minutes of that match was something just extraordinarily difficult. Chasing an overhit Davor Suker pass, Kanu somehow kept the ball in play as he blocked Albert Ferrer’s blasted clearance at point blank range with a stretch of his long left leg. Chelsea keeper Ed De Goey charged out and cornered him on the by-line, and it seemed Kanu’s only option was to try to cut the ball back for Overmars and Suker waiting in the middle. Perhaps that’s what De Goey thought too, because Kanu sold the Dutchman the most languid, the most delicious of dumbies. As De Goey slid for the ball, the Nigerian danced inside him, trod in a large puddle that gave up a visible splash, and from the narrowest of angles sent the ball skimming just over the heads of Marcel Desailly and Frank Lebouef and into the top corner of the far post.
It was the best goal the great man would score for Arsenal, though this defence shredding burst of skill against Spurs and this exquisite back-heel-on-the-run against Middlesborough were also pretty special.
1. Tony Yeboah vs Wimbledon (23 Sept 1995)
“It’ doesn’t need any words,” reflected Sky’s commentator at Selhurst Park that day, “just wonderment, really. The two goal cushion is restored. It could not have been restored more emphatically.”
Postscript: the Extras…
Picking this selection was tough, and a number of brilliant goals just missed the cut. Like this sizzler by the elegant Malian forward Freddie Kanoute for Tottenham against Everton. Or Demba Ba’s delicious first-time over-the-shoulder finish against Manchester United earlier this season, a much under-rated goal of great agility and finesse. And then there’s the question of leaving out goals by African players who chose to play for European national teams, like Nayim’s Goal of the Month for October 1992 against Liverpool (Nayim is from the Spanish enclave of Ceuta on the North African coast at the edge of Morocco). Or the goals of Dakar-born Patrick Vieira, who specialised in rounding off dazzling team-moves as well as occasionally firing in from distance. And don’t forget Nedum Onuoha’s madcap waltz through Chelsea’s defence for Sunderland last season.football, Newcastle, Premier League, Wayne Rooney
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