One U21 Player To Look Out For in Each of Africa’s Ten Best Leagues (Part One)

Mootez Zaddem

Recently, Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis made headlines after declaring he wouldn’t sign any more African players. The Italian, seemingly forgetting that many of his best players in recent years are African, stated that it was ridiculous that he paid their wages and they left in the middle of the season. De Laurentiis further stated that if any players from Africa were signed, they would need to sign a contract saying they wouldn’t feature at AFCON. Yeah, right.

Denying the significance of football in Africa is simply ridiculous. Just look at this transfer window: Sadio Mané, Franck Kessié, André Zambo Anguissa (ironically signed by Napoli), Yves Bissouma, and Nayef Aguerd all started their careers in Africa and play for their respective nations at AFCON, a tournament which has given countless players a chance to shine.

Many of Africa’s players and leagues continue to fly under the radar due to comments like this from De Laurentiis. However, some of the best prospects in the world ply their trade in Africa and could be on track for stardom sooner rather than later. Here are five players to look out for in Africa’s ten most successful leagues:

(Note: These leagues are chosen by most CAF Champions League titles overall. All stats come from transfermarkt.us)

Egyptian Premier League: ST Ahmed Sherif, 19, Pharco FC

Even though he’s just 19, Ahmed Sherif is already a veteran in the Egyptian Premier League. Sherif made his league debut in 2020, starting for Wadi Degla at the age of 17. This year, he moved to Pharco FC, where he scored three times this season in thirteen starts. The young striker has already appeared for the Egypt U20 side and has a bright future ahead of him. It’s worth mentioning that Sherif came through the same Wadi Degla academy where current Wolfsburg forward Omar Marmoush started his career.

Moroccan Botola Pro: ST Soufiane Benjdida, 20, Raja Casablanca

Benjdida is a recent development in Moroccan football. The 20-year-old from Casablanca had made just one senior appearance until last season, with zero goals. By the end of the season, Benjdida had scored eight in fifteen games, with only seven of those being starts. The forward was named as Raja’s Eagle of the Month in June and the league’s Young Player of the Season. One of Africa’s biggest breakout players last season.

Algerian Ligue Professionnelle 1: CM Yacine Titraoui, 19, Paradou AC

Maybe the most well-known player on this list. Titraoui has been on the rise for a few years; in 2020 he made his Algeria U20 debut, in 2021 he made his Algeria senior debut in the Arab Cup, and last season he played over 2000 minutes with Paradou and earned another senior call-up. The Algerian midfielder is a well-rounded playmaker who can feature anywhere in the midfield. Titraoui likely won’t stay in Algeria long, as Paradou have a history of selling talent like Remy Bensebaini and Youcef Atal abroad.

Tunisian Ligue Professionnelle 1: CAM Mootez Zaddem, 21, Esperance

A recent signing — Zaddem’s move from the Latvian Virsliga to Esperance was confirmed yesterday. The Tunisian midfielder was impressive in Latvia before a loan move back to Tunisia with ES Sahel in 2021. Zaddem had a strong season with Sahel, appearing in all of their CAF Champions League matches and debuting for Tunisia in the FIFA Arab Cup. Now on Esperance, Tunisia’s most successful club, Zaddem has a chance to be on the Tunisian national team at the World Cup.

DR Congolese Linafoot: ST Jean Baleke, 21, TP Mazembe

Unfortunately, the instability in the DR Congo has affected large parts of the country. Because of this, many of the national team’s best players are either recruited dual nationals or left the country at a young age, leaving the league system somewhat neglected. Because of this, it’s harder to find top talents in the league. They still have some good prospects, though: Jean Baleke has been capped at senior level and is one of the Linafoot’s top scorers in recent years. He could join the likes of Christian Luyindama, Ally Samatta, and Jackson Muleka as one of Mazembe’s biggest sales.

Part two will come out shortly!

Image Courtesy of Mokhtar Hmima, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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