As we near the 2020/21 LaLiga season kick off, African talent is, as always, in the spotlight once again.
While celebrating the amazing pool of talented younger players who are lighting up the European football scene, we have some seasoned leaders from Africa to thank for our continent’s strong representation in the Spanish league today.
Let’s take a moment to remember these football greats who made their mark both on LaLiga and back home as captains of their national teams.
Thomas N’Kono (Cameroon)
Ask any soccer fans who were around back in the 1980s and they’ll tell you just how much excitement this iconic Cameroonian goalkeeper generated when he made his debut with RCD Espanyol.
N’Kono made an impact on European football at a time when African players were virtually an unknown quantity on the continent. His legacy still stands today. His physical stature, strength, and uncanny ability pull unlikely saves out of the hat became the stuff of legends and he remains, to this day, one of the most loved players in Espanyol history.
While his twenty-year career for Cameroon was impressive, it was his outstanding captaincy in the 1982 World Cup that put him on the map, attracting the attention of fans and clubs across Europe.
With five national titles, two African Champions Leagues and several clean-sheet victories in the World Cup, N’Kono was moved to LaLiga in 1982 with Espanyol where he made over 300 appearances before moving on in 1990.
Michael Essien (Ghana)
This 37-year-old Ghanaian midfielder may be at the latter end of his professional career, but he has racked up a considerable number of accolades over the past two decades.
Essien made his European debut in 2000 with Bastia in France and transferred to Lyon after an exciting first three seasons. His first goal for his new club came in the first five minutes of his maiden game against Auxerre in mid-2003… and the rest is history.
An illustrious spell at Chelsea – where he became the first African to ever win the club’s Player of the Year Award – was followed by a season on loan at LaLiga giants Real Madrid in 2012 under Jose Mourinho. He even had the chance to captain the Black Stars at the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations, after usual captain John Mensah was sent off for a foul.
Thomas Partey (Ghana)
Another Ghanaian crops up on our list of outstanding African players in LaLiga. Thomas Partey captained his national team in 2019, in addition to enjoying an outstanding season with LaLiga giants Atletico de Madrid.
The 27-year-old is still in his prime and has become an essential name on coach Diego Simeone’s team sheet in recent seasons. Incisive, strong and relentless in his box-to-box movement, Thomas is often cited among the very best players in his position in LaLiga Santander.
This French-born midfielder made waves in 2018 when he made the decision to snub the chance to represent the country of his birth to play for the Central African Republic, his ancestral country of origin. As if that first appearance wasn’t special enough, his official CAR debut saw him run out with the captain’s armband.
27-year-old Kondogbia has made almost 300 appearances in a career which has seen him feature for the likes of AS Monaco, Sevilla FC, Inter Milan and Valencia CF since making his debut for French side Lens back in 2010.