One of the reasons why the FIFA World Cup is so special is because the tournament comes around only twice in a decade.
For something so rare, the premium placed on the event means that for the 30 day period during which it is held, the eyes of the world are squarely on the events happening on the field at the mundial.
With the whole world watching, there could not be a better place to launch or boost a successful football career.
Many footballers know that a great tournament will open the door to a big money move, a slew of corporate endorsements and a radical increase in the value of their brand.
Over the years, many of football’s most iconic names were launched at the World Cup with Brazil’s Pele in 1958, Netherland’s Johan Cruyff in 1974 and France’s Zinedine Zidane in 1998 being the mmore famous examples.
These men and many others have gone on to enjoy stellar and rewarding careers after excellent World Cups.
Like these greats, some African footballers have had their careers boosted and launched at the World Cup, here are five of the finest who delivered on the biggest stage and reaped the rewards afterwards.
Austin JayJay Okocha, France 1998
Okocha was already a known football artist at the time of the 1998 World Cup in France but still, the maestro will probably look back at that tournament with some fondness. Following some eye-catching performances and dribbles which saw him listed in the Team of tournament alongside greats like Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane and Fabien Barthez, Okocha went on to secure a ground breaking deal as French side PSG splashed around $24 million on the midfielder, making him the most expensive African player at the time and also the most expensive player signed by a French team at the time.
El Hadji Diouf, Korea/Japan 2002
When Senegal first qualified for the World up in 2002, it was hard to envisage that they would enjoy the kind of run that they did as they matched Africa’s best ever finish (reaching the quarter-finals) at a World Cup in spectacular fashion. Central to their Cinderella run was the enigmatic forward, El-Hadji Diouf. The World Cup ended in disappointment for Senegal and Diouf but the forward was smiling again a few weeks later as he was signed for £10 millon by Gérard Houllier’s Liverpool. In the same year, Diouf was named BBC African Footballer of the Year.
Asamoah Gyan, South Africa 2010
Following Diouf’s heroics in 2002, it was only a matter of time before another African led his team to glory at the World Cup. That man was Asamoah Gyan and what better place to make a statement for Africa than at the first ever World Cup held on the continent? Gyan led Ghana to the quarterfinals, picking up two Man of the Match awards along the way. Ultimately, Gyan’s missed penalty in the final seconds cost him team a place in the semi-finals but Gyan was a messiah nonetheless. The rest of the year was a whirlwind of success for the striker as he was shortlisted as on of the 23 top footballers in the world for the prestigious FIFA Ballon d’Or Award, was named the BBC African Footballer of the Year and was the runner up for the CAF African Footballer of the Year award. His crowning moment though came on the 31st of August 2010 when Gyan signed for Premier League club Sunderland on a four-year deal for record £13 million.
Siphiwe Tshabalala, South Africa 2010
South Africa may have been eliminated in the group stages of a World Cup they hosted so well but one of the enduring memories of the tournament is a cracking goal hammered into the net by Kaizer Chiefs star, Siphiwe Tshabalala. His goal, the first of that World Cup, was seen millions of times and was voted as the goal of the year. It also firmly launched Tshabalala as South Africa’s foremost football brand. That year he was named SAFA Footballer of the Year and secured a range of very lucrative endorsements with Nike, Shield and Pro-Nutro.
Mustapha Hadji, France 1998
Morocco narrowly missed out on a Round of 16 place in the 1998 World Cup but Mustapha Hadji was the reason they came close in the first place. The forward scored a great goal in Morocco’s 2–2 draw with Norway and went on to play brilliantly in Morocco’s other games at the World Cup. Following his highly rated displays, he was named CAF African footballer of the Year ahead of Nigeria’s Jay-Jay Okocha. Hadji was widely sought after by many clubs but his then employers, Deportivo La Coruna, refused to budge having reported placed an incredible buy-out clause of almost €130 million in the Moroccan’s contract. Now retired, the former striker still leads a high profile in football circles and was selected for Ambassadorship by FIFA during the 2010 World Cup.