The Premier League has long remained a hotbed for the best African players to ply their trade and showcase their abilities, with Ghanaian stars amongst those who have made a real name for themselves in England.
A number of Kwesi Appiah’s current squad are playing in what is considered one of the major leagues in Europe, and while the likes of Daniel Amartey, Jeffrey Schlupp and the Ayew brothers are performing well in the Premier league this season, they is every chance that future generations of Black Star players follow in their footsteps as clubs scour football academies across Ghana in the hope of finding the next best thing. Any that do move to England can only dream of having the same impact that some of Ghana’s most illustrious players have done in the Premier League, with their performances remembered fondly by fans who saw them play.
While his presence and performances were a big influence in changing the attitude towards black footballers in the Bundesliga and paved the way for other African stars to arrive in Germany during the early 1990s, Tony Yeboah was still a relatively unknown name to football fans in England when he joined Leeds United for £3.4 million on January 1995 from Eintracht Frankfurt. However, it soon became apparent that Howard Wilkinson had unearthed a real gem in a player that was crowned Bundelisga top goalscorer in 1993 and 1994. Thirteen goals in all competitions saw Yeboah finish his first season in the Premier League as Leeds United’s top scorer, but it was the following year in which the striker showcased his quality. Two outstanding goals against Wimbledon and Liverpool (the former of which was awarded BBC Goal of the Season) made everyone sit up and take notice, with Yeboah earning a reputation for his ability to score wonderful goals.
Yeboah scored a total of twenty-four goals in forty-seven Premier League appearances in a Leeds United shirt, but while he was a firm favourite with the fans, a clash of personalities with new manager George Graham saw him return to the Bundesliga with Hamburger SV in 1997. It was a sad end for a player that will forever remain a Ghana great, with the country’s third highest goalscorer of all time proving that Yeboah made a career from hitting the back of the net.
The current Black Stars captain is unquestionably one of the best players to ever represent the national team, with Asamoah Gyan not only the highest scoring African player in World Cup history with six goals, but also stands tall as Ghana’s all-time leading goalscorer with forty-nine to his name. His reputation as a proven scorer was enough for Steve Bruce to take punt on the striker in August 2010 by breaking Sunderland’s transfer record to bring Gyan to the Stadium of Light from Rennes for £13 million. It proved to be a shrewd move, as Gyan played an instrumental role in Sunderland finishing as high as 10th in the Premier League. He finished his debut season in England as the club’s joint-highest scorer with eleven goals in all competitions, with his performances catching the eye of a number of clubs across the world. The decision to accept a deal which saw Gyan move to Al-Ain in September 2011 on a season-long loan (he later joined the club on a permanent transfer) was not popular with the fans, despite reports that Sunderland received up to £6 million during the loan period.
Sunderland could certainly do with Asamoah Gyan in their team, with the club’s relegation from the Premier League already confirmed. Bookmaker Ratings may include them amongst the favourites to bounce straight back up, but despite only remaining at the Sunderland for just over a season, Gyan certainly made his mark in England.
Being nominated for the FIFA World Player of the Year and Ballon d’Or awards three years in a row illustrate just how good Michael Essien was at the peak of his powers. The midfield enforcer, aptly nicknamed ‘the Bison’ due to his considerable strength and tough tackling ability, played a prominent role in the golden generation of Ghana players who led the country to their first ever World Cup appearance in 2006. Although a number of injuries prevented Essien from spending a longer period at the top, Chelsea fans will never forget the impact he made during his nine-year spell at Stamford Bridge. His move from Lyon in August 2005 may have been protracted, but the £24.4 million that Jose Mourinho spent not only made Essien the then most expensive signing the club’s history, but also the most expensive African player at that time. He became a focal point in front of the back four, with Essien lifting two Premier League titles, three FA Cups and one League Cup during a hugely successful period in Chelsea’s history. Essien was also part of the Chelsea team who finished runners-up to Manchester United in the 2008 Champions League Final.
Essien is currently plying his trade in the Indonesia Super League with Persib Bandung, with the 34-year-old hoping that his presence will lead to other big-name players moving there. Chelsea, who allowed the midfielder to move to AC Milan in the summer of 2014, have not been as successful since Essien left the club, but they appear on the verge of winning the 2016/2017 Premier League title. Antonio Conte’s team have already secured European football for next season (the lowest they can finish in the table is second), and considering that they stand a good chance of being named amongst the favourites to win the competition in the Champions League tips on Bookmaker Ratings, Chelsea would well lift the trophy that Essien was unable to during many wonderful years of service at the club.
Portsmouth’s Premier League team of 2007/2008 will undoubtedly go down as one of the best in the club’s history, with considerable investment in the squad leading to a number of big name players moving to Fratton Park. They won the FA Cup and finished 8th in the table under the guidance of Harry Redknapp, with Ghanaian creative midfielder Sulley Muntari amongst those who really shone that season. Signed from Udinese for £7.1 million, Muntari scored four goals in twenty-nine league appearances for the club, including two wonderful strikes away at Aston Villa which illustrated his considerable quality. The Black Stars international, who has won 84 caps for his country and is currently playing in Serie A for Pescara, left Portsmouth after just one season to join Inter Milan, but while the club entered administration on two occasions and dropped down the leagues as a result of mass overspending, Muntari’s impact will always be remembered at Fratton Park.
Another player who was part of the Portsmouth success story until things turned sour at the club was Kevin-Prince Boateng, with the talented, yet often controversial, midfielder arriving at Fratton Park in 2009 after a disappointing two-year spell at Tottenham Hotspur. Boateng, who was born in Germany but changed international allegiances to Ghana in 2010 – a switch which saw him play for the Black Stars at the 2010 and 2014 World Cup, showcased his technical qualities in a team that struggled for consistency. Portsmouth finished bottom of the Premier League table, but also lost in the FA Cup Final against Chelsea; Boateng played a prominent role in their route to Wembley, and also scored three goals in twenty-two league appearances.
Boateng now finds himself at La Liga side Las Palmas after spells with AC Milan and Schalke 04, with the Black Stars player enjoying a good season with nine goals in twenty-five appearances as the Spanish side have already secured their place in the Spanish top flight for another year.