Ranked! 10 Best African Midfielders of All Time Including Yaya Toure, Okocha, Abedi Pele

Ranked! 10 Best African Midfielders of All Time Including Yaya Toure, Okocha, Abedi Pele

Babajide Orevba
updated at June 21, 2023 at 3:03 PM
In this article:
CAF Africa Cup of Nations logo
  • Yaya Toure has been ranked the greatest African midfielder of all time following his exploits for club and country
  • The Ivorian legend edged out Mustapha Hadji and Michael Essien, who are second and third on the elite rankings
  • Nigerian master dribbler Austin Jay-Jay Okocha is also listed in the top five, ahead of the likes of Ghana's Abedi Pele

The African continent has produced some of the finest footballers in the midfield, who have left indelible footprints on the game.

Some of these superstars have given the world something to cherish forever, following their impact on the game.

The midfield is regarded as a football team's ‘engine room’, and only the very intelligent and skillful ones could take up such a responsibility.

Yaya Toure, Ivory Coast, CAF, Midfielder
Yaya Toure has been Africa's best midfielder of all-time. Photo: Liewig Christian
Source: Getty Images

Midfielders do not necessarily need speed; they must have excellent technical ability as regards to awareness, passing, tackling, dribbling and much more.

Sports Brief looks at the 10 greatest African midfielders of all time:

10. Doctor Khumalo - South Africa

The Kaizer Chiefs legend showed class during his days as a footballer. ‘16V,’ as he is fondly called, earned 50 caps for the South African national team and scored nine goals.

His ability to dictate games from the middle of the pack, slick touches, and insane dribbling skills made him a hit. He was part of the Bafana Bafana squad that won the AFCON title in 1996.

9. Seydou Keita - Mali

A versatile player who can play both in the midfield and in the defence, Keita played for several top clubs in Europe, including Barcelona, Valencia, Roma, and Marseille.

He earned 102 caps for the Eagles of Mali, scoring 25 goals. Keita is one of Africa’s most decorated players, having won 2 Champions League titles and three La Liga titles during his time at Barcelona.

8. Abedi Pele - Ghana

Abedi Pele had a glorious club career scoring 159 goals in 479 matches in total. He featured for clubs like Marseille, Al Ain, 1960 Munich, Lyon and a host of others thanks to his excellent dribbling skills, vision, and passing abilities.

Abedi Pele was also a prolific goal-scorer known for scoring important strikes in big games, helping the Black Stars win the African Cup of Nations in 1982 and 1992.

7. Mohamed Aboutrika - Egypt

Many believe Aboutrika has been underrated, possibly because he did not play in Europe. He won the AFCON title twice and narrowly missed out on the CAF Player of the Year Award in 2008.

In 2016, the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS) named him among the African legends. He was a four-time Egyptian Player of the Year Award recipient following his immense contribution to the Pharaohs’ squad.

6. Geremi Njitap - Cameroon

Geremi had a glorious career earning a staggering 118 caps for the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon. He featured for some of the biggest clubs in the world, including Real Madrid and Chelsea.

He could play in a variety of positions on the pitch but was often deployed as either right back, defensive or right-side midfielder. The superstar was an energetic, very combative player who was able to score free kicks.

5. Jay-Jay Okocha - Nigeria

Okocha practically made the midfield his own. He was incredibly blessed with so much talent and could do insane ‘tricks’ with the ball. In a statement, FIFA said the Nigerian legend was never lacking in confidence.

During his heydays, the dazzling dribbler would magically turn the metaphysical characteristic into something tangible; confidence dripped off his boots as he skipped past defender after defender with his quick feet and an even quicker imagination. In 2021, the IFFHS named the midfield maestro in the all-time Africa Men's Dream Team.

4. John Obi Mikel - Nigeria

The former captain of the Super Eagles of Nigeria won two Premier League titles and four FA Cups with English club Chelsea. Mikel was also part of the team that won the AFCON title in 2013 under the tutelage of Stephen Keshi.

Mikel was the second-best player at the FIFA World Youth Championship behind Lionel Messi. Having the Nigerian in the midfield brought stability to his team, and he deserved to be ranked number four.

3. Michael Essien - Ghana

Although he had a little setback during his peak years due to injury, Essien also had an incredible footballing career. The versatile player was a ‘stabilizer’ in a squad, scoring iconic goals, including a 'worldie' for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Following his move from Lyon to Chelsea, the Ghanaian superstar became a special player under Jose Mourinho. He won two Premier League titles, one Champions League, and four FA Cups with the Pensioners. Internationally, he was left a little unfulfilled, missing out on Ghana's run to the 2010 World Cup quarter-final, GOAL reports.

2. Mustapha Hadji - Morocco

Mustapha Hadji was endowed with so much skill and talent, he was named the African Footballer of the Year in 1998. He was revered for his dribbling ability, innovation, and ability to change a contest in the blink of an eye.

Hadji had a vibrant, casual, but daring playing style which was perfectly complemented by heading skills. He earned 63 caps for the Atlas Lions of Morocco and scored 12 goals in the process.

1. Yaya Toure - Ivory Coast

Yaya Toure had it all when it came to being a midfielder. He could read the game, control the tempo, and have an eye for passes as he scored breathtaking goals.

The Ivorian was named African Footballer of the Year four times (joint-highest with the legendary Samuel Eto’o), a two-time winner of the BBC equivalent, and was named in the PFA Team of the Year in both 2012 and 2014.

He played for some of the biggest clubs in Europe, including Barcelona and Manchester City. Toure won two La Liga titles with the Catalan giants and four Premier League titles with the English club.

Ranking Africa's best all-time goalkeepers

Sports Brief also previously ranked the best African goalkeepers in the history of football on the continent.

Many keepers from the continent have become absolute legends of the game, etching their names in history.

Numerous big names have made the elite list, including shot-stoppers from Cameroon, Nigeria, and Morocco.

Babajide Orevba photo
Babajide Orevba
Babajide Orevba is a CAF accredited Nigerian journalist and HOD of the Local Desk with over 10 years of experience in media landscape.He studied NCE Political Science/Social Studies, AOCOED.
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