During Real Madrid's dominance of the UEFA Champions League this decade, there had been a shortage of our continent's stars competing for European club football's most coveted prize. But Africa's favourite sons are ready to rise again.
Tottenham vs Liverpool is a surprise all-English final, but we are likely to see some very prominent African superstars taking a lead role in the final tonight at Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid. Moroccan youngster Achraf Hakimi was a Champions League winner ended a dry spell of five years between 2012 and 2017 with no African stars tasting Champions League success, but between 2000 and 2012, Africa feasted at the top table.
The past 🏰
Zimbabwe's Bruce Grobbelaar was the first ever African player to lay his hands on the European Cup, back in 1984, some 30 years after the inauguration the tournament in its previous format, the European Cup. Rabah Madjer of Algeria backheeled home in 1987 to help steer FC Porto to glory against Bayern Munich. He became North Africa's first winner.
The 90s saw a rise to prominence for West African players, with Ghanaian star Abedi Pele scooping the prize in 1993 and 1995's fabled young Ajax side saw Nigerian duo Nwankwo Kanu and Finidi George taste the glory. Samuel Kuffour infamously thumped the turf in agony in 1999 as Manchester United pulled it out of the fire against Bayern Munich at the Nou Camp, but the Ghanaian would get his retribution two years later when Bayern beat Valencia. Cameroonian Geremi, who would go on to Chelsea later in his career, was part of Real Madrid's squad in 2000 and 2002 when Los Blancos claimed their eighth and ninth crowns.
Era of dominance & Eto'o the man for the big occasion 🇨🇲
Africa would go on to produce 14 African winners of the Champions League in the nine years that would follow Geremi in 2002, with Benni McCarthy becoming the first South African Champions League winner with Porto under José Mourinho.
In 2006, three African stars started the Champions League final in Paris when Samuel Eto'o's late heroics for Barcelona vanquished Emmanuel Eboue and Kolo Toure's Arsenal on a rainy evening at the Stade de France. No African player has won the title more than the baby-faced assassin- a champion with Barcelona in 2006 and 2009, and with Inter Milan in 2010 - alongside Ghanaian Sulley Muntari, a side under the tutelage of Jose Mourinho. He also added his name to an esteemed list of players to have scored in two Champions League finals. Can Sadio Mané add his own name to that roll of honour tonight?
Barcelona's Seydou Keita and Yaya Touré become two more African winners during a golden age for Barcelona. Chelsea relied heavily on African stars in 2012 with John Obi Mikel, Salomon Kalou, Michael Essien and Didier Drogba all tasting glory against Bayern Munich. Didier Drogba, in particular, goes down as one of the all-time greats.
The present 💫
Senegal's Sadio Mané & Egypt's Mohamed Salah will spearhead Liverpool's attack tonight and Salah in particular will want to make up for the heartbreak of last year when he got injured early on against Real Madrid after an infamous clash with Sergio Ramos. Cameroonian centre back Joel Matip might have to settle for a place on the bench. Guinea's Naby Keita is injured but will be watching on supporting his side. Tottenham's Serge Aurier will also likely have to settle for a substitute's role but Kenyan star Victor Wanyama has given himself a huge chance of starting after impressing in the semifinals against Ajax. His brother McDonald Mariga was an unused substitute in the 2010 final when Inter beat Bayern at the Bernabeu. Wanyama has started five of Spurs' last six knockout ties in the tournament, underlining his importance to Mauricio Pochettino.
Tonight in Madrid, it is a certainty that at least one proud African superstar will adorn a Champions League winner's medal around his neck. But will tonight’s victors be wearing white or red?