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Over 21 Premier League years there have been many world-class players from all over the globe.

Tom Rushton takes a look at some of the Premier League’s finest players and selects his own top five African players.

Yaya Toure celebrates Newcastle United v Manchester City

5. Jay-Jay Okocha

– Bolton Wanderers

So good they named him twice. In 13 years with the Nigerian national team, Okocha was capped over 70 times. However, for most English fans it was his spell at Bolton Wanderers for which he will be most fondly remembered. In the summer of 2002, Sam Allardyce’s Bolton badly needed both flair and leadership, as they faced a difficult survival campaign in the Premier League. ‘Big Sam’ turned to the extremely gifted Okocha to provide experience and skill, in an otherwise energetic but limited Trotters side. He immediately became a fan favourite with his repertoire of outrageous tricks. In 2002, he scored seven goals as Bolton defied expectations to stay in the division. The attacker delighted Bolton fans and neutrals for four seasons, frustrating defences with his showboating. His most memorable moment in the Premier League was not a goal, but an irresistible rainbow flick over the head of Arsenal midfielder Ray Parlour in 2003. Okocha wasn’t the first African player to grace the league, and in all honesty didn’t make the greatest impact, however, for the sheer delight he brought to fans, Okocha’s skills alone warranted an inclusion to the list.

Okocha was a magician with the ball at his feet

Okocha was a magician with the ball at his feet

4. Kolo Toure

– Arsenal, Manchester City

Signed for a minimal fee from Ivorian club ASEC Mimosas in 2002, Kolo Toure was one of the first members of the Ivory Coast ‘Golden Generation’ to make the move to England. Toure was a key figure of the famous ‘Invincibles’, who waltzed to an unprecedented Premier League title without defeat in 2003-04 – remaining the only team to achieve that feat. After starting out in midfield, Wenger saw the potential for Toure to grow as a player at centre-back. He became known for his aerial dominance and powerful tackling, becoming a mainstay and remains to this day one of Wenger’s most consistent performers during his 17-year reign. In 2009, a public bust-up with defensive partner William Gallas saw the imperious defender exit, securing a move to Manchester City, who paid £14m for his services. Wenger received plaudits for engineering a decent sale for an academy graduate, but Toure went on to clinch silverware and lift the FA Cup in 2010-11 and claim the league title a season later. With over 100 caps for is native Ivory Coast, the formidable centre-back now finds himself at Liverpool after a free transfer this summer. Some fine displays early in his Anfield career suggest that he still has a point to prove.

3. Michael Essien

– Chelsea

The Ghanaian midfielder began his professional career in France with Bastia, before heavyweights Lyon came calling. Two sensational seasons later and the defensive midfielder was pulling on the blue of Chelsea in a deal worth £24.4m – a club record at the time. Essien quickly silenced any doubters, effortlessly slotting into Jose Mourinho’s midfield and helping to ease the defensive burden on waning legend Claude Makelele. A powerful runner, Essien was at the heart of Chelsea’s success during the beginning of the Roman Abramovich era. His glorious strike against Barcelona in the Champions League epitomised Essien’s game – controlled aggression but with the technical ability to compete with the best. In recent times Essien has struggled with injuries, which has curtailed his all-action style of play. A ruptured anterior cruciate ligament injury stalled his progress with Chelsea, and upon recovery he was sent on loan to Real Madrid to rejoin Mourinho. He returned this summer, along with the club’s Portuguese tactician, and he will be relishing the opportunity to try and break into the first-team. Although, his best days may be behind him, he has cemented his place in Chelsea folklore, and will always be regarded as a fearsome competitor who contributed significantly to Mourinho’s title winning years in 2004-05 and 2005-06.

2. Yaya Toure

– Manchester City

Ivory Coast, Belgium, Ukraine, Greece, France and Spain – all the countries in which Yaya Toure has plied his trade before arriving in the Premier League. A £24m signing from Barcelona the 30-year-old was brought in to add some much needed physicality to Roberto Mancini’s midfield. He’s become one of the league’s most iconic sights in recent years, when he bursts through midfield on a lightening-quick City counter-attack. After being a typically resolute defensive player at previous clubs, Toure has reinvented his game in England to add an attacking edge that has seen a considerable upturn in his goalscoring tally. Scoring the winning goal in the 2010-11 FA Cup final against Stoke City and contributing to the following season’s title success represent his finest moments as a City player. The driven individual has become a barometer for the side, and under the tutelage of new boss Manuel Pellegrini he will be determined to find his best form and help guide the club back towards the summit of English football.

Essien and Drogba were vital to Mourinho’s first successful Chelsea stint

Essien and Drogba were vital to Mourinho’s first successful Chelsea stint

1. Didier Drogba

– Chelsea

Who else? In eight years at Stamford Bridge, Didier Drogba earned a reputation as one of the world football’s most feared forwards, with a deadly combination of muscle and technique that could be, at times, unplayable. Theatrical and temperamental, Drogba frustrated and thrilled English audiences with his gamesmanship and his plethora of goals. With over 100 strikes for the Blues, he is undoubtedly a Premier League legend and will always be fondly remembered at the Bridge. Signed in 2004 from Marseille for £24m, he was, for a brief time, Chelsea’s most expensive acquisition. The Ivorian scored 16 goals in his first season, helping Chelsea win their first league title in over 50 years. The following season, Drogba would go on to win the Golden Boot and score 33 goals in all competitions. From there his dominance continued as the brute announced himself as arguably the most complete No.9 in world football. He had a knack of scoring in the big games, especially in FA Cup finals and against London rivals Arsenal, but his defining moment that would etch him in Chelsea folklore came in the 2012 Champions League final against Bayern Munich. Trailing 1-0 with little under five minutes remaining, he powerfully headed in a Chelsea equaliser from a corner, before converting the winning penalty in a dramatic shoot out. Sir Alex Ferguson said he single-handedly won Chelsea the European Cup for the first time in their history, and in that same year he was voted by the fans as Chelsea’s greatest ever player.

Originally published at outside90.com

Post written by Tom Rushton for Outside 90
Blog: outside90.com, Twitter: @Outside90

Note: The views expressed within this blog post are those of the contributing author, and may not necessarily reflect those of MatchDayApp Limited, its representatives or associated partners.

Image Credits
Jay-Jay Okocha © Daily Telegraph
Michael Essien and Didier Drogba © Zimbio

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