Football, Sport

There will be a significant African feel to this LaLiga season

More than half of the 20 LaLiga teams have at least one African player in their 2018/19 squad.

The new LaLiga season should be especially exciting for football fans based in Africa, as there are so many players from the continent who’ll be competing at the highest level in Spain this year. In fact, 13 of the 20 LaLiga clubs have at least one African in their squad, while some of these teams have several.

Morocco and Ghana can both claim to have the most African players in the Spanish top division, with five each, which is a very impressive tally when considering that only eight other countries – including Spain – have more representatives in LaLiga.

Amongst the Moroccan contingent, there’s the experienced Real Betis defender Zouhair Feddal, Girona goalkeeper Yassine ‘Bono’ Bounou and Leganés forwards Nabil El Zhar and Youssef En-Nesyri.

There’s also Sofiane Boufal, who has just arrived at Celta Vigo after spending the past two seasons at Southampton. The 24-year-old attacking midfielder had previously been at Lille before moving to England as the second-most expensive Moroccan ever and will be looking to shine in Galicia while on loan. With Celta expected to play direct football under new coach Antonio Mohamed, there will be plenty of opportunities for Boufal to express himself.

As for the Ghanaian quintet, they are made up of Atlético Madrid’s Thomas Teye Partey, plus Alavés midfield duo Patrick Twumasi and Mubarak Wakaso, and Levante strikers Raphael Dwamena and Emmanuel Boateng. Of course, Partey is the most high-profile of these players as he plays for one of the very best club sides in Europe and he has already made an impact this season during the UEFA Super Cup, where he created the decisive third goal for teammate Saúl Ñíguez in Los Rojiblancos’ victory over Real Madrid, becoming the first Ghanaian to win that competition. This will be the 25-year-old midfielder’s fourth season in Diego Simeone’s first-team squad and his importance has been growing with each year.

Another African nation with a significant presence in this year’s Spanish top division is Equatorial Guinea. National team striker Iban Salvador is at Celta Vigo, while Equatoguinean full-backs Sergio Akieme and Carlos Akapo will spend this season at newly promoted sides Rayo Vallecano and Huesca respectively.

Then there’s the Senegalese contingent to keep an eye on too. Abdoulaye Ba, Pape Diop and Amath Ndiaye have all joined new LaLiga clubs within the past year and they all became very important for their new sides in the 2017/18 season, with Ba helping Rayo Vallecano win promotion and with Diop and Ndiaye helping Eibar and Getafe with their respective battles for European football.

Ivorian striker, Seydou Doumbia joined the African LaLiga train following his move from Portuguese side, Sporting Lisbon to Girona on a three- year deal. The 30year old who has been capped thirty-nine times by his country was a member of the Elephants squad that won the 2015 African Cup of Nations.

Nigeria are also well-represented in LaLiga this time around. Leganés have signed Chelsea’s Nigerian centre-back Kenneth Omeruo on loan for one season and this is very exciting for the Madrid-based club given that the 24-year-old defender already has close to half a century of caps for his country, who he represented at the 2018 World Cup. Also in LaLiga is Moses Simon, the Levante winger who has also played many times for his country and who would have been likely to go to Russia in the summer had he not been injured. The 23-year-old has just signed for Levante from Gent, for whom he scored six times and provided three assists in the Belgian league last season.

Then there’s goalkeeper Francis Uzoho, who played every minute of Nigeria’s World Cup campaign and who made some impressive parries for his country. At just 19 years of age, he is a really special prospect and he’ll be playing in Spain too this season, as he’ll be at Deportivo La Coruña. Their senior team are playing in LaLiga 1|2|3, the second tier of Spanish football, and it remains to be seen if he’ll make the jump up from the B team, but sooner or later he’ll likely be making excellent saves against some of the best strikers in the country.

There are actually a number of African players in the Spanish second division this season. Numancia have Senegalese midfielder Pape Maly Diamanka and Ghanaian winger Yaw Yeboah. Lugo have Cameroonian duo Jean Marie Dongou and Serge Leuko, as well as Nigerian midfielder Ramon Azeez. Gimnàstic de Tarragona have another Nigerian, in the form of striker Ikechukwu Uche, while Cameroonian defender Mohammed Djetei is also at the Catalan club. Then there’s Almería’s Cameroonian defender Lucien Owona, Mallorca’s Ivorian forward Lago Junior and Elche’s Guinean forward Sory Kaba.

Returning to the top flight, there are some other African stars not yet mentioned who are worth looking out for as they come up against the likes of Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann and Luka Modrić in the coming season.

Real Betis are an exciting possession-based team who will fight for European qualification and they boast Algerian pair Aïssa Mandi and Ryad Boudebouz among their ranks. Cheick Doukouré of the Ivory Coast will be expected to step up and to take on more responsibility at Levante this year after they lost Jefferson Lerma in the transfer window. Togo international Djené Dakonam plays for Getafe and is one of the best centre-backs in the entire league, while big things are expected of his 20-year-old teammate Merveil Ndockyt, a Republic of the Congo midfielder with a bright future. Elsewhere in Madrid, Rayo Vallecano will hope wingers Gaël Kakuta and Lass Bangoura – of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and of Guinea respectively – can score the goals to keep them up.

Over the course of the 2018/19 La Liga campaign, there will be some mouth-watering clashes between international teammates from these African countries. It promises to be a season with a significant African feel.