Nineteen African stars have previously won the prestigious UEFA Champions League, three among which are Nigerians and later this evening at the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid the likes of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Joel Matip, Naby Keita, Victor Wanyama and Sergi Aurier will hope to join the exclusive list when Liverpool lockhorns with Tottenham for the rights to be crowned kings of Europe.
Interestingly, only 15 of of the last 19 winners have featured in the final matches. The players who didn’t play in the finals appeared at some point during their club’s respective Champions League-winning campaign to earn their medal.
For instance, in the 1983/1984 season, Bruce Grobbelaar became the first African player from Zimbabwe to win the Champions League. He was Liverpool’s goalkeeper. In the same vein, in 2004/2005 season, Djimi Traore from Mali became the second African to play for Liverpool at the Champions League final and he also won the trophy.
Former Southampton forward, Mane will go down in history as the first Senegalese to win the trophy if Liverpool defeat Tottenham in the Champions League finals tonight.
DailyAdvent previews the 19 African players, who have won the Champions league in three decades.
Samuel Eto’o ( Barcelona and Inter Milan; 2006, 2009, 2010): Eto’o is the most successful African in the UEFA Champions history. He won the Champions League twice with Barcelona, in 2006 and 2009, and also with Internazionale in 2010.
Despite moving to Italy after his second title with the Catalans, Eto’o still managed to wrap up a second consecutive treble. He wasn’t just a passenger either, as some of the players on this list could have been accused of being.
In 2006 he was the Official Man of the Match in the final victory over Arsenal and scored both in this match and the 2009 triumph over Manchester United. In both matches, it was an Eto’o goal that broke the deadlock and turned the tie in Barca’s favour.
For Internazionale, he didn’t score in the final but demonstrated his excellent teamwork abilities and discipline by taking a right-sided role in Jose Mourinho’s fine side, allowing Diego Milito to lead the line.
Seydou Keita (Barcelona; 2009 and 2011): Keita wasn’t the most high-profile member of Pep Guardiola’s stunning Barcelona generation, but he was arguably one of the most important. The manager himself was a huge fan, describing the Malian as “the most generous footballer I’ve ever known.”
Indeed, Keita was a terrific squad player and was rewarded for his selflessness. Unsurprisingly, the West African featured in both of Barca’s triumphant Champions League finals of 2009 and 2011, being brought on late on to see out the contest.
Didier Drogba (Chelsea; 2012): There aren’t too many players who can claim to have single-handedly won the Champions League. There are few doubts, however, that were it not for Didier Drogba, Chelsea wouldn’t have become the first London club to lift the European Cup in 2012.
Drogba’s impact in the final against Bayern Munich was emphatic. He equalised in the 88th minute, his perfectly placed header cancelling out Thomas Muller’s opener, before hammering home the decisive penalty in the shootout. The Ivorian had previously scored in the round-of-16 clash with Napoli, as well as bagging the winner against Barcelona in the semi-final first leg at Stamford Bridge.
At times he looked as though he was on a one-man mission to bring the title to west London. No Chelsea player has ever scored more in the Champions League than Drogba, who has 34, and indeed, the forward holds the record for the continent—no African player can rival Drogba’s 42.
Yaya Toure (Barcelona; 2009): The four-time African footballer of the year won the Champions League as a central defender with Barcelona in 2009.
With Dani Alves suspended, Carles Puyol moved to right-back, with the Ivorian stopper slipping into the back line alongside Gerard Pique as the Blaugranas claim a 2-0 victory over Manchester United in Stadio Olimpico, Rome.
Benni McCarthy (FC Porto, 2004): Benni McCarthy’s key contribution to the history of the Champions League came in the summer of 2004. The South African striker was part of Jose Mourinho’s celebrated FC Porto side and was present in the 2004 final as the Portuguese giants beat AS Monaco to lift their second European crown.
In lifting the trophy that year, he became the only South African player to have won the Champions League.
Samuel Kuffour ( Bayern Munich, 2001): Kuffour spent 11 seasons with Bayern, rising from the youth teams to be a prominent first-squad member who lifted the UEFA Champions League with the club.
He was an integral part of the squad that won the 2000–01 Champions League, also scoring the winning goal in the 2001 Intercontinental Cup, being subsequently named man of the match.
John Mikel Obi (Chelsea, 2012): The Nigerian midfielder wasn’t always been taken seriously at during his time at Chelsea, but few can argue with his contributions during Chelsea’s victorious 2012 Champions League campaign.
The Super captain played a vital role in the semi-final victory over Barcelona at Stamford Bridge, moving forward to man-mark Xavi Hernandez, then stepping back to form a watertight midfield three with Frank Lampard and Raul Meireles.
Mikel brought a considerable physical presence and was selected for the final against Bayern Munich, although here his performance was less composed but full of endeavour.
Sulley Muntari (Inter Milan, 2010): In 2010, Sulley Muntari became the third Ghanaian player to win the European Cup following Internazionale’s 2-0 victory over Bayern Munich in Madrid. The former AC Milan midfielder played 11 minutes in the final, replacing Goran Pandev to close off the game in the latter stages.
Muntari was an important component of Jose Mourinho’s fine Inter side that season. He was a regular in Serie A, clocking up 27 appearances, and also featured nine times in the Champions League.
Salomon Kalou (Chelsea; 2012): At the beginning of the year 2012, the Ivorian left to participate in the Africa Cup of Nations, and continued to be used sparingly by Villa-Boas upon his return. However the Portuguese manager was sacked at the start of March and replaced by his assistant Roberto Di Matteo, who would grant Kalou a more prominent role in the first team, although still often as a substitute.
Kalou started several games over the remainder of what turned out to be a highly successful season. He scored the only goal of the game in the Champions League quarter-final 1st leg against Benfica; a vital goal that would turn out to be his last for the club.
He replaced Juan Mata in both legs of the semi-final against Barcelona, before cementing his place in Chelsea’s historic Champions League win by starting in the final itself, playing 84 minutes before being replaced by Fernando Torres.
Djimi Traore (Liverpool, 2005): Traoré was a regular at Liverpool, and eventually made the starting line-up as Liverpool qualified for the 2005 Champions League Final against Milan. After conceding the free kick that led to Paolo Maldini’s goal in the opening minute.
In the second half his play improved, and a goalline clearance to deny Shevchenko a likely winner contributed to his winning a Champions League medal as Liverpool fought back from 3–0 down to draw 3–3 and beat Milan 3-2 on penalties.
Rabah Madjer (FC Porto; 1987): Madjer became an African legend when he scored an audacious backheeled goal in the 1987 European Cup final to help FC Porto defeat Bayern Munich 2-1 in Vienna.
Bayern was leading when Madjer equalised with that wonderful goal. Pele is reported to have said, “It would have been the greatest goal I have ever seen if he had not looked back at it.”
Bruce Grobbelaar (Liverpool; 1984): He is one of Africa’s best goalkeepers of all times, not just because of his goalkeeping abilities, but also because of his eccentricities. Grobbelaar was fond of dancing, wearing crazy masks, doing cartwheels, swinging from the crossbar, etc in order to confuse opposing players (he also scored quite a few goals).
Grobbelaar was the hero of Liverpool’s 1984 European Cup final. That final was between Liverpool and Roma at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. The match ended 1-1 after extra time and so the game was decided by a penalty shootout. He started breakdancing as Italian legend Bruno Conti stepped up to take his penalty. Conti blasted the ball over the bar.Francesco Graziani stepped up to take the penultimate kick for Roma and Grobbelaar turned around and started biting the net. This gave him an idea.
He thought that the net felt like spaghetti, so he started wobbling his legs like spaghetti. Graziani also played the ball over the bar and Alan Kennedy stepped up, scored the last penalty and won the European Cup for Liverpool.
Abedi Pele Ayew (Olympique Marseille; 1993): At Marseille, he was a member of the team’s “Magical Trio” along with Jean-Pierre Papin and Chris Waddle, spearheading perhaps Europe’s strongest league side of the early 1990s, including a European Cup final defeat in 1991.
Abedi was the only remaining member of the trio still with the side when Marseille defeated Milan in the 1993 Champions League final in Munich. He was rewarded with the “man of the match” award in after the game.
Finidi George (Ajax Amsterdam; 1995): The former Calabar Rovers winger was among the first set of Nigerians to win the Champions League for Ajax Amsterdam in 1995, where they overcame mighty AC Milan in the final with a 1-0 win courtesy of a Patrick Kluivert’s goal.
The ex-Super Eagles midfielder was a darling to watch with his dazzling dribbles on the right flank and his ability to drive in and score goals like a number 9. He would always be remembered for his superb strike against Bayern Munich in the semi finals.
In the 1994/95 Champions League season, the Amsterdam outfit were unbeaten all through the competition with a team that had many youth and a few experienced players which included the likes of Clarence Seedorf, Frank Rijkaard, Edgar Davids, Jari Litmanen Danny Blind, Mark Overmars and likes. These crop of players went all the way to the finals in the following year but lost out to another Italian football power house, Juventus on penalties.
Kanu Nwankwo (Ajax Amsterdam; 1995): Like his fellow compatriot, Kanu was part and parcel of the Ajax squad that were victorious at the 1994/95 seasons’ in the Champions League.The former Iwuayanwu Nationale striker often came on as a second half substitute to do the damage.
The lanky forward made an appearance in the final and should have made it 2-0 after walking past Franco Baresi but his shot hit the post. These other four players didn’t play at the finals for their teams but won the Champions League alongside their teams.
Michael Essien (Chelsea, 2012): Essien scored a wonder goal in the semi-final against Barcelona in 2009, but the away goals rule sent the Blues packing following a particularly dramatic and tempestuous showing.
In 2012, Essien and Chelsea made amends for the defeat of 2009. The midfielder was an unused substitute in the final but still received the winner’s medal that his service richly deserved.
McDonald Mariga (Inter Milan, 2010): The midfielder was an unused substitute in the 2010 Champions League final and, following Inter’s two goals against Bayern Munich, became the first Kenyan to win Europe’s premier club competition, with his junior brother Wanyama who currently plays for Tottenham looking forward to being the second player to do so.
Mariga did feature in the competition that year, against Chelsea, but he couldn’t assert himself at the club over the subsequent years.
Geremi Njitap (Real Madrid, 2000 and 2002): Former Cameroon international Geremi won the Champions League in 2000 and 2002 during a three-year stint playing for Real Madrid. Much like Yaya Touré, his versatility allowed the Galácticos the ability to use him in defence and midfield.
This was particularly useful due to his work ethic and ability to cover for any absentees through injury. Two European titles followed, and he left the club as a double Champions League winner.
Hakimi Achraf (Real Madrid, 2018): In the 2017–18 UEFA Champions League, he made two appearances as Madrid won the title, their third consecutive and 13th overall.
Although not in the squad for the final of the competition, he received a medal and is credited as the first Moroccan player to win the Champions League.
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