African Cup of Nations: Five classic defenders

The African Cup of Nations has thrown up some classic players over its history. In this series, FAH takes a look at some of the names you might have erased from your memory. Next up are five defensive giants.

Ferdinand Coly

Coly was part of the impressive Senegal squad that stunned the footballing world by beating France 1-0 in the opening game of the 2002 World Cup. Until then, the Dakar-born centre half had quietly plied his trade in France – a country he had moved to as a child. After impressing at the tournament (the BBC described him as his country’s “unsung hero”), he signed on loan for Birmingham City. Coly would be a shoo-in for a St Andrews-based Classic XI, making just one appearance in an unsuccessful spell. After leaving the West Midlands with his reputation just about intact, he signed for Italian club Perugia, before finishing his career in 2008 with Parma. Coly made 30 appearances for Senegal, and currently holds the rather honorary sounding title, general coordinator, with the national team.

Pierre Issa

South African Issa spent most of his nine-year international career battling for a central defensive berth with Mark Fish, Aaron Mokoena and Lucas Radebe, making a total of 47 appearances for Bafana Bafana. Domestically, his most successful spell came between 1995 and 2001, when he turned out for Marseille, appearing in the 1999 UEFA Cup Final for the club but eventually losing 3-0 to Parma. After a spell on loan to Chelsea in which he didn’t make an appearance, he hopped across London to join Watford in 2001, where Gianluca Vialli had just taken charge. The fact that he is best remembered by Hornets fans for being dropped from a stretcher, says it all. He played for Watford for a year, before retiring in 2009 following spells in Lebanon and Greece.

Photo: Jake Brown

Olivier Tébily

Ivorian Tébily is arguably the most recognisable of this African defensive quintet, having spent nine years playing on British soil. Sheffield United boss Steve Bruce brought him to England from France for just £200,000 in 1999, and just eight appearances later, he was offloaded to Celtic for five times the price. There, ‘Bombscare’, as he was nicknamed, earned a reputation as an eccentric, and often clumsy defender. Tébily’s career at the club went downhill following manager John Barnes’ sacking in 2000, and he signed for Birmingham in 2002, where fans yearned for a team of Tébilys. After nearly 100 appearances for the Blues in six years, he signed for Toronto FC in 2008, making a handful of appearances before being released. Now 36 and clubless, he boasts 23 caps for the Ivory Coast.

Raymond Kalla

In England certainly, Kalla is most remembered for his exploits at the heart of the Cameroon defence, rather than his career at club level. Having spent his domestic life in Greece, Spain, Germany and Turkey, bookended by spells playing in his homeland, he can count VfL Bochum and Sivasspor as the highest profile teams he turned out for. But at international level, this is where he came into his own. Appearing 61 times for Cameroon in 12 years, Kalla appeared in three consecutive World Cups between 1994 and 2002. At USA ’94, the 19-year-old Kalla was partnered with Rigobert Song, then 18, in the middle of the Cameroon defence, but the pair couldn’t prevent a group stage exit for the Indomitable Lions.

Lucien Mettomo

A year after winning the African Cup of Nations with Cameroon in 2000, Mettomo signed for Manchester City in a deal worth £1.5 million. City stormed to promotion in his first year at the club and he jetted off to the Far East to represent his country at the 2002 World Cup, after picking up a second consecutive African Cup of Nations winners’ medal earlier in the year. Upon returning to England, Sylvain Distin’s arrival cast Mettomo into the wilderness, but this meant he earned a place in City’s Classic XI (every cloud?). He went on to play in Turkey and Switzerland before attempting to make what turned out to be an unsuccessful comeback to English football with Southampton. Still only 34, and with 29 international caps to his name, he has been without a club since 2009.

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