African Cup of Nations: Five classic midfielders

Africa offers a smorgasboard of midfield talent, from Michael Essien to Yaya Toure, via Steven Pienaar. But let’s not forget the forgotten. FAH picks its favourite classic African midfielders.

Finidi George

Right-sided Finidi George made his name in the Netherlands with Ajax during the Dutch club’s period of success in the mid-1990s. Alongside compatriot Nwankwo Kanu, Finidi won the 1994/95 Champions League with Ajax, after helping them beat AC Milan 1-0 in the final. A year later he left for Spain with Real Betis, having an immediate impact as Béticos finished fourth in La Liga and reached the final of the Copa del Rey. After scoring more than a goal every four games for Betis, he left in 2000 after the club suffered relegation and headed to Mallorca and then Ipswich Town. He never hit top form at Portman Road and was released in 2003. He earned 62 caps for Nigeria between 1991 and 2002 but his international career will perhaps be mostly remembered for the moment he imitated a dog urinating after scoring against Greece in the 1994 World Cup.

Doctor Khumalo

In terms of his club career, Doctor Khumalo might not have made much of a mark on the average British football fan. In what was a peculiar set of clubs, two spells at South African giants Kaizer Chiefs were separated by a season each at Ferrocarril Oeste in Argentina and Columbus Crew in Major League Soccer. When South Africa were readmitted to FIFA in 1992, Khumalo scored their first goal – a penalty in the 1-0 win against Cameroon. Since retiring in 2002, Khumalo, who was voted 62nd greatest South African in 2004, has kept busy through coaching and has lead both the national and Kaizer Chiefs youth sides. He also played himself in German film ‘Themba’ – the story of a youngster who beats poverty to make it into the South African national side (essentially a Bafana Bafana version of Goal!).


Photo: Jake Brown

John Moshoeu

Known as ‘Shoes’ to fans of Bafana Bafana, Moshoeu is the fifth most capped South African of all time, playing 73 times for his country and scoring eight goals. Much of Moshoeu’s career played out in Turkey for a range of top division clubs – including Genclerbirligi, Fenerbahce and Bursaspor. During his ten years in Turkey, he also enjoyed success with his country, being part of the South Africa squad that qualified for the 1998 World Cup in France. After leaving Bursaspor in 2003, by that time 38-years-old, he returned to play for Kaizer Chiefs and then AmaZulu, before calling it a day in 2008. He made a sensational return to action in 2010 with Alexandra United of the Vodacom League – a club owned by fellow Bafana Bafana legend Brian Baloyi.

Tijani Babangida

Lightning quick winger Babangida’s international opportunities were limited due to the aforementioned Finidi George’s stranglehold on the right flank spot in Nigeria’s starting line-up in the mid to late nineties. He was recruited by Dutch side Roda JC after an impressive showing in the 1991 All-Africa Games but was immediate loaned out to VVV-Venlo for two seasons. Upon his return to De Koempels, Babangida, whose brother Haruna was later signed by Barcelona, forced his way into the first team setup, impressing onlookers so much that Ajax shelled out €5million for his services in 1996. He may have seen as a like-for-like replacement for George and after two promising seasons it looked like he was establishing himself as a club legend. Alas, after missing much of 1999 through malaria, Babangida’s fortunes changed and he was sent out on loan in several unsuccessful spells. After a season at Chinese second-tier side Changchun Yatai , Babangida hung up his boots in 2004. He now works as an agent.

Zizi Roberts

Liberia, a certain Mr Weah apart, don’t produce many footballing luminaries, but Zizi Roberts did leave a mark on the European game in late nineties and early noughties. He was spotted by Milan’s scouts whilst playing in his native company and signed for the legendary Italian club. He never made a first team appearance for the Rossoneri, though, and left for Swiss side Bellinzona in 1999. Ionikos took the versatile Roberts to Greece at the turn of the century and his time in south-east Europe was successful, eventually leading him to top Greek team Olympiakos. His time there was ruined by injuries, though, and he made only eight appearances. In the meantime, he helped Liberia to the brink of qualifying for the 2002 World Cup – they missed out by just a point. Roberts crossed the Atlantic to ply his trade in the MLS in 2003 but played only 1092 minutes in two years and retired soon after.

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