From AC Milan’s unlikely title triumph, to Manchester City sending Liverpool back to the post, to Real Madrid and Bayern Munich finishing well ahead in La Liga and Bundesliga, there was no shortage of excitement and intrigue.
African stars were, understandably, at the center of much of the drama, and so here is a selection of 11 standout performers, in a good old 4-4-2, from Europe’s top five leagues only. (Sorry, Sebastien Haller)
Sevilla’s season ended on a disappointment, as a projected title charge fell apart due to underperformance in attack. In defense, Julen Lopetegui’s men were able to count on the heroism of goalkeeper Bono.
The Morocco international was named La Liga’s Outstanding African Player midway through the season, retained fourth in La Liga clean sheets and excelled as Sevilla secured a top-four berth and a place in the Champions League. He also mustered the baddest defense in the league, which speaks volumes about his leadership qualities.
DD: Hamari Traore
Rennes failed in their bid for a Champions League spot, but it was ultimately a very successful season. Captain Traoré had something to do with it.
His calm but firm leadership has made him a huge fan favorite in France. The 30-year-old is also one of the best right-backs in the league, with three goals and 10 assists to his name in the recently concluded Ligue 1 season. His performances have sparked interest from abroad, with Borussia Dortmund interested in his services.
CD: Joel Matip
Matip has been a rock at the back for Liverpool. The Reds ultimately failed in their pursuit of the Premier League title, but they pushed Manchester City all the way, conceding just 26 goals and losing just twice.
Key to that was the composure and passing of Matip, who complements Virgil Van Dijk beautifully at the heart of defence. His ball carrying and anticipation are particular feathers in the former Cameroon international’s cap, his distribution isn’t shabby either, and he participated with his fair share of towering headers from set pieces.
CB: Kalidou Koulibaly
The Napoli man just keeps getting better. Individually, he was Italy’s most dominant centre-back and he steered the Azzurri’s defense to the best defensive record in Serie A.
Napoli couldn’t sustain their challenge in the end, but their downfall was really down to a lack of goals. And even on that front, Koulibaly did more than his fair share by making runs in the final third to create space and add extra attacking threat. Hard to believe he’s still at Napoli at this stage of his career.
CEO: Ramy Bensebaini
Hardly an exceptional year for African left-backs, it must be said. Watford’s Hassane Kamara nearly got there thanks to half a season at Vicarage Road, but in the end Bensebaini gets the green light for here.
Borussia Mönchengladbach had an unforgettable season, but Bensebaini was at least a model of consistency. Sometimes left back, sometimes posted in central defense, the aggressiveness and the technical quality of the Algerian still shone.
MD: Riyad Mahrez
How cruel it would have been had his missed penalty at West Ham finally doomed Manchester City’s title charge. Fortunately, this is not the case; it’s much easier to appreciate Mahrez’s exceptional season from this angle.
It’s been a slow climb up the mountain for the Algerian at the Etihad, but he finally seems to have earned Pep Guardiola’s trust. It coincided with his best season in terms of performance in English football: 24 goals in all competitions is a superb return for a player who hasn’t even always started.
CM: Geoffrey Kondogbia
Atletico Madrid’s title defense was deeply disappointing, but Kondogbia was one of the few bright spots.
The Central African international was a titan in the center of midfield, winning duels and overpowering opponents with ease, while distributing the ball with confidence and precision. While there were doubts about the desire and professionalism of some of his teammates, Kondogbia left no doubt about his hunger or his ability.
CM: Seko Fofana
Fofana was voted the best African player in Ligue 1, which should tell the story quite eloquently. A dynamic and two-way midfielder, Fofana was very present in the Lensois midfield.
Ten goals in all competitions, for a box-to-box midfielder, is nothing to sniff at. Add to that the fact that he captains the team and has started every league game for Franck Haise’s side, and you get an idea of how crucial he was to their seventh-place finish.
MG: Sadio Mane
Often played in a more central role this season, but Mane was more influential than ever when asked to start on the left. The Senegalese international has shone on the big stage, especially in the last rounds of the Champions League and national cups.
Manager Jurgen Klopp has already called for Mane to be awarded the Ballon d’Or if Liverpool win the big game in Paris against Real Madrid, and while the knee-jerk reaction would be to oppose it, it’s not at all an extravagant cry.
FC: Mohammad Salah
He’s not quite the same player since Egypt missed out on Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) glory and a World Cup berth. However, in the first half of the season, Salah was rightfully the best player in the world.
More than just his goals, he was also about to put them in place and seemed to be moving to a new level of productivity. His season could still improve, especially if he is able to find the revenge he so clearly craves against Real Madrid in Paris.
FC: Victor Osimhen
No one has scored more headed goals in Serie A than Osimhen, and he’s deservedly been named the league’s best under-23 player. On his day, the Nigeria international is as unplayable as it gets; an absolute nightmare for defenders. His pace, agility and leap weigh heavily on his opponents.
There’s still a ways to go before it’s the finished article, but it’s definitely trending up. Eighteen goals in all competitions is a more than healthy return, and with the departure of Lorenzo Inisgne, Napoli are now his team.