Top 10 talents to follow at AFCON 2019

  1. Hamed Junior Traore – Empoli – Ivory Coast

In recent years in Italian football, Empoli have been one of the most productive conveyor belts of talent. While it has mostly been on loan in the form of the likes of Piotr Zielinski, Matias Vecino and even further back with Claudio Marchisio. While they are not the side they were under Sarri or Giampaolo, they look as though they are still producing the talent with their star prospect being Hamed Junior Traore. The Ivorian midfielder has taken the league by storm despite still being a teenager, displaying exceptionally good technical ability and providing a lot of creative spark for their forwards. Traore’s form has been good enough to earn him a move to Fiorentina before being sent back on loan to Empoli, however Fiorentina have allegedly picked up on a heart condition which could pose a threat to his future. If he is able to get past that, then there is no reason why Traore shouldn’t reach the very top.


  1. Ismaila Sarr – Rennes – Senegal

Senegal have possibly the most star-studded squad in Africa, boasting huge names such as Sadio Mane and Kalidou Koulibaly in their ranks. When they appeared at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, one player that caught the eye of many was Ligue 1 based Ismaila Sarr. With his electric pace and superb 1v1 dribbling ability, Sarr was a constant danger for Senegal as they were unlucky to exit in the group stage on a technicality of their disciplinary record. Sarr is currently at Stade Rennais, where he was brought in to replace young French superstar Ousmane Dembele, and while he hasn’t yet produced the same numbers he has shown a lot of promise and versatility, often playing as a lone striker despite his small frame. Sarr is far from the finished product, but his ability and physical tools are there for all to see and if he can put his versatility to good use then he should be a constant danger from multiple different positions and as such, a huge asset for a number of clubs.


  1. Ibrahim Sangare – Toulouse – Ivory Coast

One of Ivory Coast’s unsung heroes of their previous golden generation was their midfield maestro Didier Zokora. While many African defensive midfielders are more known for their physical attributes, Zokora built a career around more technical skills, even being described as the most skilful Ivorian player by his teammates in 2012. A modern equivalent to that looks to be Ibrahim Sangare of Toulouse, who has lit up Ligue 1 in the last two seasons with his superb dribbling ability combined with his lanky frame. Even though he has been able to display what makes him great, the interesting thing about Sangare is that he is not currently at a team that conventionally suits his skillset, which should mean that the best is yet to come from him.


  1. Amadou Diawara – Napoli – Guinea

When Diawara burst onto the scene with Bologna it seemed that he would be destined for the very top. At that time, he was still looking to commit his international future to Italy where he moved to as a teenager however one thing has led to another and Diawara is now representing Guinea, the country of his birth. His move to Napoli has not been as fruitful as many would have expected, however his ability is there for all to see and it is worth remembering that many of the most well known exponents of the ‘regista’ role such as Andrea Pirlo and Sergio Busquets do not reach their peak until they’re around 10 years older than Diawara is now. Perhaps a change of scenery may be what Diawara needs to truly realise his potential.


  1. Henry Onyekuru – Galatasaray – Nigeria

After Qatar invested heavily in the Aspire Academy system, the most notable individual product has been Henry Onyekuru. His route did not involve playing senior football in Qatar, but rather joining their Belgian satellite club Eupen. His form was good enough to earn him a move to Premier League regulars Everton, and while he hasn’t broken through there as of yet he has impressed out on loan first to Anderlecht and now at Galatasaray. Despite playing as a winger, Onyekuru has been incredibly prolific for the Istanbul giants, scoring 11 goals in 26 appearances and on course to finish as second top scorer in the Turkish league behind Diagne. With blistering pace and an eye for goal, Onyekuru will hope to lead Nigeria’s attack at AFCON this summer as part of a front line that will strike fear into any defence.


  1. Noussair Mazraoui – Ajax – Morocco

After decades of seemingly falling into decline, it has truly been a season to remember for Ajax. As one of Europe’s biggest and most significant clubs historically, it has been a pleasure for all football fans to see them perform so well in the Champions League. While he has not been the one grabbing the headlines, their starting right back Noussair Mazraoui has played his part in their run to the semi-finals. The Morocco international has scored twice in the competition against Ajax’s fellow powerhouses Benfica and Bayern Munich, as well as playing a crucial role in their iconic 4-1 win at the Bernabeu in which he did well to keep the ball in play before providing a pre assist. Mazraoui started out as a central midfielder, and it shows in his play style as he is focused on retaining possession before anything else and often tucks into unconventionally central areas for a full back in order to overload the midfield. This style of play means that Mazraoui should have a bright future playing in possession based teams, and as he is already performing at the highest level at his age the sky is the limit for him.

  1. Christian Kouamé – Genoa – Ivory Coast

All of the headlines at Genoa this season have been dominated by Krzysztof Piatek, and with good reason as he came from Poland to become one of the most prolific scorers in Italy. Piatek has since moved on to AC Milan, however one of the biggest factors in his initial success at Genoa was the support he received from his strike partner Christian Kouame. The Ivorian does not have the most impressive numbers in terms of goals and assists, but don’t let that fool you as he is generally playing one of the least prolific clubs in Italy and his contribution overall is huge for Genoa. His rapid pace means that Genoa have an outlet on the counter which is necessary as they rarely dominate possession. Despite counter attacking seemingly being his main strength, Kouame actually has provided most of his goals and assists against teams that play in more of a deep block, the most impressive of which being his two assists against Juventus. In Serie A it is also traditionally the more experienced attackers that prevail while young talent is often pushed to the side. The fact that Kouame is already performing like a seasoned vet at 21 years old speaks for itself.


  1. Achraf Hakimi – Borussia Dortmund – Morocco

After winning the UEFA Champions League with Real Madrid, while only playing a handful of games in the process, it came as something of a surprise that Achraf Hakimi took his talents to Borussia Dortmund on a two year loan. The move has proved to pay off as he has become a key component of a Dortmund side that have gone toe to toe with Bayern Munich for the Bundesliga title, in an incredibly young side along with fellow talents such as Jadon Sancho and Abdou Diallo. The most prominent feature about Hakimi is that he is already very versatile for his age, as he is able to play more or less equally well at both left and right back. This is especially useful at international level, as despite being a natural right back he often has to play on the left which can make room for the aforementioned Noussair Mazraoui on the right. While Hakimi has endured more of a poor run of form in recent months, there is a possibility that he could return to Real Madrid or alternatively continue to progress at Dortmund and see where the future takes him.


  1. Samuel Chukwueze – Villarreal – Nigeria

In a season to forget overall for Villarreal, their one beacon of hope has been the breakthrough of Samuel Chukwueze. After starting out the season with Villarreal B in the lower tiers, Chukwueze was promoted to the first team with the Yellow Submarine struggling for form. He made an immediate impact, especially in the Europa League, by scoring and assisting at a consistent rate. His playing style is reminiscent of Mohamed Salah in his days at Basel, where he would often use his pace and technical ability to beat defenders and cut in onto his left foot. Despite still being in his breakthrough season, Chukwueze already has good performances against all of Spain’s biggest clubs under his belt and has proven to be a constant attacking threat in Europe, as well as being one of the star performers in Nigeria’s U17 World Cup winning team alongside Victor Osimhen and Kelechi Nwakali, although Chukwueze is the only one so far to make major waves in Europe’s top five leagues.


1.Amadou Haidara – RB Leipzig – Mali

At the top of the list is Mali’s midfield sensation Amadou Haidara. A product of the famous Red Bull scouting network, Haidara made his name at Salzburg as the star performer in their run to the 2017-18 Europa League semi finals in which they astonishingly knocked out Lazio, Real Sociedad and Borussia Dortmund before eventually losing to Marseille. Playing in a midfield diamond, Haidara has become a master of the role on the right hand side in which he is tasked with providing immense work-rate, width and control of the midfield, on top of an attacking threat in the absence of a winger. Being one of the players of the tournament at just 19 and 20 years old, it was inevitable that Haidara would draw the attention of bigger clubs. Due to his ties to Red Bull, he has taken a more gradual approach by moving to Leipzig where he has only just started out due to injury issues, but he has already made his mark having scored in his first start and participating in five wins in his first five games at the club. With a wealth of technical, mental and physical ability, Haidara has everything at his disposal to become the best midfielder that Africa has produced since the days of Yaya Toure.

By: Hannibal Football

Photo: PA