Milla, Okocha and Drogba – the African players who influenced football and gained global attention.
In this month’s Worldwide View, Michael McCann profiles three African players whose careers have influenced football and won fans across the world.
When people think of Roger Milla, they automatically jump to the goal celebration of running to the corner flag and doing that dance.
It came to prominence at the 1990 World Cup, where Milla lighted the competition with four goals for Cameroon, his broad smile and the celebration – not bad for a 37-year-old!
The striker played a huge part in Cameroon’s superb run in the competition, becoming a main player in this global spectacle. Milla scored twice in the group stages, then a brace in extra time to help his country beat Columbia in the last 16. The Indomitable Lions then gave England a huge scare in the quarter-finals where Gary Lineker scored to take the game into extra time, before Cameroon eventually lost 3-2.
Milla had retired from international football three games before Italia 90, but the world was left very grateful that he came back. Milla had already tasted plenty of success with Cameroon, winning the Africa Cup of Nations in 1984 and 1988, and was the tournament’s top scorer in 1986 and 1988.
Milla played in the 1994 World Cup aged 42, eventually retiring with an excellent international record of 37 goals in 63 games. It was his goals and flamboyance that put him into the hearts of football fans worldwide. Milla also had an excellent club career, scoring more than 400 goals across spells in France, Cameroon and Indonesia.
‘So good, they named him twice’ was what fans would say, and unlike fellow African player and failed Manchester United recruit Eric Djemba-Djemba, Jay-Jay Okocha was clearly worthy of such adoration.
Okocha was the kind of attacking midfielder whose silky skills, eye for a pass and superb long-range strikes often made him alone worth the admission fee.
After spells in Germany and Turkey, Okocha started to become a well-known player worldwide when joining Paris Saint-Germain in 1998. The £14 million fee made him the most expensive African player at the time, but over the next four years Okocha showed himself to be worth the investment. The attacking midfielder scored 23 goals in 84 appearances but those numbers fail to tell the full story. Back then the Nigerian was a mentor to a young Brazilian player called Ronaldinho, and he turned out to be pretty handy. Okocha had a range of superb skills, a trademark being his various hybrids of the rainbow flick.
Okocha spent his peak playing years with Paris Saint-Germain and then, to the surprise of many, Bolton Wanderers in the Premier League. He helped the Trotters into Europe for the first time in their history and into the 2004 League Cup Final, where they lost to Middlesbrough.
Okocha won Nigerian footballer of the year seven times, including four consecutive victories from 2002-2005. Okocha also won the 1994 African Cup of Nations and Olympic gold in 1996, though surprisingly never won African Player of the Year.
Through both his goals and his personality, Didier Drogba is an African football icon.
As a striker, Drogba was a genuine all -rounder. He possesses strength and power, but there’s also pace, technique and some serious finishing ability. The Ivorian also holds a pennant for the dark arts, showing an ability to give any centre-half a difficult time, and some notorious attempts to win free kicks and penalties by fair means or fouls. Unsurprisingly this concoction of skills has given Drogba worldwide impact.
Drogba has been a consistent performer for his country, scoring 65 goals in 104 games to make him the all-time top scorer for the Ivory Coast, representing the Elephants in multiple World Cups.
He’s also scored over 100 Premier League goals, and almost 50 in the Champions League – the most by an African player in both competitions.
Drogba’s status was cemented by his long-term association with Chelsea. He had a thoroughly successful first spell with the Blues, winning three Premier League titles, four FA cups, and two League Cups. Drogba had a knack of scoring in big finals and performing in big games, often combining when playing Arsenal. However, his most iconic moment was scoring the winning penalty against Bayern Munich to help Chelsea win the 2012 Champions League.
Drogba had got to Chelsea through good spells with Le Mans and Guingamp, where 20 goals in 45 games secured a move to Marseille. After a season at Marseille with 19 goals in 35 league games, England came calling.
Chelsea paid £24 million for the striker and he was worth every proverbial penny. Drogba scored 157 goals in 341 appearances across all competition in an eight season spell with the Blues, winning silverware aplenty.
After leaving Chelsea, Drogba had spells with Shanghai Shenhua and Galatasaray, before returning to Chelsea in 2014, the club he describes as his ‘spiritual home’ away from the Ivory Coast.
Drogba won the Premier League and League Cup in his second stint with the Blues, as well as providing some invaluable guidance to the younger players.
After the winning season, he moved to Montreal Impact in Quebec, scoring 21 MLS goals in 33 appearances before announcing his departure from the club in late 2016 – even at 38 ‘The Drog’ is still one heck of an asset.
Follow Michael on Twitter at @ThisIsMcCann
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