The Greatest African Soccer Stars and Their Quest for the Ballon d’Or

Soccer enjoys unparalleled popularity globally, but few honors in the sport resonate more than the Ballon d’Or. Given annually to the best player in the world, it represents the pinnacle of individual achievement. However, despite Africa’s profound love affair with the beautiful game, only three African-born players have come close to claiming the prestigious award in its history. These athletes overcame tremendous odds, opening the door for future players from the continent to aspire to greatness.

1. George Weah

George Weah

In 1995, Liberian legend George Weah etched his name in soccer history forever. The striker became both the first and still the only African player ever to win the Ballon d’Or. Weah first emerged during his prolific stint with AS Monaco before hitting superstar status at AC Milan, winning the 1994-1995 Champions League and Serie A.

Key Achievements:

  • 2x Italian League MVP
  • UEFA Champions League Top Scorer
  • FIFA World Player of the Year
  • African Player of the Century

For both his play and humanitarian efforts, Weah is revered as an African icon. After retiring, he entered politics in Liberia, serving as Senator before being elected President in 2018.

2. Sadio Mané

Sadio Mané

Recently, Senegalese winger Sadio Mané has made a strong case as Africa’s top Ballon d’Or contender following a prolific season helping Liverpool chase a historic quadruple in 2021-2022.

SeasonGoals ScoredAccolades
2021-202223Champions League & Domestic Cup Runner-Up, Premier League Golden Boot Runner-Up
2018-201926Champions League Winner

With his blend of blazing speed, clinical finishing and selfless play, Mané has established himself as Africa’s current best bet to win the award.

3. Didier Drogba

Didier Drogba

While Weah remains Africa’s only Ballon d’Or winner thus far, Didier Drogba became the first African finalist for the award in 2007. The towering Ivorian striker emerged as one of the Premier League’s most feared scorers during his trophy-laden tenure with Chelsea.

He twice led the Premiership in goals scored while amassing an incredible haul of silverware, including the 2012 Champions League title clinched by his winning penalty in the final against Bayern Munich. Riding this triumphant campaign, he ultimately finished runner-up as Cristiano Ronaldo claimed that year’s Ballon d’Or.

4. Samuel Eto’o

Samuel Eto’o

Cameroonian legend Samuel Eto’o never won the Ballon d’Or himself but still put together a Ballon d’Or-worthy career. At his devastating peak with Barcelona and Inter Milan, few strikers struck more fear into opponents.

Career Highlights:

  • 3x Champions League Winner
  • 4x La Liga top scorer
  • 2x African Player of the Year (African Footballer of the Year)
  • 2000 Olympic Gold Medal

Eto’o won three Champions League titles with two clubs. He still stands as Cameroon’s all-time leading scorer with over 50 international goals, though his current role as Cameroon FA president ends his playing days.

5. Mohamed Salah

Mohamed Salah

In recent years, Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah has emerged as Africa’s top Ballon d’Or contender alongside Mané. After struggling with Chelsea, he has thrived tremendously since joining Liverpool in 2017. For back-to-back years, Salah ranked 4th and 5th in Ballon d’Or voting, the highest of any African over that stretch. At 28 years old and firmly in his prime, more shots at glory await.

6. Riyad Mahrez

Riyad Mahrez

Algerian midfielder Riyad Mahrez famously spearheaded Leicester City’s miracle 2015-2016 Premier League triumph. He has since evolved into a world beater as a chief catalyst behind Manchester City’s recent domestic dominance, also helping City reach their first-ever Champions League final in 2021. Mahrez may contend for Ballon d’Or honors before he’s done writing history.

7. Nwankwo Kanu

Nwankwo Kanu

Arguably Africa’s most technically-gifted player ever, Nwankwo Kanu mesmerized fans for over a decade in England with his outrageous ball skills and agility. Though never seriously in Ballon d’Or contention himself, highlights of his 1996 Olympic gold medal knockout rounds showcase a wizard who could pull magic from thin air.

8. Michael Essien

Michael Essien

Few midfielders imposed themselves more effectively than Michael Essien in his prime with Chelsea. Nicknamed “the Bison” for his immense power, tenacity and endless running, the Ghanaian dominated games while racking up honors before injuries sadly cut his world-class career short.

9. Yaya Touré

Yaya Touré

At his overpowering best with Manchester City, Ivorian midfielder Yaya Touré earned legitimate comparisons to a runaway train barreling downfield through the heart of the pitch game after game. His consistent brilliance helped lead City to their first two Premier League titles in history.

10. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Gabonese hitman Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang terrorized defenses with his electric pace and ice-cold finishing during productive stints with Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal. Though succeeding despite Arsenal’s struggles, he faces a steep climb earning Ballon d’Or recognition with few major trophies compared to other African greats.

11. Victor Ikpeba

Victor Ikpeba

Nigerian striker Victor Ikpeba enjoyed a highly successful career in France, winning the Ligue 1 title with AS Monaco in 1997 and scoring over 100 goals. He also led Nigeria’s national team for years as they established themselves as Africa’s most feared side in the 1990s. Ikpeba’s blistering shots and acrobatic celebrations made him a fan favorite across Europe.

12. Finidi George

 Finidi George

Winger Finidi George formed devastating attacking trios with the likes of George Weah and Jay-Jay Okocha during his prime years with Nigeria, Ajax and Real Betis. His mazy dribbling, precise crosses and big goals were integral as Nigeria stunned Argentina and reached the Round of 16 in their first-ever World Cup appearance in 1994.

13. Tony Yeboah

Tony Yeboah

“Yegoala” Tony Yeboah dazzled crowds with his thunderous volleys and scorching free kicks during the 1990s starring for Eintracht Frankfurt and Leeds United. His goal against Liverpool in 1995 – a looping volley rocketed in off the underside of the crossbar – remains an all-time Premier League great strike.

14. El-Hadji Diouf & Papa Bouba Diop

El-Hadji Diouf & Papa Bouba Diop

Senegalese striker El-Hadji Diouf’s stellar displays carried unfancied Senegal to the World Cup quarterfinals in 2002. His compatriot Papa Bouba Diop scored the lone goal shocking defending champions France out in the massive Round of 16 upset. Their grit, power and timely goals symbolized the arrival of African sides as serious contenders.

15. Emmanuel Adebayor

Emmanuel Adebayor

At his peak with Arsenal and Manchester City, Togolese striker Emmanuel Adebayor blended a towering 6’4″ frame with high mobility and slick finishing. During four prolific seasons between 2007-2011, he scored over 20 Premier League goals three separate times, earning a reputation as one of England’s most physical and skillful strikers.

16. Asamoah Gyan

 Asamoah Gyan

Ghanaian marksman Asamoah Gyan stands behind only Cristiano Ronaldo and Miroslav Klose in World Cup goals since 2006. His extra-time strike knocked out the USA in 2010 before his heartbreaking penalty miss in their quarterfinal exit. Gyan has continued scoring regularly across Europe and Asia while serving as the long-time captain of Ghana’s national team.

17. Kalidou Koulibaly

Kalidou Koulibaly

Towering center back Kalidou Koulibaly has quietly emerged among world soccer’s elite defenders over the past decade since joining Napoli from Genk in 2014. Beyond leading multiple Serie A title challenges, the Senegalese stalwart’s rugged tackling and leadership make him the pillar for both his club and country. His majestic match-winning volley to clinch Senegal’s first Africa Cup of Nations title punctuated his world-class status.

18. Sebastien Haller

Sebastien Haller

With his 6’3″ frame yet graceful movement, Ivorian striker Sebastien Haller developed into a ruthless scorer in Germany and Holland before scintillating during his first Premier League season at West Ham United. His subsequent signing with Ajax brought more outrageous production, including 11 Champions League goals in 8 matches – the most ever in the competition’s group stage.

19. Asisat Oshoala

Asisat Oshoala

Nigerian forward Asisat Oshoala stands above the rest claiming five African Women Footballer of the Year crowns thus far. She finished as the 2015 Chinese Women’s title top scorer with 18 goals and won the 2023 Spanish league with Barcelona while being named player of the tournament. Her blinding pace and composed finishing could


Who is the best player in African history?

George Weah is considered the best African player in history, awe-inspiring with his lethal finishing and fluid movement.

Which African player has won the Ballon d’Or?

George Weah remains Africa’s only Ballon d’Or winner for his sensational 1995 campaign with AC Milan and Liberia.

Who has the African best player award?

Samuel Eto’o and Yaya Toure share the record with 4 African Player of the Year awards each to their name thus far.

How many Ballon d Ors does Africa have?

Africa has just one Ballon d’Or winner ever in George Weah, though more contenders like Mane and Salah emerge currently.

Leave a Comment