By Lewis Rooke – @LV_Rooke
For years at Liverpool, African signings were few and far between – and the ones that arrived have largely underwhelmed.
Some have been shrewd purchases. Kolo Toure’s best years came before he arrived at Anfield, but is still something of a cult hero on Merseyside. As is Djimi Traore, who was no world-beater but holds legendary status among the Liverpool faithful as part of that immortal side that produced magic in the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul.
The likes of Rigobert Song, Salif Diao and El-Hadji Diouf, however, all came and went with something of a whimper. Let’s not even get started on Oussama Assaidi, Charles Itandje and Sean Dundee…
Yet, so many years later, the strength of the Reds’ spine is as African as it comes – and it’s paying dividends for Jurgen Klopp.
After a shaky start in Liverpool red, the Cameroonian really came into his own this season. Joe Gomez’s injury at Burnley sent shivers down fans’ spines as his imperious relationship with Virgil van Dijk came to an abrupt end. In came Matip, and fear gripped the fans once more: “Oh no, that’s our watertight defence about to leak”.
The big Cameroonian lay those fears to bed relatively quickly, and made the position his own and he now exudes a calmness reminiscent of van Dijk himself. Having ended the season superbly, performing excellently in the latter stages of the Champions League, Joe Gomez has a major task on his hands to reclaim his place.
A £50million signing from Leipzig who came in with huge expectations, the Guinean didn’t reach the heights expected of him in his first Liverpool season. However, after a difficult start in red, Keita started to find his feet at the end of last season – opening our account against Porto in the Champions League that helps ease our progression to the semi finals.
Having eventually acclimatised to Klopp’s methods, next season is a huge one for Keita – who I fully expect to lay a serious assault on a midfield starting spot for the coming campaign. The signs are there though for him to become one of the worlds best in the middle of the park.
The first of famous front three to arrive at Anfield, the Senegalese speedster is truly on the cusp of legendary status at Anfield. Having scored an incredible 14 goals in 26 Champions League games for Liverpool, he has become one of the most feared front men in the world.
The biggest of big game players, he has scored in a European final, embarrassed the great Manuel Neuer in his own home stadium and notched himself an away hat-trick against Porto in a plethora of memorable Champions League moments Mane has produced.
An incredible rise to glory from the Senegalese Academy of Generation Foot to the French second division and to Austrian football, Mane’s journey has been one to look up to for many aspiring footballers from the continent of Africa who believe they can make it big in Europe.
What more can be said of Mohamed Salah that hasn’t already been said? The Egyptian is one of the greatest sporting icons in African history having reached supersonic heights at Liverpool, recording two consecutive Premier League golden boots after smashing the goalscoring record the previous season.
Having endured bitter disappointment in he Champions League last year where he was cynically injured in the final by Sergio Ramos against Real Madrid, the Egyptian King finally got his revenge this time around in Madrid where his early goal set Liverpool on course to European glory.
Having recorded an incredible 16 goals in 27 Champions League games for Liverpool, including particularly memorable moments against Manchester City, Roma and Napoli – Salah truly has become the jewel in Liverpool’s crown.
After a similar career trajectory to Sadio Mane, where he battled to build his reputation in smaller European leagues such as Switzerland, Salah’s journey to the top has been well earned through his own relentless hard work – and the fruits of his labours have been outstanding.
Virgil van Dijk: A Dutch international by trade, Van Dijk’s roots are firmly African – with his Surinamese mother. The commanding centre back has been the catalyst for Liverpool’s excellent defensive record this season, and he truly has become, by some distance, the best defender in world football.
Gini Wijnaldum: Like Big Virg, Wijnaldum is a Dutch international with Surinamese parentage. The 28-year-old has been excellent this campaign, but by far the crowning moment of his season was his two all-important goals against Barcelona – in the greatest game Anfield has ever witnessed.
Divock Origi: Liverpool’s unlikely hero this season, the Belgian international is the son of former Kenyan footballer Mike Origi. Never mind his Premier League heroics against Everton and Newcastle, Origi was instrumental in the aforementioned comeback against Barcelona – notching both the opener and the eventual winner at Anfield.
To top that off, Origi only went and scored the decisive goal in the Champions League final against Tottenham – a goal that made the fans realise number six was in the bag. Not bad, for a man who looked out the door at the start of the season.
A nod to the future…
As Liverpool fly the African flag, there is a strong chance our African contingent will grow even more this coming season.
With strong links to the Ivorian winger Nicolas Pepe and Lyon’s Nabil Fekir who is of Algerian descent, Africa could well have representatives in Liverpool for many, many more years to come.