In 2023, African male footballers undeniably showcased their exceptional talent on a grand stage, leaving an indelible mark across the world’s major leagues and international competitions.

African football throughout the 2020s has continued its remarkable evolution, surpassing the wildest expectations of many enthusiasts. The 2022 FIFA World Cup, hosted in Qatar, served as an unmistakable testament to the continent’s progress within the beautiful game.

While some may ponder over the architects of this growth and transformation and what distinct measures have been implemented, the answer lies in the calibre of players emerging from Africa today—a marked departure from previous generations.

It’s crucial to clarify that in the past, African players were shining in top leagues and on grand international stages, but the contemporary era has redefined the status quo. It’s nearly inconceivable to assemble a world-class squad without a pivotal African figure contributing to its success.

These remarkable athletes deserve acknowledgement for their unwavering commitment when representing their nations and the entire continent on a global platform. With this in mind, we present a list of the 20 best male African footballers who, in 2023, proved to be indispensable for both their respective clubs and national teams.

The standout feature of 2023 in African football is the across-the-board growth and development of players. Unlike in the past, when talent was often concentrated in one or two countries, the landscape has shifted. In 2022 and 2023, we witness a proliferation of football stars across the continent, with each nation boasting a substantial presence, with at least four out of eleven players actively plying their trade in top European leagues and representing elite clubs. This democratisation of talent has paved the way for African football’s resurgence on the global stage.

Who are the 20 best African footballers of 2023?

Here is a carefully curated list of the 20 best African footballers of the year 2023. Each player has been assessed based on their contribution to their club sides and countries for the following seasons: the 2022–2023 season, the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and the 2023–2024 season as well.

20. Vincent Aboubakar

Country – Cameroon

Age – 31

Position – Forward

Club – Besiktas

A legendary figure in the Cameroon dressing room who proved to be a major differential in the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, Vincent Aboubakar, who currently plays in the Turkish league for Besiktas, makes it to our shortlist of African male football stars who stood out in 2023.

The forward recorded over 17 goals and five assists from 2022–2023. Vincent Aboubakar showed how much his game had evolved at the 2022 World Cup as he led Cameroon to a record-breaking victory over Brazil at the tournament. The sensational forward became the goalscorer that gave Cameroon the victory over Brazil and set them apart from their other African countries. The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon became the first African country to beat Brazil at the World Cup.

He also became the first player since 2006 to get sent off after scoring a goal for his country at the World Cup, following his extravagant celebration in the victory over Brazil.

His record at the AFCON tournament in 2022 also showed how important he is to the team, as he became the first player to record five goals in the competition this century. Aboubakar also became the first Cameroonian to record goals in over three consecutive games at the tournament, a record previously held by the legendary Samuel Eto’o.

19. Victor Boniface

Country – Nigeria

Age – 22

Position – Forward

Club – Bayern 04 Leverkusen

With nine goals and three assists in 10 games in his first season (2023/2024) at Bayern 04 Leverkusen, Victor Boniface is slowly becoming a force to be reckoned with in African football.

The Nigerian international, known for his witty remarks on social media and flair on the football pitch, is one of the players you can’t take your eyes off whenever he takes possession of the ball in any game. The young talent has been directly involved in over 25 goals in over 80 games for Bayern Leverkusen, his former sides Union SG, and Bodø/Glimt.

His move to Union SG in 2022 was an eye-opening one, as clubs in Europe paid close attention to the young forward after he scored six goals for his side in the UEFA Europa League, earning him the spot of the highest goalscorer in the competition alongside Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford.

Boniface has been tipped to be an integral part of the Super Eagles of Nigeria attack at the AFCON 2023, which will occur in January 2024.

18. Frank Onyeka

Best African Footballer 2023
Frank Onyeka, Brentford

Country – Nigeria

Age – 25

Position – Forward

Club – Brentford

Frank Onyeka is a player who is being recognised for his talent and skills on the field of play. His best moments were before he moved to the Premier League in the 2021/2022 season. The Nigerian international can return to his form at FC Midtjylland, where he scored over 14 goals in 95 games at the club, if he is given the chance to play for Brentford. Understandably, the Nigerian has to fight for his place in the squad, a move he should be making following the absence of Ivan Toney.

Frank has been sidelined with injuries since he made his move, making it hard for him to show just how much of a talent he is on the ball. 2024 is looking positive, as he would get the right play time if his fitness levels are at their peak.

From all indications, he is viewed as a player worthy of being part of the team following his contract extension in August 2023. Brentford head coach Thomas Frank was full of praise for the Nigerian international. He said, “I’m very pleased that Frank has signed a new contract. He has helped the team a lot during our time in the Premier League. During both seasons he has been unlucky with injuries, which prevented him from taking an even bigger step forward in terms of minutes, but I really like his energy. Frank is a great pressing player. He runs into the half-spaces and in behind, progressing up the pitch. He’s a very important player for us and we’re looking forward to continuing the journey with him.”

17. Wilfried Zaha

Best African Footballer of 2023
11th September 2021; Selhurst Park, Crystal Palace, London, England; Premier League football, Crystal Palace versus Tottenham Hotspur: Wilfried Zaha of Crystal Palace celebrates after scoring his 1st goal from a penalty in the 76th minute to make it 1-0 (Photo by John Patrick Fletcher/Actionplus/Icon Sportswire) ****NO AGENTS—NORTH AND SOUTH AMERICA SALES ONLY****

Country – Ivory Coast

Age – 30

Position – Forward

Club – Galatasaray

Ivorian international Wilfried Zaha was an integral part of the English Premier League side Crystal Palace before his free transfer move to the Turkish side Galatasaray at the start of the 2023/2024 season. Zaha, who is viewed as a hero at Palace, was one of the most sought-after players in the summer 2023 transfer window; his talent and skills on the ball make him stand out as a player in the eyes of many.

With Zaha on the pitch, no match is over until the final whistle is blown because the forward needs a chance to show how much talent he possesses on the ball. The Ivory Coast player is a tough player to mark in a game as he possesses the speed to leave defenders in the dust and also the agility to shrug off any form of hindrance on his way to the net of the opposition.

The Ivorian netted over nine goals in 30+ games while providing up to four assists for his teammates. With Zaha playing in the Champions League for the first time, many are curious about what he has to offer. We believe he might not remain in the Turkish league for long as big clubs in Europe have their eyes on him, and the UCL might be the most significant stage yet for him to show how far he has come as a football star.

Zaha would also be looking to carve a niche for himself in the history of African football as AFCON 2024 draws closer. He would lead a young Ivorian side in the competition and, as such, would play a vital role in determining how far his country, the host of the competition, would go.

16. Alex Iwobi

Best African Footballer of 2023
Alex Iwobi

Country – Nigeria

Age – 27

Position – Forward

Club – Fulham

Alex Iwobi is one of the talented midfielders we would view as underrated. The Nigerian international has been a consistent figure in the premier league in 2022 and 2023. The attacking midfielder, who completed a move to Fulham in the Summer 2023 transfer window, was one of the key players that proved to be instrumental in Everton escaping relegation in the 2022/2023 club football season. His move away from the club can be said to have greatly affected Everton, who have struggled to secure at least 10 points in their opening fixtures in the 2023/2024 season. He recorded over seven assists and scored two goals for Everton in the 2022/2023 season. He has also scored one goal for Fulham in his three games so far for the club.

We believe Iwobi’s pace and game awareness would benefit Nigeria at the Africa Cup of Nations 2023, which would commence in January 2024.

15. Ademola Lookman

Best African Footballer of 2023
Ademola Lookman [ Goal]

Country – Nigeria

Age – 26

Position – Forward

Club – Atalanta

It is safe to say that the years 2022 and 2023 were the rebirth of Ademola Lookman; the Nigerian international unlocked a new form in the Italian Serie A for the club side Atlanta as he recorded 15 goals and six assists for Atalanta in 39 games played for the club. His shift in form from his early days in the premier league put him back in the spotlight once again, making him one to watch in the coming years.

His debut for Nigeria might not have gone according to plan, but we still believe he would be necessary for Nigeria at AFCON 2024 because of the dynamics he offers to the team. He can be deployed as a winger or a supporting striker for the Super Eagles, but there is much to be desired with Lookman on the pitch.

14. Achraf Hakimi

Best African Footballer of 2023

Country – Morocco

Age – 24

Position -Right Back

Club – PSG

Hakimi stole the spotlight with his move to PSG; the right-back was, however, on another level entirely at the World Cup in 2022. Hakimi has defied the expectations of an average defender, providing the required attributes of modern football today.

He has been able to double up as a defender and as an attacking option for teams as well. When he is not supporting his defence line, he is providing extra attacking support for players like Mbappe of PSG and Hakim Ziyech of Morocco. His potency in an attacking position can be seen from him actively scoring over eight goals and providing over six assists in 52 games for both club and country.

Hakimi meeting the standards of a modern defender makes him a player many should be wary of at the Africa Cup of Nations, which will take place in January 2024. At 24, the young player is still poised to experience an evolution in his game. With Luis Enrique, known for his developmental ways of managing youngsters, Hakimi might provide a new edge in the coming fixtures in 2024

13. Samuel Chukwueze

Best African Footballer of 2023
VALENCIA, SPAIN – SEPTEMBER 18: Samuel Chukwueze of Villarreal CF during the match between Villarreal CF and Sevilla CF of La Liga Santander on September 18, 2022 at Ciutat de Valencia in Valencia, Spain. (Photo by Samuel Carreño/PX Images/Icon Sportswire)

Country – Nigeria

Age – 24

Position – Forward

Club – AC Milan

A figure that would be remembered in the history of La Liga, Samuel Chukwueze, unlocked a new level in his career in 2023, which made him a player to look out for in the years to come. Voted the LaLiga Santander African Most Valuable Player in the 2022/2023 season, the Super Eagles player scored 13 goals and made 11 assists in all competitions at the club for that season, attracting the attention of the Italian side AC Milan.

His move to AC Milan in 2023 has not been at its best, yet with his struggling to blend with the team and get a starting position. It is a new environment and approach to the game he was used to in La Liga, where he relied heavily on his pace; with an experienced and World Cup-winning striker like Oliver Giroud in the ranks, Chuwkwueze has to provide an extra edge or flair to his game that would get him in the squad. Milan already possesses pacy options in Leao, Pulisic, Hernandez and others, and as such, a distinct flair is something he needs to get right.

2024 would be a year that would make or mar the young Nigerian’s future, with AFCON on the horizon and a huge chunk of the 2023/2024 season left to play.

12. Eric Maxim Chipou-Moting

Best African Footballer of 2023

Country – Cameroon

Age – 34

Position – Forward

Club – Bayern Munich

If clinical accuracy were a person, he would definitely be Chipou-Moting; the Cameroonian is as lethal as they come in front of goal; he is a proven attacker who would consistently deliver either as a starter or from the bench. From match-winners to ridiculous shots at goal, he is a name that should be on every list, analysing the best players in Africa. He is often underrated, which is why many are not familiar with just how much talent he possesses.

His pace has not declined at age 34, and his match and goal awareness seem to have reached a new level. Chipou-Moting has scored over 15 goals and has made as many as four assists in 34 games in late 2022 and 2023. Chipou-Moting is expected to finesse his game and provide more to the team with a new coach at Bayern Munich. Thomas Tuchel, Bayern Munich’s coach and who had initially worked with the Cameroonian at PSG, described him as “an excellent player. He’s very good with his back to goal and is very good on the ball.

11. Riyad Mahrez

Best African Footballer of 2023

Country – Algeria

Age – 32

Position – Midfielder/Winger

Club – Al Ahli

In describing the type of player Riyad Mahrez is, his former coach, Pep Guardiola, who worked with him for a long period, stated, “We struggle together because I know the quality he has, and he’s a player I admire for the fact he handles the pressure. He likes to play in the biggest stages. It’s difficult to find that and players like him, Not just me, the whole club has an incredibly high opinion of him and his quality, no doubt about that. He’s an exceptional player. He’s a player that many teams would like to have.”

Mahrez is the full package: deadly at the sight of a goal and a visionary in making defence-splitting passes and assists. The Algerian was instrumental in his side’s epic win of AFCON in 2019; although he has joined the Saudi Arabian side Al-Alhi, his quality is one many can’t help but appreciate. He recorded eight goals and 10 assists in the Cityzens Champions League winning season at Manchester City. He is expected to lead his country to the Africa Cup of Nations 2023, which will commence in January 2024.

10. Mohammed Kudus

Best African Footballer of 2023

Country – Ghana

Age – 23

Position – Midfielder

Club – West Ham

Mohammed Kudus, one of the most sought-after midfielders of the summer 2023 transfer window, has been a key figure for the clubs he has played for so far in 2022 and 2023. The talented midfielder who possesses the brilliance that often makes people confused about whether he is a forward or a midfielder converted a total of 24 goals in 51 games while also providing his teammates with seven assists so far.

His move to the Hammers (West Ham) after interest from top clubs such as Chelsea and Liverpool is a clear indicator that the Ghanaian international is focused on getting as much game time as possible while putting the continent on the map.

The Black Stars of Ghana also recognised that they have talent on their hands, and it is no surprise that he was an integral part of the squad at the World Cup 2022 in Qatar.

Kudus is slowly winning the hearts of fans of West Ham in the English Premier League as a fan took a flight to watch the pacey attacker play for Ghana during the international break. For many, Kudus might have peaked in the year 2023 with his form, but we can categorically state that there is more to come from the young midfielder in 2024, and the Premier League is the best way to show the world how far he has come as a player and where he could be in the nearest future if given the chance.

9. Bryan Mbuemo

Best African Footballer of 2023
Bryan Mbuemo

Country – Cameroon

Age – 24

Position – Forward

Club -Brentford

Brentford talisman Bryan Mbuemo is a figure that has been putting Africa on the map in one of Europe’s top five leagues. The Cameroonian, who is known for his pace, wittiness on the ball and goalscoring abilities, has played over 48 games so far in 2022 and 2023, recording over 13 goals and eight assists in these games.

His appearance for Cameroon at the World Cup in 2022 shows how highly rated the forward is by his country. Mbuemo has taken up more responsibility for his club side Brentford in the premier league for the 2023/2024 season following the suspension of Ivan Toney by the English FA; he has lived up to expectations as his overall linkup play with other attackers, and his goalscoring abilities have been instrumental so far this season.

With Ivan Toney making a return in January 2024, Mbuemo, who has shown promise as a player who has continued to evolve his game over the years, would have a huge support system on the pitch towards actualising and unlocking his full potential in the year 2024.

8. Kelechi Iheanacho

Best African Footballer of 2023
Kelechi Iheanacho

Country – Nigeria

Age – 27

Position – Forward

Club – Leicester City

Although Leicester City failed to survive relegation at the start of the year 2023, the quality and class of Kelechi Ihenacho, who has been viewed as one of the most reliable players for the English side, has been undeniable.

The Nigerian midfielder, who has played over 47 games so far for Leicester in the Premier League and Championship, has scored over 12 goals and made seven assists even though he is not a regular starter in the squad.

With Nigeria, Kelechi has slowly blossomed into the role of the creative spark for the Super Eagles as the football star has been clinical with his output for the forwards in his number 10 role in the squad. Leicester might be poised for a return to the premier league in the 2024/2025 season, and it would be of no surprise if senior man Kelz is leading the charge.

7. Taiwo Awoniyi

Best African Footballer of 2023
Taiwo Awoniyi

Country – Nigeria

Age – 26

Position – Forward

Club – Nottingham Forest

Taiwo Awoniyi was a name on everyone’s lips in 2022 and 2023; the 26-year-old forward, who plays for the Super Eagles of Nigeria and the Premier League side Nottingham Forest, was instrumental in his club surviving relegation in the 2022/2023 premier league season. He kicked off the 2023/2024 season in club football from where he left off the previous year as he proceeded to join Mohamed Salah as the only African player to have scored in seven consecutive fixtures for their club sides in the premier league.

Many believe that the forward, who has played 38 games so far and has scored 15 goals as well as made three assists, could have been a better goal outlet for Nottingham Forest in the 2022/2023 season as the Nigerian was injured and out for a long spell before he made his full return to match fitness at the end of that season.

The partnership of Awoniyi and Victor Osimhen is one many are looking forward to in 2024 for the Super Eagles of Nigeria, and it is also anticipated that his talent might earn his a move to a top English side once the January 2024 transfer window opens as many are in search of a clinical and enforcing figure in front of goal.

6. Andre Onana

Best African Footballer of 2023
Andre Onana

Country – Cameroon

Age – 27

Position – Forward

Club -Manchester United

Goalkeeper Andre Onana stood out for Inter Milan in the UEFA Champions League as he helped his side to the finals of the 2022/2023 season of the competition. Andre Onana offers a huge dynamics to any team he plays for. Aside from his goalkeeping abilities, Onana’s ability to turn his side’s defence to attack is one of the reasons Manchester United completed the signing of the Cameroonian for over 40 million pounds. He plays the role of the extra man in the midfield or defence for his team whenever the need arises; this is an important role in the football game and ideology of today.

While he’s known for his edgy style of play, his pass accuracy in his half last season stood at an impressive 93.8%. This figure was surpassed by only 12 goalkeepers (with a minimum of 1,000 minutes played) in Europe’s top five leagues. Remarkably, only three of these goalkeepers attempted more passes on a per-90-minute basis, with an average of 28.8 attempts.

With Cameroon, the goalkeeper has not been off to the best of starts as he announced his retirement at the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar after he was dropped from the squad. Onana, who was recalled back to action in 2023, revealed in 2022 that there was a difference in ideologies, which led to him retiring from international football.

Onana’s season at Manchester United has left more doubts than assurances about his quality, and many are often confused as to whether this was the same number one that kept his side in the Champions League finals of the 2022/2023 season. Onana has always been a goalkeeper who can adapt to whatever situation he finds himself in; for instance, his form at Ajax was entirely different to that in the scudetto-winning Inter Milan side as his game had an extra layer that proved decisive in securing huge wins for his side. The Premier League might be a different ball game, but we expect Andre to take the bull by its horns in 2024 and come out better and stronger.

5. Thomas Partey

Best African Footballer of 2023
Thomas Partey

Country – Ghana

Age – 30

Position – Forward

Club – Arsenal

The Black Stars of Ghana midfielder Thomas Partey has continued to represent the continent in Europe with the elite club side Arsenal. His form with Ghana is also something that can not be ignored; he is often viewed as a game controller and pacesetter in the squad, but he never shies away from scoring stunning goals while in the team.

One goal Thomas Partey would not forget would be his goal against the Super Eagles of Nigeria to secure a spot for Ghana at the World Cup in 2022.

Partey was an influential part of Arteta’s remarkable form in the premier league in the 2022/2023 season, as his partnership with the Arsenal captain Martin Odegaard was vital in the good run of form of the club. In Partey’s absence due to injury, Arsenal struggled to gain full reign of games they played in as they missed the cool, calm and collected approach Partey often brings to the side.

4. Sadio Mane

Best African Footballer of 2023
Sadio Mane

Country – Senegal

Age – 31

Position – Forward

Club – Al Nassr

The CAF Men’s Player of the Year 2023 and the captain of Senegal a names that must be mentioned on the list. Sadio Mane was an instrumental figure and leader in the Senegalese side that lifted the AFCON trophy in 2022. He also played an all-important role in securing a spot in the FIFA World Cup 2022 for his country, although he missed out on the action due to injury.

With his fast pace and high football IQ, Sadio Mane took on a new challenge in the German Bundesliga after he was signed by the German giants Bayern Munich, where he played over 30 games and scored 11 goals while making five assists for his side.

It is safe to say things did not work out as expected as he moved to Al Nassr in the Saudi Arabia Pro League to play alongside Cristiano Ronaldo. Their partnership so far in the league has been flawless, as the Senegalese forward has scored a total of six goals in 11 games and has also made two assists for the club side.

3. Sofyan Amrabat

Best African Footballer of 2023

Country – Morocco

Age – 27

Position – Defensive Midfielder/ defender

Club – Florentina (currently at Manchester United on loan)

Following a remarkable and historic run at the World Cup in 2022 with Morocco, Sofyan Amrabat has proved that he deserves a spot on our list of the best footballers of 2023. The defensive midfielder, who has played over 60 games for his club and country, has shown he can be a game-changer if the need arises and that he is also a figure that can be relied on to effectively control and maintain a solid shape for his team on the pitch.

His versatility allows him to be deployed in different positions on the pitch, with his spot-on tackles saving the day in any fixture or competition. Amrabat was a huge influence in Florentina’s UEFA conference league campaign in the 2022/2023 competition season, as his clear-cut passes and his ball recoveries in the competition kept his side in the tournament till the finals of the competition.

His move to Manchester United has not been off to a rosy start, with the Moroccan struggling to maintain his form at the club.

2. Victor Osimhen

Victor Osimhen of SSC Napoli
Victor Osimhen of SSC Napoli [Twitter/@LivEchoLFC]

Country- Nigeria

Age – 24

Position – Centre Forward

Club – SSC Napoli

A list of the best African footballers of the year 2023 would not be complete if the name of the highest African goalscorer in the Italian Serie A’s history is not mentioned. With over 41 goals in over 45 games, Victor Osimhen led Napoli to their first scudetto title in over 30 years.

His accuracy in front of goal is lethal, but the talisman has shown that aside from scoring goals, he can also make assists for the team, as the young forward has recorded over 5 assists for his club alone.

Victor Osimhen, who took his tally of goals for Nigeria to over 20 goals, seems to have his eyes set on becoming the highest goalscorer in the history of Nigerian football, a record currently held by Rashidi Yekini with a total of 37 goals.

Victor Osimhen has remained a household name, with top clubs in Europe preparing to launch a bid to lure him from Napoli when the January 2024 transfer window opens.

1. Mohamed Salah

Best African Footballer of 2023
Mohamed Salah

Country– Egypt

Age – 31

Position – Forward

Club – Liverpool

Mohamed Salah is the best African footballer of the year 2023; the Egyptian was highly influential in Liverpool’s premier league campaign for the 2022/2023 season, scoring over 30 goals for the Reds.

He has also continued his fine form for Liverpool in the 2023/2024 season, proving that he is an integral part of the team. In September 2023, the football star broke the record of the African player with the highest number of assists in the premier league, with a total of 63 assists so far in the league.

He also netted 30 goals each in three consecutive seasons at Liverpool while hitting a new milestone of a total of 100 goals for the club in 2023. The football King of Egypt has always stood out for Liverpool, and this is also the situation for his country as he led his side to the finals of the AFCON 2021 competition, which was played in 2022, although Egypt did not qualify for the 2022 world cup following a defeat to Senegal on penalties, Salah has continued to be an influential figure for the Pharaohs.

 

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