African stars in Europe’s biggest leagues had a particularly strong 2022, but there was one outstanding player from each major division over the last 12 months.
Premier League: Mohamed Salah
The English Premier League still boasts the greatest concentration of elite African talent — by some distance — of any of the world’s leagues, and the likes of Thomas Partey and Wilfried Zaha have each enjoyed excellent spells during the course of the year.
Sadio Mane was in sensational form during the first half of 2022, but after departing to the Bundesliga, he’s been overtaken by his former teammate Salah, who has begun to demonstrate once again the fearsome form that he showed during the latter part of 2021.
He’d registered a combined 13 goals and assists in the 13 matches preceding the World Cup, and returned in style with strikes against Manchester City in the League Cup and Aston Villa on Boxing Day to take him level with Liverpool great Kenny Dalglish for goals for the Reds.
Only four players – Erling Haaland, Kevin De Bruyne, Harry Kane and Ivan Toney – have contributed more goals/assists than Salah so far this season, and even though he faced criticism for his form during the first half of the year, he nonetheless ended 21-22 with FA and League Cup winner’s medals.
Despite his critics, there were some magical performances during the first half of the year — the brace in the 4-0 demolition of Manchester United, another double in the 6-0 trouncing of Leeds United — while his sublime winner against Manchester City in October was a reminder that Salah remains a player with the quality to settle the biggest of matches.
It may have taken some time, but if Salah can continue to bounce back from failures in the Africa Cup of Nations, World Cup qualifying and the Champions League, and rediscover the same consistency he enjoyed in late 2021, it would rank among his greatest achievements.
Returning after a six-week break while many of his rivals battled it out in Qatar, you wouldn’t bet against a sustained spell of dominance from the Prem’s all-time top African goalscorer.
Ligue 1: Seko Fofana
Fofana was influential last season as Racing Club de Lens finished seventh in Ligue 1 — their joint highest finish since 2007 — scoring eight from the centre of midfield and directly contributing 11 points to the Sang et Or’s cause.
During the latter part of the season he netted stoppage-time winners against Stade de Reims and Saint-Etienne — no other player in the division secured injury-time victories for their side more than once in the entirety of 21-22 — and only one other outfield player in the league featured for more minutes.
At 27, he’s firmly in his prime, but despite rumours linking him away from Lens, the skipper remained in the Pas-de-Calais and has maintained his excellent form this term.
He’s already had a hand in five goals this season — despite injury concerns and a deeper midfield role — although with the likes of Sevilla and even Olympique de Marseille reportedly linked to his signature, he may not be at Lens for too much longer.
Honourable mentions go to the likes of Teremi Moffi, Dango Ouattara and, of course, Achraf Hakimi, all of whom can look back on an excellent year.
Serie A: Victor Osimhen
Despite the performances of Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa and Franck Kessie during 2022, Osimhen has certainly been Serie A’s outstanding African player this season.
After an initial year of adaptation at Napoli — beset by injuries and other distractions — he’s become an integral part of the Partenopei as they’ve mounted a genuine title challenge and enjoyed a 13-game winning streak through September and October.
He already stands alone at the top of the division’s scoring charts with nine goals in 11 matches, and his hat-trick performance in the 4-0 home evisceration of Sassuolo was perhaps the most outstanding individual performance by any African player in Europe so far this season.
In November, he became the top scoring Nigerian player in Serie A history, and is on course to follow the likes of Samuel Eto’o, George Weah and Medhi Benatia in getting his hands on the Scudetto in 2023.
La Liga: Inaki Williams
Williams maintained his magnificent La Liga record in 2022 by featuring in every top flight match for Athletic Bilbao — and making some significant contributions along the way.
In 2021, he set one of the great modern records for consistency, fitness and determination when he played in his 203rd consecutive match in the Spanish top flight, and at the time of writing, has extended that run to 247 games, having overcome an ankle sprain in late August.
He ended last season with his joint second best goal return — eight top flight strikes, and already has five in 14 so far this term to play a key role in Athletic’s Champions League push.
His October winner against Villarreal was perhaps the highlight, although his display in Bilbao’s 4-0 thumping of Almeria in September was another excellent showing by a well-rounded forward at the top of his game, with the emergence of younger brother Nico appearing to revitalise the elder Williams.
This year also brought the 28-year-old’s first Ghana caps as he succeeded in switching nationality from Spain, and promptly contributed the decisive assist for Mohammed Kudus’ winner against South Korea at the World Cup.
Bundesliga: Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting
Choupo-Moting may have been something of a peripheral figure at Bayern Munich last season, but he nonetheless ended the campaign as a Bundesliga champion, having made 20 appearances during the Bavarians’ run to the title.
Still, there were few clues that he would explode into life so dramatically this term, with the veteran — perhaps aiming to prove to the club that he deserves a new contract — demonstrating Ballon d’Or-worthy form during the build-up to the World Cup.
Choupo-Moting has enjoyed a level of goalscoring consistency we’ve not seen before in his career, with the 33-year-old contributing 11 goals during a sensational seven-game run from mid-October.
He played his part in victories over Barcelona and Internazionale, while both scoring and assisting in electric victories over Freiburg and Mainz 05.
With no new contract signed yet, the veteran’s future remains uncertain, although surely Bayern must think twice about letting their newly discovered goal machine depart on a free transfer.
Eredivisie: Ibrahim Sangare
Seeing off claims from worthy contenders like Brian Brobbey, Calvin Bassey, Sebastien Haller, Kudus and Ramiz Zerrouki, Sangare enjoyed a superb end to 21-22, and started this season with the same gusto as he ended the last.
Admittedly, PSV Eindhoven fell two points short in the title race, but Sangare was imperious, demonstrating, yet again, that the Dutch giants pulled off an absolute coup by snaring him from Toulouse.
His immense frame and superb defensive work rate provide a platform for PSV, helping them dominate opponents, while he has dramatically developed his ability to carry the ball forward, break through the lines, and contribute in the final third.
There were decisive assists in both the semi-final and the final of the Dutch Cup as PSV brought home silverware, and he’s already equalled his best ever goal tally in a single season this term.
Championship: Dominic Solanke
The outstanding striker in the second tier last season — along with Aleksandar Mitrovic of Fulham — no African player’s contributions this term have eclipsed Solanke’s performances for Bournemouth during their run-in.
He finished second in the Golden Boot race with 29 goals, making the PFA Team of the Year, with one of his season highlights being the 90th-minute penalty against Fulham in April to cancel out Mitrovic’s opener and take the Cherries one step closer to promotion.
Unlike the Serbian forward, Solanke continues to find the Premier League a tough nut to crack, but the Bournemouth Fans’ Player of the Year continues to develop his game – he has three assists already this term – and is surely too good to endure another return to the second tier.
Belgian Pro League: Paul Onuachu
Another Nigerian striker who’s been in devastating goalscoring form in 2022 is Onuachu, who has maintained his status as the most dangerous goal threat in Belgian football with another hatful this calendar year.
Already in the league this term he has 13 goals in 14 matches, as defences continue to struggle to contain the towering attacker.
This comes on the back of nine during the first half of the year, with a hat-trick against KAS Eupen in April one particularly ferocious display of attacking intent.
Onuachu, now 28, continues to be linked with a move away from Genk, and perhaps 2023 will be the year when he both tries his hand in one of Europe’s major leagues and translates his club scoring form to the national side.
The Eredivisie, Belgian Pro League, and English Championship air on ESPN in Africa.