The African All-Stars of 2010/11
Being the maverick that I am Ã¢ÂÂ or like to think I am Ã¢ÂÂ and with plenty more attacking players worthy of consideration than defenders, IÃ¢ÂÂve opted for an adventurous 3-3-1-3 formation ÃÂ la Chile under Marcelo Bielsa...
Goalkeeper: Vincent Enyeama (Hapoel Tel Aviv & Nigeria)An Israeli Cup winner with Hapoel Tel Aviv, the Nigerian international had a solid season including commanding displays at the World Cup 2010 (ask Lionel Messi), earning him a summer move to French champions Lille. An excellent shotstopper, agile, physical and vocal, penalty-taking Enyeama also weighed in with two goals in the Champions League last season Ã¢ÂÂ as many as Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres combined. Not bad.
Centre-back: Kader Mangane (Rennes & Senegal)Rennes finished sixth this season with the best defensive record in France, and towering centre-back Kader Mangane was a 6ft 3in, 12-and-a-half stone reason for that. Solid, dependable, strong in the air and good in the tackle, Mangane had a fine season for Rennes and was unfortunate not to be mentioned when accolades were dished out at the end of the Ligue 1 season.
Centre-back: Mehdi Benatia (Udinese & Morocco)Good friends with former room-mate Samir Nasri, with whom he still keeps in touch via Blackberry Messenger, Mehdi Benatia has made an impressive transition from lower-league French football to Serie A. Classy centre-back Benatia appears to be as comfortable in north-east Italy as he is out on the pitch thwarting the league's best attackers. "I am very happy here and my wife Cecile is too," the Moroccan international commented after reports emerged that Nasri was trying to lure his mate to Arsenal. "I'd like to have a great career in Udine." Perceptive, strong and a good tackler, the 24-year-old should develop further during Udinese's Champions League campaign.
Centre-back: Christopher Samba (Blackburn Rovers & Congo)Where, one wonders, would Blackburn be were it not for their Congolese man-o-war? The short answer is "in the Championship". Avoiding relegation by the hairs on Steve Kean's neck may just about suffice for Rovers' Indian owners this season, but with 59 goals conceded all the chickens in the world wouldn't have rescued Blackburn had they not been dancing to the Samba beat. One of the highlights of the season was watching him celebrate a goal-line clearance against Manchester City with all the passion of a man who has just scored the winner in a Champions League final.
Mangane, Benatia and Samba
Central midfield: Cheik TiotÃÂ© (Newcastle United & Ivory Coast)Surely one of the English top flight's signings of the season at a bargain ÃÂ£3.5 million. TiotÃÂ©Ã¢ÂÂs combative nature may have had its flaws (he was the Premier League's most booked player with 14 yellow cards), but his aggression brought much-needed steel to Newcastle's midfield. TiotÃÂ©'s passing, tackling and solidity stood out in an impressive debut season and his one goal in 26 appearances just so happened to be one of the season's most dramatic and enthralling, earning Newcastle a draw from four goals down against Arsenal. Alan Pardew has been suitably impressed, rewarding the Ivorian with a new six-and-a-half-year contract.
Central midfield: Yaya TourÃÂ© (Manchester City & Ivory Coast)At the start of the season I stated in a FourFourTwo feature that, with his grace, power, poise and will to win, Yaya TourÃÂ© can take Manchester City to the next level. And that he did, helping the Eastlands billionaire boys' club reach the Champions League and win their first silverware in over 30 years. The all-action Ivorian was fundamental to their success, weighing in with 12 goals including the winners in the FA Cup semi-final and final, becoming an instant hero to City fans in the process.
Central midfield: Kwadwo Asamoah (Udinese & Ghana)A key component of the Udinese team that stunned Serie A with a series of scintillating displays, Asamoah had a fine season. Bringing texture and poise to the centre of midfield, the 22-year-old was ever-present for the Zebrette or Ã¢ÂÂlittle zebrasÃ¢ÂÂ, starting all but one league game in a side that qualified for the Champions League to the surprise of many.
Tiote, Toure and Asamoah
Attacking midfield: AndrÃÂ© Ayew (Olympique Marseille & Ghana)Refreshed by a storybook World Cup journey and with his thirst for first-team football quenched by a loan spell at Arles-Avignon in 2009/10, 'Dede' Ayew's follow-up season could rightly be considered a breakthrough one. Following in the footsteps of his father Abedi Pele (without mention of whom no Ayew profile is apparently complete), the 21-year-old Ghanaian international has developed into a first-team regular at Marseille, making nearly 50 appearances in total in an illuminating season. Eleven goals and a nomination for Young Player of the Year in France attest to the forward's highly encouraging progress.
Attack: Gervinho (Lille & Ivory Coast)At the start of the season, the uniquely-coiffed wing forward Gervinho stated his aims as follows: "to have a good season again, and to be part of key moments for the team" and "to concentrate on getting [Lille] in the top five." He should be pretty chuffed with the actual outcome Ã¢ÂÂ a historic league and cup double and, on a personal level, a quite wonderful campaign. Gervinho's penetrative dribbling, dazzling wing-play and incisive passing equipped Lille with an aggressive snarl in forward areas, and a season tally of 16 goals and 10 assists earned him a place in Ligue 1's Team of the Year. No wonder Arsenal are said to be interested.
Attack: Samuel Eto'o (Internazionale & Cameroon)Pound-for-pound probably the best player in Serie A this season. At a club beset by a certain unease given the various incomings and outgoings at all levels, the one constant of Inter's season was that Samuel Eto'o would be there to score goals. And that he did. Thrity-seven times his name went onto the scoresheet, including one in the Club World Cup final and the opening two in the Coppa Italia final win over Palermo. The legendary Cameroonian was fundamental to any success Inter attained; hopelessly overlooked time and again by list-makers and so-called experts, but not here.
Attack: Moussa Sow (Lille & Senegal)Between Moussa Sow and Papiss Demba CissÃÂ© it was tough Ã¢ÂÂ very tough Ã¢ÂÂ to choose a more deserving forward for this African XI. Ultimately I have opted for Sow because his transformation from the transfer scrapheap to Ligue 1's top scorer with 25 league goals was as startling as it was surprising. Discarded by former club Rennes, Sow, along with Gervinho & Co., went on to fire Lille to the French title in his first season at the club, bagging all manner of goals Ã¢ÂÂ lobs, headers, bicycle kicks and, of course, his share of the striker's staple: tap-ins. Ahead of his fellow Senegalese international CissÃÂ© by virtue of a slightly more cultivated all-round game over the season.
Gervinho, Eto'o and Sow
Substitutes: Carlos Kameni (Espanyol), Bruno Ecuele Manga (Lorient), Taye Taiwo (Marseille), AurÃÂ©lian Chedjou (Lille), Kevin-Prince Boateng (AC Milan), Mamadou Niang (FenerbahÃÂ§e ), Emmanuel Emenike (Karabukspor), Peter Odemwingie (WBA), Papiss Demba CissÃÂ© (Freiburg).