Jonny Singer on the African stars who've impressed so far in Equatorial Guinea...
As the Premier League prepares for the biannual feeding frenzy that is transfer deadline day, managers up and down the country are desperately hoping to unearth the signing that will change their season.
Meanwhile, in Equatorial Guinea, Africa’s finest are competing in the continent's Cup of Nations. The tournament, as well as being prestigious in its own right, is seen by some players and agents – particularly those playing domestically in Africa – as a shop window, with global scouts watching.
No responsible club should make a signing off the back of just one tournament, but impressing at the Cup of Nations is certainly one way to catch the eyes of Europe's elite. Here are five players who've stood out so far...
Stephane Badji, Senegal
So who is he? One of several giants in the Senegalese side, the 6ft 3in midfielder played as a wing-back in the win over Ghana, but is equally comfortable in the centre of the park. Badji offered an attacking outlet, spending most of his time in the opposition half as Ghana sat back after their early goal. Alongside Papa Kouly Diop, the 24-year-old brought a touch of quality to a side that mostly relies on power.
Where does he play now? Since 2011 Badji has been in Norway, first with Sogndal and now at SK Brann, but seems set to leave after their relegation last season.
Who would he suit? Newcastle’s eye for a buy-to-sell bargain could see them interested, while he has formed a strong international partnership with Hull’s Mo Diame, which the Tigers might want to harness at club level (once the latter returns from injury, that is).
What would he cost? A reported release clause of £600,000 means Badji is affordable for any top-flight club.
Didier N’Dong, Gabon
So who is he? During Gabon’s impressive win against Burkina Faso, N’Dong stood out both with and without the ball. The 20-year-old midfielder plays as part of a double pivot in the Gabonese midfield alongside Andre Poko, but is equally comfortable higher up the field. He came close to scoring with a fierce drive from the edge of the box against the 2013 finalists, and helped to deal with the quick breaks of the Burkinabe front four.
Against Congo it was noticeable how exposed the Gabonese defence looked once he went off. The midfielder goes about his business calmly; breaking up attacks, playing simple passes, using the ball intelligently and protecting the back four.
Where does he play now? N'Dong has just penned a deal with French side Lorient, and will join the club as soon as the Cup of Nations ends, so a January move is out. Before that he played in Tunisia, at CS Sfaxien, helping his side win the championship in 2013.
Who would he suit? With so much time still to develop, N’Dong could have a future at a top club, assuming he adapts well to the European game at Lorient. With Arsenal’s well-publicised need for a new holding midfielder, he could be a possible long-term replacement for Mikel Arteta. And if Morgan Schneiderlin was to leave Southampton in the summer, they could also do worse than N’Dong to replace him.
What would he cost? Having just signed a four-and-a-half year deal, it won’t be easy to pick him up on the cheap. He cost Lorient less than £1 million, but that valuation will rise if he becomes a regular in France.
Kennedy Mweene, Zambia
So who is he? A star of South African football for years, Kennedy Mweene has matured into one of the finest goalkeepers in Africa. An early mistake aside – and he is prone to the odd one of those – Mweene was superb in his nations’s opener against DR Congo, saving well from Yannick Bolasie and Dieudonne Mbokani in particular.
Where does he play now? Mweene has been in the South African Premier League for a decade, first for Free State Stars and now with Mamelodi Sundowns. He was a crucial part of their league triumph last year.
Who would he suit? At the age of 30, it’s now or never if Mweene wants a move to Europe. He makes too many mistakes to be a genuine contender as first choice at a Champions League-chasing team, but would be wasted as a backup. With that in mind he’d probably be best at a bottom-half side where he'd be kept busy and be able to demonstrate his shot-stopping prowess.
What would he cost? He might be a big deal in South Africa, but it’s not a rich enough league to turn down any cash of serious note. A couple of million at most should be enough to tempt him.
Thuso Phala, South Africa
So who is he? Bafana Bafana were superb in their opening game against Algeria, the pre-tournament favourites, until Tokelo Rantie’s missed penalty. Phala not only scored their goal and provided the pass that led to the spot-kick – showing lightning pace and good composure – but he also worked hard to harry Algeria in possession.
Where does he play now? Another player based in South Africa, Phala has moved around the top teams in the league and currently plies his trade with SuperSport United.
Who would he suit? A quick and energetic winger who can play on either side, Phala carries a goal threat without leaving his full-back too exposed. The step up to the Premier League from South Africa might be too big, so perhaps he's one for an aspirational Championship side.
What would he cost? At 28, Phala is another player looking at a last chance for a move to Europe as an attractive, cheap option.
Gervinho, Ivory Coast
So who is he? It might seem strange to pick a player most people in England are fully aware of – and mostly unimpressed with – and one who was sent off on what might prove to be his only appearance in the tournament.
But for 57 minutes before his red card, Gervinho offered a stark reminder of how much he has come on since leaving Arsenal. In an Ivory Coast side that lacked spark or attacking momentum, the Roma winger showed flashes of brilliance, and only a superb save from Naby Yattara denied him the opening goal.
Where does he play now? Since leaving north London, Gervinho has been thriving at Roma and is a key part of another concerted push to dethrone Juventus this season.
Who would he suit? Any team pushing for the title who need to add a little bit of unpredictability. Gervinho’s pace and trickery are, now more than ever, a fantastic weapon – even if they are only used from the bench. Either Manchester club would have a better squad if they brought him in.
What would he cost? Roma won’t want to sell, so it’s likely to be upward of £20m if you want to prise him away from the Stadio Olimpico.
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