Top Ten African legends who failed to Win AFCON (Kanu, Drogba, and More)

Amid mixed reverence by some European elements, the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) remains the biggest trophy an African footballer could win on the continent.

Unlike in Europe where the debate continues to be up on whether the UEFA Champions League is bigger and more glamorous than the Euro Championship, the AFCON is the most colourful footballing fiesta in Africa.

However, there are African football greats whose names would gather a crowd of people anywhere on the soil but the AFCON remained elusive on their incredible medal haul, despite having an impressive before retirement.

The Guardian examines a list of ten great African players who never won the golden AFCON trophy before calling it quits with the game of football.

Nwankwo Kanu

Nwankwo Kanu
Nwankwo Kanu

One of the most fortunate, intelligent and brilliant footballers that came out of the continent, Kanu betrayed the physique of an African footballer, as physicality was never an attribute he had.
But in place of that, the Arsenal and Nigerian legend had the most destructive deft touches you would find in the game.

Kanu remains the most decorated Nigerian footballer in history and hardly is any male African player active or retired who would compete with him in terms of the number of trophies won.

Fondly called “Papilo” during his playing days, the 47-year-old won one UEFA Champions League title, three Dutch Eredivisie titles, one Dutch Super Cup and one Intercontinental Cup.

Kanu moved to England with Arsenal in 1999 and won two Premier League titles, three English FA Cup titles and one English Super Cup.

One of his FA Cup titles was with Portsmouth, also in England. He also won one UEFA Super Cup with Inter Milan.

He led Nigeria’s U-23 team to the historic football gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games, in which Nigeria became the first African nation to achieve the feat.

The former Super Eagles skipper is the only Nigerian player to have won the African Footballer of the Year Award on two occasions, which were in 1996 and 1999, but he never won an AFCON title.

The closest he came was in 2000, when Nigeria lost 4-3 to Cameroon on penalties at the National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos, after 2-2 in regulation time.

Didier Drogba

Ivory Coast legend Didier Drogba

Drogba assumed his African football legendary status after his move from Olympique Marseille in France to Chelsea in 2004.
It is almost unbelievable that despite making 105 appearances for the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire, scoring 65 international goals, he never won an AFCON title.

Regarded as one of the deadly strikers to have played in the Premier League, the former Ivory Coast captain won several league titles, FA Cups and one memorable UEFA Champions League title at Chelsea.

Before his switch to Chelsea in 2004, he was also close to winning the then-UEFA Cup, which Marseille lost to Valencia in the final.

He is one of Africa’s all-time best with a rich European profile but he never managed to win the AFCON with Ivory Coast.

He was part of the Ivory Coast teams that reached the final of the tournament in 2006 and 2012, however, the Elephants were beaten on penalties on both occasions.

Also a two-time CAF player of the year, unluckily for Drogba, he retired in 2014, just a year before Ivory Coast won their second title in 2015 when they defeated Ghana 9-8 on penalties after a 0-0 draw in 120 minutes of football.

El-Hadji Diouf

Senegalese El-Hadji Diouf

It is safe to say that the likes of Diouf pioneered the re-emergence of Senegal as a powerhouse in African football.
During his career, he came across as a fierce, no nonsense, aggressive, bullish and skillful player, who was the arrow head of the Teranga Lions in the early 2000.

He was the most popular of the group of players which consisted of Khalilou Fadiga, Ferdinand Coly, Aliou Cisse, Omar Daf, Henri Camara, Salif Diao, etc.

Diouf and his cohorts came close to winning the biggest prize in African football in 2002, when they lost the final to Cameroon in Mali on penalties.

Sadly, it would be the first and last time the golden generation of the Senegalese side would come close to getting its hands on a trophy.

The talents in the team were extraordinary, and they gained further international attention, when they shocked the star-studded French team at the opening game of the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea/Japan.

The former Liverpool striker joins the list of great African footballers who never won the AFCON trophy.

Michael Essien

Ghana midfielder Michael Essien

One of the greatest players to have come out of Ghana, Essien rose from the shackles of poverty and struggles to reach stardom.
Essien was a fighter, an excellent footballer who would cover every blade of the grass in any game.

In company of a number of fellow African footballers, Chelsea gave the likes of him the place to become international stars from humble beginnings.

He was a part of the promising and unstoppable Black Stars squad at the 2010 AFCON but the 2006 BBC African player could only finish runner-up after Ghana lost to Egypt who won their seventh title in Angola.

George Weah

Liberia legend George Weah

Weah signifies the phrase that “Can anything good come out of Israel?” During his playing days, the former President of Liberia signified strength, precision, dexterity, intelligence, power and the European finesse of an African footballer.
For years, he shouldered the responsibility of the country’s senior national team. He was the rallying force, the captain that steered them on for years.

As a reminder of how great he was as a footballer, Weah remains the only African to have won the prestigious Ballon d’Or till date.

In 1989 and 1995, he was also named CAF player of the year but it was always going to be difficult for him on the international scene, given the size of his country.

He could only help Liberia qualify for two AFCON editions (1996 and 2002) and on both occasions, they crashed out in the group phase.

Asamoah Gyan

Ghana’s forward Asamoah Gyan celebrates after scoring a goal during the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations group D football match between Ghana and Mali in Port-Gentil on January 21, 2017.<br />Justin TALLIS / AFP

They say a prophet has no honour in his country and probably, Gyan would perfectly fit into that description.
Vilified often by his own people for missing the crucial penalty against Uruguay that would have qualified Ghana for the semi-final of the FIFA World Cup in 2010, yet his goal record speaks for itself.

Known as “Baby Jet”, Gyan holds the record for most World Cup goals scored by an African player (6).

Since he retired from the national team, Ghana have struggled to find a striker like him but for all his achievements, the AFCON, however, remained his Achilles heel.

The 2010 BBC African player of the year lost two finals (2010 and 2015) and the Black Stars have not won the tournament since 1982.

Emmanuel Adebayor

Togo’s forward Emmanuel Adebayor reacts after missing a goal opportunity during the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations group C football match between Togo and DR Congo in Port-Gentil on January 24, 2017. Justin TALLIS / AFP

Unarguably the most famous football export in Togo’s history, Adebayor played for some of the biggest clubs in Europe.
The 39-year-old played for Real Madrid, Arsenal, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and so on.

He was the biggest brand in the Togolese senior national team during his time in which he made 87 appearances and scored 32 goals for them.

However, the 2008 African player of the year could not lift the AFCON with little Togo.

He qualified them for the 2006 edition after emerging top scorer during the qualifiers with eleven goals but the team could not make it out of the group phase.

Mustapha Hadji

Morocco legend Mustapha Hadji

Many Nigerians would remember Hadji as the Moroccan who was awarded the CAF Men’s Best Player award in 1998 when the whole world favoured Nigerian midfielder, Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha to win it after he particularly dazzled at that year’s FIFA World Cup in France.
However, Okocha can take solace in the fact that he won the AFCON in 1994 in his very first appearance at the tournament.

Hadji, the sharp edge of the Atlas Lions’ squad in the late 90s, however, could not help his country win the competition.

The farthest the 1998 African player of the year could go with Morocco was the quarter-final of the AFCON in 1998.

Frederic Kanoute

Mali legend Frederic Kanoute

Another player who won the African player of the year but failed to lift the utmost football prize on the continent is former Mali skipper, Kanoute.
Kanoute made his name at Tottenham Hotspur and Sevilla, attaining almost a legendary status at the LaLiga club for whom he scored 89 goals in 209 appearances.

The 2007 African player of the year could only help Mali to the semi-final of the AFCON in 2004.

Samuel Osei Kuffour

Samuel Osei Kuffour

Osei Kuffour is without doubt one of the African football greats who never had the opportunity of winning the AFCON despite winning a plethora of trophies at club level.
A Champions League winner with Bayern Munich, where Kuffour also bagged a swathe of Bundesliga titles, the centre-back never won the Nations Cup with Ghana despite playing in five editions.

While he was part of the squad that represented the Black Stars at the 2006 World Cup which was their first appearance, Kuffour’s career was winding down by the time the West Africans embarked on their consecutive run of AFCON semi-final appearances.

Known for his physical power, the former defender is best remembered for his time with Bayern whom he represented for over a decade, winning a total of 14 honours and playing in nearly 250 official matches.


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