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11 things you didn’t know about Africa’s footballers

There is a growing class of footballing talent rising across Africa and dominating the headlines. Stars like Drogba, Kanu and Essien are fast on their way to becoming football legends alongside Bobby Moore, Pele and Maradona. These football goliaths highlight what the future of Africa looks like – bright, talented and ambitious.

While Africa has a growing and thriving middle class, there are still some who are struggling to pull themselves out of poverty. These footballers are making a huge difference in their own communities and are fine examples of Global Citizens. Who would you add to the list?

1. Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast; Galatasaray)

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During his highly successful time at Chelsea, Drogba scored 100 goals in 226 appearances, including the winning penalty in Chelsea’s victory over Bayern Munich in the 2012 Champions League final. Drogba also founded the Didier Drogba Foundation in 2007, with the aim of providing financial and material support in both health and education to the Ivorian people. Drogba invested £3million in a clinic for child illnesses in his home town of Abidjan. He is also a massive advocate for action against malaria.

2. Nwankwo Kanu (Nigeria; retired)

Aliyu Adekules Vangard

Although retired, Arsenal legend Kanu is worth mentioning. Not only is he one of the most decorated footballers of all time, Kanu has won a UEFA Champions League medal, a UEFA Cup medal, three FA Cup Winners Medals, two African Player of the Year awards and an Olympic Gold Medal, he is also a recipient of the Officer of the Order of the Niger. Kanu established the Kanu Heart Foundation, to support underprivileged children and adults in Africa with heart complaints. He is also a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.

3. Michael Essien (Ghana; Milan)

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Like Drogba, Essien excelled at Chelsea, winning with them the Premier League in 2006 and 2010, as well as three FA Cups and one Football League Cup. Essien is also the founder of the Michael Essien Foundation, which aims to raise funds to support local projects and to mentor and encourage underprivileged youth to develop to their full potential. The Foundation hosts fundraising football matches having real impact, including opening public toilets, building a library and renovating a hospital.

4. Yaya Toure (Ivory Coast; Manchester City)

Wikipedia

Toure played for Barcelona (as part of their record breaking 6 trophy season in 2009), before moving to Manchester City. In 2014, became only the second midfielder in history to score 20 goals in a Premier League season. Toure is also a legend in his home country. During the negotiation of a highly lucrative sponsorship deal, he asked that Puma commit to providing him with large product allocations each year, all of which will be distributed to under-privileged children in West Africa.

5. Joseph Yobo (Nigeria; Norwich City)

Premier Turkiye

A formidable centre-back, Yobo has played for Marseille, Everton and Fenerbache before joining Norwich City. He is also Nigeria’s most capped player. Most notably, he lifted the trophy for Nigeria as victors in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. However, through his Joseph Yobo Charity Foundation, Yobo has handed out over 300 educational scholarships to the poor ranging from primary school to university and has established a football academy in Nigeria’s Ogoni region.

6. Mohamed Aboutrika (Egypt; Baniyas)

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Retired Egyptian footballer, Aboutrika played as a second striker and as an attacking midfielder for Tersana, Al Ahly in Egypt, and Baniyas in the United Arab Emirates. He was also one of the most successful players on the Egyptian national team. Aboutrika has a long-standing relationship with the World Food Programme. He starred in a humanitarian public service announcement increasing awareness on extreme hunger. In addition, he joined other stars of the pitch for a ‘Match Against Poverty’ in Germany with the aim of raising funds for and increasing awareness of hunger issues worldwide. He is now an Ambassador for the World Food Programme.

7. Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon; Chelsea)

Wikipedia

Eto'o scored over 100 goals in five seasons with Barcelona, in 2010 became the first player to win two European continental trebles and he is the second player to have ever scored in two separate Champions League finals. He is the most decorated African player of all time having won the African Player of the Year award a record four times: in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2010. Eto’o founded the Fundación Privada Samuel Eto´o with the aim of protecting children and young people, providing emergency aid and encourages education, basic health and social inclusion for the disadvantaged.

8. Stephen Appiah (Ghana; retired)

Turkiye Spor

The former Ghana skipper has had a torrid time with injury which has limited the progress of his footballing career; however Appiah’s humanitarian projects in Ghana continue to make their mark. The midfielder launched a clothing business, proceeds of which go to his StepApp foundation in Ghana, that focuses on providing health insurance and medical facilities for deprived people. Stephen also works with UNICEF promoting education in Africa.

9. John Utaka (Nigeria; Sivasspor)

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John Utaka is a Nigerian footballer who played as a striker for Montpellier of Ligue 1. He previously played for Portsmouth, between 2007 and 2011 and was part of their FA Cup winning side in 2011. Utaka launched the John Utaka Foundation in 2010, which aims to provide education through scholarships for young people who cannot afford it, including activities and support to stimulate young people's development through arts, culture and sports.

10. John Paintsil (Ghana; Santos)

Wikipedia

Israel, the UK and his native Ghana. He is a key player in the Ghanaian national team, playing in a defensive midfield position or a full back. Paintsil is the patron of the Paintsil's Peace Kid Project, which aims at promoting peace through football among children in divided and conflict communities. Paintsil is also an honorary patron of GUBA (Ghana UK Based Achievement awards), which is a non-profit Business & Innovation Awards instituted to celebrate, acknowledge, and support Ghanaian based businesses and individuals in the UK.

11. Aaron Mokoena (South Africa; Bidvest Wits)

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"Mbazo" or "The Axe" because of his tough tackling skills, is the youngest ever player to have represented South Africa. He has played for clubs in the Premier League in the UK, as well as Belgium and his home country of South Africa. Mokoena is also the founder of the Aaron Mokoena Foundation, which aims to improve the opportunities for young people across South Africa using the power of football to impact on education, health and life opportunities.