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AFCON 2023: The Dynamic Players, the Teams, and Their Diverse Origins

AFCON 2023: The Dynamic Players, the Teams, and Their Diverse Origins

CAF African Cup of Nations 2023 - Afrocritik

Recently confirmed squad lists by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) shed light on the football clubs and leagues represented in the competition. We sift through data to look at the diversity of this.

By Tuka Letura

As the anticipation for the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2023 builds, an intriguing aspect emerges: the diverse landscapes African footballers play. In the last 20 editions of the AFCON, only one winner, Cameroon in 2002, entered without a player from the African continent in their squad.

Recently confirmed squad lists by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) shed light on the football clubs and leagues represented in the competition. We sift through data to look at the diversity of this.

Where They Play 

As the excitement brews for this eminent tournament, an intriguing facet arises: the diverse playing fields that African footballers call home.

With the increase in globalisation, immigration, and significant demand for African players across the world, the core of most African teams has tilted away from players who play in the countries they represent to those who play outside of it.

AFCON 2023: Players League Distribution - Afrocritik
AFCON 2023: Players Distribution | Tuka Letura for Afrocritik

Amidst the fervour, statistics reveal an interesting narrative. Astonishingly, a mere 27% of these talented players grace pitches within Africa’s boundaries. The lion’s share – a staggering majority – play on pitches far beyond the continent’s confines.

This revelation adds a thrilling layer to the anticipation surrounding the AFCON. It underscores not only the global appeal of African talent, but also the tournament’s role as a stage for players to showcase their honed skills across various leagues worldwide. The amalgamation of these diverse footballing experiences promises an AFCON pulsating with intensity and flair.

Senegal’s Global Footprint 

Senegal’s 27-man squad for the upcoming tournament comprises players who primarily ply their trade outside both the country and the African continent. Surprisingly, none of the reigning champions’ squad members currently play in Senegal or anywhere else in Africa. Sadio Mané and Édouard Mendy are the key players on this side but there are also surprise packages in Nicolas Jackson and Pape Matar Sarr who have had very good seasons in their respective London clubs. They add depth to Senegal’s roster, along with the promising Iliman Ndiaye.

AFCON 2023: National Team Player Distribution - Afrocritik
National Team Player Distribution | Tuka Letura for Afrocritik

Egypt and South Africa Embrace Homegrown Stars 

In stark contrast, Egypt and South Africa boast squads predominantly composed of players competing within Africa. Egypt has just eight players playing outside the country on their side. This comes as no surprise given the reputation of the Egyptian Premier League amongst its peers under CAF. Notably, Al Ahly, holders of the Champions League title, significantly bolstered Egypt’s contingent with seven players, marking the second-highest representation by a single club across any national team in the tournament. Mohammed Salah, Mohammed Elneny, and Frankfurt’s Omar Marmoush are however the only players who play in Europe’s top five leagues in the squad. 

South Africa’s scenario mirrors Egypt’s in its inclination towards home-based talent. Despite the perceived disparity in quality between the PSL and the Egyptian Premier League, South Africa stands as one of the contenders with a strong domestic player base. The African Super League holders, Mamelodi Sundowns, contribute nine players to South Africa’s squad, marking the highest representation by any team for a single side. Impressively, the club also holds the record for the most players participating in this year’s competition, contributing a total of ten players to the tournament, with only three players in the squad not plying their trade in South Africa at this time: former Brighton and Hove Albion man, Percy Tau, who now plays for Al Ahly; Tondela’s Sphephelo Sithole; and Mihlali Mayambela who plays for Aris Limassol in Cyprus.

Player Origins

With the likes of Cameroon, Senegal, Mali, D.R Congo, and the host, Côte d’Ivoire being French-speaking nations, it comes as no surprise that the majority of players at AFCON 2023 play in France. The top four tiers of English football are also represented at AFCON. Nottingham Forest has the most of any English side with six players gracing the competition. They are followed by Fulham who have three. Further down, players from as low as the Northern Premier League, England’s 7th tier in the pyramid also received call-ups.

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AFCON 2023: Position-based Player Distribution- Afrocritik
Position-based Player Distribution | Tuka Letura for Afrocritik

AFCON 2023 showcases players representing 75 different countries, each playing their football in diverse leagues in those countries across the globe.

The Goalkeepers 

All three of South Africa’s goalkeeping options play in the Premier Soccer League (PSL). However, that’s not all the goalkeepers in the PSL in this year’s tournament. Nine of the 77 goalkeepers at AFCON 2023 play in the PSL, including Stanley Nwabali of Nigeria and Richard Ofori of Ghana. 

AFCON: 2023 Position-based Player Distribution Goalkeeper- Afrocritik
Position-based Player Distribution Goalkeeper | Tuka Letura for Afrocritik

France stands as the only country with more resident goalkeepers. This trend prompts the question of South Africa’s proficiency in goalkeeping scouting and emphasises the league’s significance in player evaluations. 

Another notable highlight is Saudi Arabia, which boasts of Champions League-winning goalkeeper Édouard Mendy of Senegal and the current CAF Goalkeeper of the Year, Yassine Bounou of Morroco playing in their leagues. Four other goalkeepers at the tournament play in the Saudi Pro League.

As the countdown for AFCON 2023 intensifies, the football tournament promises a rich array of talent. From squads predominantly comprising players abroad to others leaning on homegrown talent, the stage is set for diverse football experiences. The global footprint of African players outside the continent also adds an international dimension to AFCON, and you can be guaranteed an entertaining viewing experience, as teams will try to look and play their best, regardless of their composition.

Tuka Letura is an experienced sports writer, with over five years in the craft. He uses data and statistics to provide analysis and commentary. From regional to worldwide competitions, he has covered a wide range of sports-related events and topics. He is devoted to sharing his enthusiasm for sports with his audience and engaging them with interesting anecdotes and viewpoints.

Cover Photo: CAF Online

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