AFCON Players Who Could Thrive in the Premier League
The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations has been a thrilling tournament thus far, featuring several upsets. South Africa's 2–0 win over Morocco knocked one of the tournament favorites out early in round 16, while the Democratic Republic of the Congo made a surprising run to the semifinals. AFCON has a rich history dating back over 60 years, as fans got to watch familiar faces participate in Africa's most prestigious tournament. While it is common for Premiere League players to participate, who are some AFCON players that could make waves in England's top league in the future? Let's look at the history of AFCON before diving in.
What Is the Africa Cup of Nations?
In June 1956, the Confederation of African Football was proposed, paving the way for the first-ever AFCON tournament in 1957. Hosted by Khartoum, Sudan, the field included just three nations: Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia. Since then, it has grown to over 54 eligible qualifiers, whittled to 24 finalists. Egypt has taken home the most titles with seven, including a threepeat between 2006 and 2010. Since then, there has not been a back-to-back tournament winner. Ivory Coast was selected as the host nation this season, with five different cities playing host.
As fans eagerly await the 2026 FIFA World Cup, set to be hosted by Canada, Mexico, and the United States, tournaments like AFCON can provide excellent warm-up competition at the international level. As the tournament has unfolded, football odds have shifted frequently. Nigeria and South Africa face each other in the semifinal, while the surprising DR Congo takes on Ivory Coast in the other semifinal. However, with the tournament wrapping up, here are four standout players who could make an impact in the Premier League.
Sadio Mane | Wing or Forward, Al-Nassr
As a former Liverpool and Southampton wing and forward, Sadio Mane is no stranger to the highest level of British competition. He played in France and Austria for four years before getting a shot with Southampton in 2014. The Senegal native spent three seasons with Southampton, scoring 21 goals in 67 appearances before transferring to Liverpool on a five-year contract. He spent seven seasons with Liverpool, scoring 90 goals in 196 games, before stopping with Bayern Munich and ultimately landing with Al-Nassr.
Mane is just the third African player to score 100 Premier League goals and has been a Ballon d'Or finalist in the past. He moved to the Saudi Pro League after former Liverpool teammates Fabinho and Roberto Firmino convinced him to do so. Still, at just 31 years old, he is an AFCON legend, and we could see him back in the Premier League again.
Victor Osimhen | Striker, Napoli
At just 25 years old, striker Victor Osimhen is now making his mark on the professional soccer stage despite suffering an injury in AFCON. He hopped around Europe between 2017 and 2019, making 39 appearances and scoring 12 goals before getting his shot with Napoli in Serie A. Osimhen is one of the best strikers in the world, and he has shown that since moving to Napoli. In 96 games, he has 57 goals, winning the Serie A Best Young Player award in 2021–22.
The following season, he was the league's top scorer with 26 goals and finished 8th in the Ballon d'Or voting. He was the first Nigerian player to crack the top 10 and was later named the African Footballer of the Year — the first of his countrymen to win the award since 1999. In December 2023, Osimhen renewed his contract with Napoli through 2026, meaning a transfer to the Premier League could still be possible before he turns 30.
Youssef En-Nesyri | Striker, Sevilla
While Youssef En-Nesyri was born in Morocco, he has spent his entire soccer career in Spain, playing every game in La Liga. After spending three seasons with teams that would be relegated, he got the opportunity to sign with Sevilla through 2025. Since, he has made quite the impression, scoring 42 goals in 128 appearances. He played in the World Cup for Morocco in 2018 and 2022 and will be out of contract in 2025.
En-Nesyri has made over 200 La Liga appearances thanks to his strong heading ability. He is the highest-scoring Moroccan player in La Liga's history and is only 26 years old. He has yet to play a game outside of Spain, perhaps making the Premier League an exciting challenge.
Yassine Bounou | Goalkeeper, Al Hilal
Another player with years of high-level experience is Yassine Bounou, one of the oldest players on our list, who made his debut for Wydad Casablanca in 2010. He was a reserve for Atletico Madrid for several years before getting a shot with Zaragoza in the Segunda division before moving to Girona. In 2017, Girona was promoted to La Liga, giving Bounou his first taste of tier-one soccer.
He didn't disappoint. He was impressive enough to get a shot with Sevilla, spending three full seasons with the club before moving to Al Hilal of the Saudi Pro League. Goalkeeper is a unique position, so a Premier League team hurting for a keeper could look his way, especially after being nominated for the Ballon d'Or in 2023.
What Other Players Could Play In the Premier League?
AFCON is one of the best tournaments in the world, featuring talent from many top-tier leagues. These include PSG's Achraf Hakimi and Liverpool's Mohamed Salah. Many AFCON players play in the Premier League, making it likely that even more will join the ranks.
Published by Patrick Jane