“We can confirm that African Footballer of the Year El Hadji Diouf has now signed a five-year deal with Liverpool, which is wonderful news for everyone at the club. The Senegal striker will join up with his new team-mates when the squad report back for pre-season training in July.” Ian Cotton (BBC, 2002)
El Hadji Diouf was the first African player for whom a Premier League club paid more than GBP 10 million. This is because a new leaf was turned over for the African players in Premier League when the introductory paragraph was declared by Liverpool spokesman in June 2002. Following his spectacular performance for Senegal national team at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, he has signed a five-year deal with Liverpool. Despite scoring two goals in his first game at Anfield, Liverpool fans had to wait until March 2003 for Diouf’s next goal for Liverpool and he utterly disappointed Gérard Houllier.
As a financial milestone of Premier League, Chelsea was acquired by a Russian billionaire businessman in June 2003. Chelsea aggressively started to undertake a commercial growth programme and spent more than EUR 160 million for a total of 23 players. During 2004 transfer window, an Ivorian player, Didier Drogba, moved to Chelsea by the club’s record EUR 38.5 million, implying a new transfer fee record for an African player in the Premier League.
Abu Dhabi United Group’s acquisition of Manchester City for GBP 210 million gave a new impulse to the Premier League as of 2008. While Manchester City has allocated significantly high transfer budgets over the last ten years; Emmanuel Adebayor, Yaya Touré and Wilfried Bony were the African players who moved to Manchester City by transfer fees between EUR 25 million and EUR 30 million.
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First and above all, Premier League teams preferred to transfer European players rather than British & Irish players, whose cluster was much more than any other group of players between 1992 and 2003. While France and Dutch players had held the significant share since the foundation of Premier League, Spanish players come to the fore as one of the most preferred footballers after 2008.
Ligue 1 has exported more than 300 players to the Premier League since 1992. Aside from French players, African footballers hold the lion share of players who moved from Ligue 1 to Premier League. Despite La Liga was far behind of the other major leagues such as Serie A and Bundesliga over the first ten years, La Liga has surpassed the level of 200 players by particularly high transfer rate after 2008. As it is expected, South Americans are the group of players that have been transferred from Spain to England after the Spaniards.
From the age point of view, the median and the average age of players shown a gradual increase over the years. While the average age of Australian & Oceanian players almost reached the level of 27, European players started to move to a Premier League team at a younger age.
Premier League teams had mainly brought Nigerian, Cameroonian, Moroccan and South African players into their squads between 1992 and 2003. Following impressive performances of Senegal and Ghana national teams subsequently at the FIFA World Cups in 2002 and 2006, Premier League doors were opened for more African footballers. Moreover, Didier Drogba cleared the way for Ivorian players in terms of moving to the Premier League by his spectacular performance in Chelsea. On the other hand, North Africa countries, including Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia, started to be represented with more players in the Premier League over the last ten years.
As the most remarkable change in the movement of Africans, France Ligue 1 did not hold the high ground. Since 2008, more than 60 African players have circulated among Premier League clubs. Furthermore, Premier League clubs have chosen up African players from a large number of diverse leagues over the last ten years.
African players are generally considered as speedy, powerful and hard-wearing professionals on the field. In this regard, forward players keep the leading position among African footballers, who moved to a Premier League club. Besides, defensive players constitute the other prominent player group that has a chance to play in England and Wales.
As mentioned above, El Hadji Diouf and Didier Drogba turned new pages for Black Panthers in terms of moving to an English club at a high level of a transfer fee. As the ultimate pioneer, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang signed for Arsenal. The Gunners paid EUR 63.750 million for the Gabonese striker to Borussia Dortmund. In this regard, Aubameyang put his stamp on Premier League history as the first African player for whom a Premier League club paid more than EUR 50 million.
Portsmouth FC, West Ham United, Sunderland AFC and Newcastle United are the prominent football clubs that have chosen up the highest number of African players since the beginning of Premier League. Ligue 1 clubs – such as RC Lens, Olympique Marseille, PSG and Olympique Lyon – stand at the forefront as the main footballer sources of English clubs. Moreover, a growing number of Arficans continued their career with another Premier League club since 2008. In this regard, Arsenal FC, Chelsea FC, Newcastle United and Liverpool FC have come into prominence.