The final will take place between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur and there could be as many as four African players on the pitch.
Sadio Mane, Joel Matip, Mo Salah (Naby Keita is injured) and are all Reds and then there is Victor Wanyama at Spurs. Those four cost (reportedly) cost less than 100 million euros which. In the modern market, this is quite something. Buy them now and that figure would be likely five times higher.
Cedric Bukambu is the most expensive African transfer
Officially the most expensive African transfer is Cedric Bukambu to Beijing (Asian teams are slowly turning to African talent too as there is a recognition that you can buy top level Africans for the same price as second or third-rate Brazilians) but the 70 million euro tag is a little overblown.
Yet the old elite in Europe have not much African talent. Neither Barcelona, Juventus, Bayern Munich or Real Madrid have any African players in this season’s first-team squads. Manchester City have Riyad Mahrez but the 65 million spent on the Algerian has not yet provided value, proof perhaps that buying a top player from a Premier League rival is not going to be cost-effective.
Ajax have provided a model for others to follow
The best teams in the Champions League are different. Ajax have provided a model for others to follow, assembling a team that was within seconds of reaching the UEFA Champions League final (defeating Real Madrid and Juventus along the way) at incredible value.
Indeed, had Ajax not conceding a last-minute goal, then there could have been six, seven or even eight Africans staring the final.
The Dutch giants have five Africans in their squad. Three started against Spurs with a combined transfer fee of around 11 million euros which was paid for the talented Moroccan Hakim Ziyech, who scored a fine goal. In fact the four Africans who were on the pitch cost around 22 million,
Ajax show that scouting young talent pays dividends but signing Africans who have established themselves in smaller clubs as Ziyech did is another option. Africans rarely start out at the biggest clubs. Keeping tabs on mid-level European leagues can be a lucrative way forward.
There will be a lot of scouts at AFCON but buying players on the evidence of one good tournament can be hit and miss. Watching the movement of African players to smaller leagues and clubs in Europe is the way forward for the big clubs. Didier Drogba started at Le Mans, Jay-Jay Okacha’s first European club was Borussia Neunkirchen, Mo Salah went to Basel.
So a mixture of tournaments, youth development and clever transfer policies can be the way forward and give plenty of value to clubs. The UEFA Champions League has shown that Africans can make a difference.