- © DFL
- © DFL

Is this a new golden era for Africans in the Bundesliga?


The Bundesliga has a long history of showcasing some of the greatest talents in African football, but the abundance of footballing brilliance from the continent in Germany is stronger than ever before. bundesliga.com looks into the exciting trend...

The goals have been raining in all over Germany since the start of the 2023/24 Bundesliga season. It is a league used to featuring some of the best players in the world, but one notable feature is that two of the three fastest men out of the blocks in the thrilling race to be top scorer are Africans.

The irrepressible centre-forward pair of Guinea's Serhou Guirassy and Nigeria's Victor Boniface may have smashed their name onto the scoresheet more than most but they are just a small portion of the wealth of African talent up and down the Bundesliga. The league currently counts a staggering 26 full African internationals among the squads of its 18 teams. 

Watch: All 10 of Guirassy's league-leading goals so far this season

This is far from a new phenomenon, as African players have been gracing the Bundesliga for decades. Ghana's Ibrahim Sunday was the first African to play in the Bundesliga, albeit only for 45 minutes as a substitute for Werder Bremen against Rot-Weiss Essen in June 1976. 

The late 1980s would see the first players from the continent become real stars of the Bundesliga. Two other Ghanaians were at the forefront of that wave. Anthony Baffoe appeared for Cologne from 1983 and made close to 200 appearances in the top two flights of German football for five different clubs. Tony Yeboah left his homeland for Saarbrücken in 1988 and then moved to Eintracht Frankfurt in 1990. He became the first African to captain a Bundesliga side at the Eagles and the first African Bundesliga top goalscorer in 1992/93.

Souleyman Sané, a Senegalese player, joined then Bundesliga side Wattenscheid in 1990 and also bagged over 50 Bundesliga goals. Despite all being outstanding players, the trio had to suffer continued racism in the stadiums of the day, and together campaigned against it.

Tony Yeboah (right) scored 96 Bundesliga goals - which was a record for an African player until Borussia Dortmund's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang broke it in 2018. - imago/Claus Bergmann

Despite the issues they faced from the ignorance in the stands, the sheer success of this trio of African pioneers on the pitch undoubtedly paved the way for more talented players from the continent to light up the Bundesliga. 

Few talents in the history of the game have been quite as mercurial as Nigeria's Jay-Jay Okocha, who thrilled Frankfurt fans for four years from 1992 to 1996 with his unprecedented array of tricks. The goal he scored against Karlsruhe in 1992/93, when he bamboozled the entire defence - including the greatest German goalkeeper of the generation, Oliver Kahn - is widely regarded as one of the greatest Bundesliga goals of all time. 

Watch: Okocha's wondergoal against Kahn

While the goals may have stood out in those early years of amazing Africans in the Bundesliga, the continent has provided brilliant players all over the pitch. Samuel Kuffour was an African and one of the all-time defensive greats of the Bundesliga. He continued the strong Ghanaian tradition and contributed a significant chunk of the steel that helped Bayern Munich become the predominant force in German football during his mammoth 11-season spell at the record champions. Kuffour won the 2001 UEFA Champions League to add to his seven Bundesliga titles and was named BBC African Sportsperson of the Year in 2001. 

The Bundesliga was now getting increasingly used to African talent with the increasing number of international transfers allowing more players from the continent to develop in Europe at a time when also many more people were being born in Germany with African heritage. That led to the remarkable quirk of two Berlin-born brothers and Bundesliga legends, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Jerome Boateng, competing against each other in the 2010 World Cup for Ghana and Germany. 

Kevin-Prince Boateng of Ghana and his brother Jerome Boateng of Germany compete in the 2010 World Cup - imago images/Moritz Müller

At the same time, Sané's son Leroy was making a name for himself in youth football and would soon represent his father's adopted country Germany in international football. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a similar upbringing as the son of a former Gabon international footballer in France. He was signed by Borussia Dortmund in 2013 and would break Yeboah's record as the highest-scoring African in Bundesliga history, smashing 98 goals before his departure for Arsenal in 2018.

Watch: Aubameyang - Dortmund's eccentric goalgetter

While the Bundesliga's hard-earned reputation as a league that talents could truly flourish in has helped to attract countless African players, it also had the stature to gain fully-fledged stars like Sadio Mane - who joined Bayern in summer 2022 as an African Cup of Nations winner and one of the most decorated players in the game after a golden spell at Liverpool.

Watch: Mane was voted Africa's Player of the Year while at Bayern

With so many big names in African football history displaying their greatness in the Bundesliga, it is no surprise so many stars of today have ended up plying their trade in the league.

Ghana continues to lead the way in terms of African Bundesliga representation, with three full internationals playing for Bundesliga clubs - tricky Bochum winger Christopher Antwi-AdjeiFreiburg playmaker Daniel-Kofi Kyereh and Hoffenheim defender Kasim Adams. Augsburg's Patric Pfeiffer and Darmstadt's Braydon Manu have also pledged their allegiances to the Black Stars.

Guinea and Ivory Coast are two other West African nations well represented in the Bundesliga with Guirassy's compatriots Naby Keïta (at Werder Bremen) and Ilaix Moriba (at RB Leipzig) joining this summer. Dortmund's Sébastien Haller - formerly of Eintracht Frankfurt - is part of a talented Ivorian contingent with Union Berlin's David Fofana and Bayer Leverkusen's Odilon Kossounou, whose defensive partner Edmond Tapsoba is the sole Burkina Faso international currently operating in the league. 

Watch: All of Haller's Bundesliga goals

Boniface's sensational start to the 2023/24 season earned him his first senior cap for Nigeria in September - with Kevin Akpoguma of Hoffenheim the Bundesliga's one other Super Eagle. Akpoguma's club team-mate Diadié Samassékou and Amadou Haidara of Leipzig developed at the same academy in Mali before finding their way into their national team and the Bundesliga.

Another Hoffenheim player, Ihlas Bebou, is a Togo international while Stuttgart's Silas represents DR Congo. After Mane's departure, his former Bayern teammate Bouna Sarr is the only Senegal international in the league, while Cameroon's Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting is part of the continued strong African tradition at the champions.

There are eight North African internationals active in the Bundesliga currently, arguably non of whom are more prominent than Bayern full-back Noussair Mazraoui - although his Atlas Lions have an exciting new recruit in the form of Leverkusen's Amine Adli, who made his first appearance for Morrocco in September. Mainz's Aymen Barkok is the other Bundesliga player to have represented the 2022 World Cup semi-finalists, while Achraf Hakimi previously spent two years in Germany with Dortmund.

Noussair Mazraoui was a key part of the Morocco team that embarked on an historic run to the semi-finals of the 2022 World Cup. - IMAGO/Ayman Aref/IMAGO/NurPhoto

BVB summer signing Ramy Bensebaini and Frankfurt's Farès Chaibi are the two Algerian internationals active in the Bundesliga. Chaibi's battle-hardy teammate Ellyes Skhiri and Union Berlin's Aissa Laidouni are two Tunisia internationals in the league - while Frankfurt have a third North African international in Egypt's Omar Marmoush.

Bayern's Serge Gnabry (Ivorian father) and Dortmund's Youssoufa Moukoko (born in Cameroon) are just two of the current crop of German players with family links to Africa.

Watch: Bundesliga Experience - Lothar Matthäus in South Africa in 2020

With such an exhaustive list of players from the continent, Bundesliga clubs are understandably actively looking to attract the next wave of African talents. Bayern announced in September 2023 that the Red&Gold Football joint venture they participate in with Los Angeles Football Club has formed a partnership with Gambinos Stars Africa, an academy in The Gambia with links to others in the West African region. 

Given the huge numbers of dazzling displays that African players have provided Bundesliga teams over the years - and the key roles so many of them play for the current crop - the expectation that the league will continue to help African stars to shine seems assured.