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Okocha, Drogba, Demba Ba, Toure: Africa’s greatest free transfers of all time

Drogba Santo Drogba played for Chelsea and Marseille during is long career

Tue, 28 Jun 2022 Source: goal.com

Which of the continent’s star players achieved great things after moving on a free transfer?

Jay-Jay Okocha

Surely Africa’s greatest free agent of all time, Okocha went from being Africa’s most expensive player when he signed for Paris Saint-Germain in 1998 to moving to Bolton Wanderers for nothing four years later.

He and Sam Allardyce were an odd couple, but immensely effective, with Okocha establishing himself as one of the Premier League’s must-watch players as the Trotters took on the division’s big dogs.

Okocha was the star attraction in Big Sam’s eclectic squad of World Cup winners, fading veterans and Football League nomads, bringing flamboyance and class to Lancashire during his four years and 120-plus PL appearances for the club.

Demba Ba

Ba initially arrived in English football on a short-term deal with West Ham United, but after proving his fitness with the Hammers, it would be Newcastle United who emerged as the true beneficiaries of the striker’s talent.

Ba moved to St James’ Park in a Bosman deal in 2011, and went on to forge an excellent partnership with Papiss Cisse.

The Senegal international remained with the Magpies for two seasons, scoring 29 goals and being rewarded with a transfer to Chelsea.

Didier Drogba

Another ex-Chelsea frontman, Drogba ended his initial spell at Stamford Bridge in 2012 when he signed for Shanghai Shenhua on a free.

That proved a brief success story for the Chinese side—for whom Drog scored eight goals in 11 league outings—but soon he was on the move again, heading to Turkish giants Galatasaray.

In 2014, after two years in the Super Lig, Drogba was back at Chelsea—returning on a free transfer—and he went on to make a series of big contributions en route to a fourth Premier League crown with the Pensioners.

It was a memorable final farewell from Drogba to the club where he truly built his legacy.

Joel Matip

Matip initially faced questions about whether he’d be imposing enough to thrive in the Premier League after signing for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool on a free transfer.

He struggled with injuries as well—developing a reputation for being too fragile for the top flight—but has rebounded in style in recent seasons.

He’s established himself as the ideal defensive partner for Virgil van Dijk, and won both the Premier League and the Champions League at Anfield since signing on a free from Schalke 04.

Nwankwo Kanu

The final chapter of the legendary Kanu’s playing career came at Portsmouth, with the Nigeria great having signed for Pompey on a free transfer.

After a glorious spell with Arsenal and then two years at West Bromwich Albion—where he was part of the club’s ‘great escape’ in 2005—Kanu found himself without a club in 2006.

Harry Redknapp—no stranger to Nigerian talent—duly snapped up the forward, who finished as the club’s top scorer in his first season.

He would end his career following six seasons for the club, the highlight being the FA Cup success of 2008.

Kolo Toure

Already a two-time Premier League champion when he left Manchester City for Liverpool on a free transfer in 2013, Toure went close to winning a third with the Reds.

He added experience to a nervy backline when recruited by Brendan Rodgers, and the Reds—inspired by Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez and Danny Sturridge were on the brink of ending their wait for the gold, only for Gerrard’s infamous slip to cost them dearly.

Defensive failings cost Liverpool that season, as their record at the back declined from the season before, and ended up conceding 50 goals—more than 11th-placed Crystal Palace.

Toure and Liverpool again fell short—now under Jurgen Klopp—in the 2016 Europa League finals against Sevilla, although he did win the Africa Cup of Nations with Ivory Coast the season before.

Salomon Kalou

A free agent in 2012, having just won the Champions League with Chelsea, Kalou still had his prime ahead of him when he signed for LOSC Lille on a freebie.

For the next two seasons—given a more integral role in the team than he’d ever enjoyed at Stamford Bridge—Kalou proved his quality, scoring 30 goals in 66 league games.

In the 13-14 season, in particular, he scored 16 in the top flight alone, finishing joint second top scorer behind only Paris Saint-Germain’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Dieumerci Mbokani

Despite being linked to the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur earlier in his career, Mbokani found himself without an employer in 2018 after coming to the end of his deal with Dynamo Kyiv.

For a player who’d previously represented the likes of Anderlecht and Norwich City during his carer, a few eyebrows were raised when the Democratic Republic of Congo attacker ultimately opted to sign for modest Royal Antwerp.

The Belgians will be delighted with their free transfer, however, with Mbokani plundering 43 goals in 91 league games, and winning the Belgian Cup and Ebony Shoe in the process.

Kevin-Prince Boateng

A big money signing when he moved to AC Milan in 2011 and then Schalke 04 two years later, Boateng also used the Bosman ruling to his advantage later in his career.

For three successive summers from 2016, he signed short-term deals with Las Palmas, Eintracht Frankfurt and Sassuolo, hopping between European leagues and presumably picking up several signing-on fees in the process.

His performances weren’t bad either, with Prince ultimately being picked up by Barcelona in 2019 as the Catalan giants sought short-term cover for a lack of bodies in attack.

Source: goal.com
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