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Ranking every African player to play for Man Utd from best to worst

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In Manchester United’s rich history, player from all over the world have plied their trade for the club. However, not a huge number have been from Africa. As of writing, 11 African players have played for United and it’s fair to say that some of these did better than others. The Reds currently have four African players in their first team who will all be looking to impress this year.

Let’s take a look at the 11 names – and a warning to United fans, you may not have many fond memories of this lot…

11. Wilfried Zaha (Cote d’Ivoire)

Zaha was by no means worse at United than the players ahead of him on this list. However, given the hefty £10million-plus paid for him, there’s really no choice but to stick him rock bottom.

He became Alex Ferguson’s last signing for the club when he was snapped up in January 2013 and loaned back to Crystal Palace for the remainder of the season. By the time he returned to Old Trafford, David Moyes was in charge and didn’t take a fancy to Zaha, loaning him out first to Cardiff and then to Palace again.

Following this loan spell, the London re-signed him permanently for around £3million and the winger left Old Trafford having appeared just four times. In case you didn’t know, he’s doing alright these days.

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10. Manucho (Angola)

Zaha’s four appearances are one more than what Manucho managed. He may have been really good (probably not), but he had the misfortune of joining at a time when Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and Dimitar Berbatov were on the club’s books.

After loan spells at Panathinaikos and Hull City, the Angolan left for Real Valladolid in 2009 for £2.5million. Given they only paid £900k for him, United did at least make a tidy profit. It’s not all bad.

9. Mame Biram Diouf (Senegal)

A name undoubtedly more familiar to Stoke fans than those of United. Diouf joined from Molde in January 2010 for just over £4million and made the dream start to life in Manchester, scoring on his home debut against Burnley. After five further appearances, he was loaned out to Blackburn the following season, where he scored six goals.

At the end of it, he returned to Old Trafford and tore it up for their reserve side but never got close to the first team. He remained there until January 2012, when he joined Hannover for £1.5million. These days, he’s playing in his sixth season for Stoke, where he’s made a whopping 155 appearances.

8. Hannibal Mejbri (Tunisia)

The Tunisian international is still in his early days at Old Trafford, but the early signs are very promising. Following a successful loan spell with Birmingham last season, Erik ten Hag has integrated the youngster into the first team.

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A real tenacious midfielder who won’t stop running, we wouldn’t be surprised if he manages to leap a few places ahead on this list come the end of the season.

7. Amad Diallo (Cote d’Ivoire)

Following an eye-catching loan spell with Sunderland in the Championship, United fans will be eager to see more of Diallo in the first team.

United have had to be patient with the Ivory Coast winger following his £35million move from Atalanta in 2021, but the 21-year-old has come on leaps and bounds over the past 12 months.

The winger had been utilised by Ten Hag in pre-season and had been tipped to play a role in the new campaign before he picked up a knee injury. Diallo is currently in recovery and we’re sure he’ll come back stronger than ever.

6. Eric Djemba-Djemba (Cameroon)

If his ability was as good as his name, Djemba-Djemba would’ve become a true great. Sadly, it wasn’t. The Cameroonian was brought United in 2003 to fill the (probably) blood-stained boots of Roy Keane. He began his task well, making a tackle on Sol Campbell in the Community Shield that Arsene Wenger called obscene. Very Keane-esque.

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He was unable to maintain this level of shithousery, however, failing to ever establish himself in the first team. Still, two goals and three assists in 39 games is undoubtedly a better record than some in this list. Oh, and one was an absolute beauty, against Leeds too, which always helps.

5. Odion Ighalo (Nigeria)

The fact that Ighalo is number five here says more about those below him than his own success at the club.

Nevertheless, despite the ridicule that surrounded his arrival, the Nigerian did a steady job while on loan at Old Trafford. While he failed to hit the back of the net in the Premier League, he did score five goals across various cup competitions.

Ighalo was only ever signed as a stop-gap option for United and considering the circumstances, a strike rate of a goal every 4.6 matches is by no means disastrous.

4. Sofyan Amrabat (Morocco)

The Reds chased Amrabat’s signature throughout the entirety of the 2023 summer transfer window and they eventually managed to land a loan deal for the 27-year-old with the option to buy.

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Of course, it’s still incredibly early days for the Moroccan midfielder, but the early signs are promising. Based on his first couple of performances at United, you can already tell Amrabat is loving life at Old Trafford.

“I told the manager I will play where [he] needs me and where the team needs me, even if it is a goalkeeper!” Amrabat told Sky Sports after his debut.

“I play where I can help the team, today it was left-back. I had a bit of a free role, I think you saw I played a bit in midfield, so it was nice, it was good.”

 

3. Andre Onana (Cameroon)

We might be jumping the gun here with Onana so high on the list, but he’s not exactly against the toughest competition. While the goalkeeper has had some nervy moments, his excellent distribution skills have given Ten Hag’s side a fresh dynamic.

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The Cameroon international is able to ping long balls with pinpoint accuracy and we’re certain that he will prove to be a good signing in the end. He may even take the top spot on this list one day.

2. Eric Bailly (Cote d’Ivoire)

Two words sum up Bailly’s time at Old Trafford: Injury-plagued. In his six years at the club, he missed over 60 games due to various issues with his knees and ankles.

When he was fit, however, he was a relatively reliable best defender, as shown by his first season, where was named Player of the Month in August and included in the Europa League Squad of the Season.

His time at the club ultimately fizzled out as he fell down the pecking order under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and was then eventually sold by Ten Hag. Still, United fans will have plenty of fond memories of Bailly at Old Trafford.

1. Quinton Fortune (South Africa)

Mr Versatile. Fortune had the misfortune of joining United shortly after they won the treble, meaning there was little room in the first team for him. Nevertheless, he proved to be useful to the club, providing cover all over the pitch.

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He spent seven years there, making 126 appearances and playing in three title-winning campaigns. Due to injuries and his role as back-up, he didn’t play enough games to get a winner’s medal in two of them but did get his hands on one in 2002-03.

After leaving for Bolton in 2006, Fortune briefly returned to Man Utd in 2013 in a coaching capacity. These days he works as an assistant coach for Mexican club C.D. Guadalajara.

-Planet Football

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.