WITH the news that ex-Manchester United star Eric Djemba-Djemba has signed for St Mirren, Chris Marshall takes a look at some of Scottish football’s most fondly-remembered African imports
Since the start of the SPL in 1998, 80 African players - including former Cameroon midfielder Djemba-Djemba - have turned out for various clubs, some more memorable than others. Who could forget the ‘Mali Magician’ of Easter Road, Amadou Konte, who got the side into Europe with his only goal for Hibs, or Olivier Tebily’s bombscare performances for Celtic, including an own goal on his debut?
Here’s five African players who’ll be remembered for (mostly) the right reasons.
1. JOSE QUITONGO
Former clubs: Hamilton Accies, St. Mirren, Kilmarnock, Hearts, Alloa Athletic, Albion Rovers, Partick Thistle, Dumbarton, Livingston, Stenhousemuir, Glenafton Athletic, Lesmahagow, Pollok and Muirkirk.
Any list about African football in Scotland would not be complete without the Angolan Pele/Maradona/Platini/Laudrup/Charnley. A player with a trickery that seemed to often confuse him as much as it did his opponents, who after moving to Scotland decided he loved it so much that he thought he would try to play for as many clubs as possible while his legs allowed him to do so. After starting his career at Benfica he found his way to South Lanarkshire and Hamilton Accies, a club that, when all else failed, would welcome back Jose with open arms time and time again. He’s perhaps most fondly remembered for his time at Hearts where he bagged a famous injury-time equaliser against Celtic in a top of the table clash at Tynecastle back in 1998.
Quitongo was a player who could play hopscotch with the line between terrible and brilliant while keeping a permanent smile fixed to his face, even when blowing out his backside in almost every game he played. Despite spells in Sweden, Poland, Ireland, UAE and Italy, Scotland was where he would always call his footballing home, returning in 2006 with the hope of making it into the Angolan national team for the 2006 World Cup, which was unfortunately one dream that didn’t come true. Towards the end of his career in professional football he was a one man game of ‘Where’s Wally?’ appearing at clubs across the central belt for trials and the odd substitute appearance.
Where did he go? He’s still in Scotland and sports one of those wonderful accents that only a foreigner living in Scotland can obtain. After a playing spell in Junior football with Glenafton Athletic, Lesmahagow and Pollok amongst others he was this season appointed player-manager of Ayrshire District League side Muirkirk. Jose clearly loves Scotland and I think it’s fair to say we love him a little bit too.
2. BOBO BALDE
Former club: Celtic
Bobo Balde was strong in the air, quick on his feet and like all entertaining central defenders prone to moments of blind rage and calamity. A player who is as well know for his dominant displays in over 200 appearances for Celtic as he was for sitting on his bahookie and getting paid a handsome sum to do so. Not since Rangers’ Basile Boli had Scottish football seen a man who possessed the Guinean’s incredible combination of mass and speed, a skill set that led to Celtic fans chanting the phrase ‘Bobo’s gonna get ye!’ at opponents in celebration of his intimidating presence.
He was part of the successful Martin O’Neill side that reached the UEFA Cup Final only to be beaten by Jose Mourinho’s Porto. In Scotland he is without doubt Africa’s most decorated export, winning five league titles, three Scottish Cups and two League Cups whilst playing over 50 times for the Guinean national team. After falling out of favour with new manager Gordon Strachan, moves to England failed to materialise and his departure was met with little fanfare or surprise when his contract expired in 2009.
Where did he go? After leaving Celtic he had spells with Valenciennes and Arles Avignon at the foot of Ligue 1 in France before retiring from the game.
3. CHERIF TOURE MAMAN
Former club: Livingston
Back in the golden days before Livingston were known for their frequent flirtations with administration they were one of Scottish football’s nouveau riche... well as nouveau riche as you can be in Scotland. A rebranded Meadowbank Thistle moved to that bit of the country between Glasgow and Edinburgh in the hope of attracting new support in the heart of silicon glen. Using their new wealth to move their way up the divisions, names such as Oscar Rubio, Guillermo Amor, Rolando Zarate and eh…David Bingham were often seen at the stadium formerly known as Almondvale but none came with as much expectation upon them as the Togolese international.
After trials at Rangers and Fulham, a team who themselves were going through their own financially backed revolution, the 20-year-old midfielder came with a hype that he never quite lived up to. Sporting the number ’91′, his lucky number and an homage to his basketball roots, the ‘Sheriff’, as he was called until the SFA decide they didn’t like that on the back of his shirt, had a pedigree to match any young foreigner coming to Scottish football at the time. This was thanks to spells at Eintracht Frankfurt and Marseille and had a sheer athleticism that had not been seen in Scotland before. Brought in as a player with the potential to be sold on for millions, a spate of injuries meant that he never reached his peak and was released in 2004 as the financial problems began surfacing at the club.
Where did he go? He nearly ended up back in Scotland in 2007 but a trial with Hearts was unsuccessful. After being part of the Togo squad at the 2006 World Cup he took the root of many African players and had a spell in the Middle East. Most recently he had a spell with Ghanaian Premier League side Asante Kotoko where even at 33 he was still being billed as the next big thing.
4. HICHAM ZEROUALI
Former club: Aberdeen
The man with the ‘Zero’ on his back is perhaps to this day still one of the most gifted players to grace Scottish football and one of the few successes of the Ebbe Skovdahl era. A menace anywhere in the final third when the mood took him and the capability of scoring some quite incredible goals resulted in him becoming an instant hit at Pittodrie. A Moroccan internationalist during his time at Aberdeen, an injury towards the end of the 1999-2000 season robbed him of an appearance at the Sydney Olympics but that didn’t tarnish the memories of Dons fans with a hat trick against Dundee perhaps being the pick of many a highlight.
When looking back at the impact he made it’s not too far of a stretch to say that he blazed the trail for North African talent to find its way to Scottish shores. In the years since his departure players such as Merouane Zemmama and Abdessalam Benjelloun came in often billed as the new ‘Zerouali’ without ever living up to the inevitable hype such a comparison brought. While players such as Majid Bougherra and Ismael Bouzid have left their mark at the other end of the pitch.
Where did he go? Unfortunately ‘Zero’ is no longer with us. After his contract expired he returned to his native Morroco via the United Arab Emirates where he was killed in a car accident two days after scoring a double for FAR Rabat. His death prompted tributes and a memorial was held in Aberdeen with thousands in attendance. The ‘Morrocan Magician’ to this day is still one of the most gifted players to play in Scotland since the turn of the millennium.
5. MOMO SYLLA
Former clubs: St. Johnstone, Celtic and Kilmarnock
If you were to ask the fans of the three aforementioned clubs to give a review on the impact Momo Sylla had on their respective clubs you will probably hear three very different stories. At St. Johnstone he arrived as a speedster capable of playing anywhere on the left hand side of the pitch. A bag of tricks with his feet sometimes moving faster than his brain and capable of producing a tackle that sent shudders down the spine of opposing players.
A key part of the Perth side’s success of the early noughties it wasn’t long before the Old Firm came calling with a £650,000 move to Celtic. A just reward for a player who seemed to be consistently improving. However, like many players making the move to Glasgow, things were not all that they were cracked up to be and as many predicted he struggled to find his place, never being anything other than back up to a team going through one of its most successful periods under Martin O’Neill and he was released when his contract expired. He then was part of Craig Levein’s ill-fated Leicester City revolution, before returning to Scotland for a short and unspectacular spell with Kilmarnock. Although born in the Ivory Coast he played internationally for Guinea, but with only 2 appearances he was, much like his career post-McDiarmid Park, nothing more than a bit-part player for his country.
Where is he now? A bit of digging shows that he had a spell in Moldova before seemingly disappearing off the face of the planet only re-appearing once prior to the 2012 Champions League Final to reveal that he had once told Didier Drogba that he wasn’t good enough to play for Celtic. You can’t get them right every time, eh Momo?
Pa Kujabi – The Gambian Roberto Carlos, was apparently gifted with a wand of a left foot and a deadly free kick. Those that attended the former Hibs defender’s performances at Easter Road would beg to differ.
David Obua – Scottish football’s only ever Ugandan, a player who had more positions than the extended version of the Kama Sutra.
Madjid Bougherra - The Algerian Amo. For comment, see Bobo Balde without the three years of sulking.
Sol Bamba – Now a mainstay of the Ivory Coast national team, during his time in Scottish football he tackled pretty much everyone, including his teammates.
Quinton Jacobs – A Namibian international who once turned down Ajax to play for Partick Thistle in the Scottish Second Division. Somebody must have done a really good job selling the concept of the Maryhill Magyars.
Will Eric Djemba-Djemba be looked back on as favourably as some of these greats? Only time will tell.
• Article courtesy of terracepodcast.net - ‘an alternative look at the country’s beautiful game’ covering all four Scottish divisions. You can also follow @terracepodcast on Twitter.