As Bakary Sako’s time with Mali at the African Cup of Nations comes to an end, Ryan Plant puts together a Wolves Team from over the years that could compete in the tournament.
The latest edition of the African Cup of Nations, held in Equatorial Guinea, has gripped the world of football. Not only because of the increasing array of talent on show, including the likes of Yaya Toure, Alex Song and Bakary Sako, but the controversy and publicity the tournament had caused before it had even started. The famous tournament was originally scheduled to be held in Morocco, who subsequently pulled out due to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
However, let us concern ourselves with the football side of the tournament. The quality of football is extremely strong (though the coverage by ITV4 probably doesn’t do it justice) and an ever growing number of Premier League players have left their club this month, 16 in fact, to compete for the title currently held by Nigeria.
But I was thinking – would it be possible to build a team made up of Africans that have donned the famous old gold shirt? Although I do have an admission to make, I originally thought of making an Asian XI after seeing Australia win the Asian Cup final last night, but I found choices aside from Seol Ki-Hyeon were well, non-existent. So I thought Africa instead, and have gone for a Louis van Gaal like 3-5-2 system, with a squad packed with plenty of Championship and even Premier League experience.
In goal, an obvious choice, Carl Ikeme. The titanic, agile and powerful Nigerian was a must-have in the side. Since making his debut in 2005, and having no-less than 9 loan spells, Ikeme has made well over 100 appearances for Wolves. Since the beginning of last season, Ikeme has been one of the most dependable goalkeepers outside of the Premier League – he has come extremely far from his bizarre, but one of many for Wolves that season, mishap against Bristol City in 2013.
Now, for the right centre back position. A man who has played in the Champions League, UEFA Cup and won silverware overseas. Sounds good I know, until I tell you that I’m talking about Isaac Okoronkwo. It is quite astonishing that a man who has played in two African Cup of Nations competitions, an Olympic Games, and every minute of Nigeria’s 2002 World Cup campaign would rarely make an appearance for Wolves. Okoronkwo only played 7 games in a disappointing 2003/04 season for Wolves after signing on a free from Shakhtar Donetsk, but I’m afraid choices in defence are fairly limited.
Sebastien Bassong, the Cameroonian powerhouse now on loan at Watford, is a centre back who has had an abundance, compared to the rest of the team, of Premier League appearances. He has made well over 100 for Newcastle, Tottenham, Norwich and of course Wolves. Only 9 maybe, but you have to remember Christophe Berra was making woeful mistake after woeful mistake at the time of his loan signing. A man who once commanded an £8 million fee and demanded interest from all of the ‘Big Four’ during his time at Newcastle has to make the side.
Next, a hugely popular figure at Molineux. George Elokobi. My rabbit is called Elokobi. I’ve had two shirts with ‘Elokobi 3’ printed on the back. I was close to tears when he said his goodbyes against Carlisle last year. There are not enough superlatives to describe the massive, whole-hearted, surprisingly quick Cameroonian. Not only could the man defend, but he scored the winner against Manchester United back in 2011. Surely that alone would get him in this side?
The right-midfield spot I think, although it puts him a little out of position, belongs to Adlene Guediora of Algeria. After arriving relatively unknown from RSC Chaleroi (the same club that gave us Geoffrey Mujangi Bia might I add) he made an instant impact in the Premier League, and went on to make 38 appearances. An extremely athletic midfield player with a mean long-shot, I doubt I was the only Wolves fan sad to see him move to Nottingham Forest.
The central midfield position was quite hard. I could’ve chosen Andrew Surman, but felt that a pretty uneventful career and little impact during his time at Wolves warranted a place in this side. At least Emmanuel Frimpong, with his clothing range, interesting musical appearances with Lethal Bizzle and sending off on his debut for Barnsley, is a memorable character. Although he has never made more than 10 appearances for the 5 sides he has turned out for, Frimpong did make 5 for Wolves on a loan spell from Arsenal before it was cruelly cut short by injury. His one appearance for Ghana I’m sure is pretty forgettable.
Next, another massively popular African player back from the Mick McCarthy days. It’s quite often said that Frank Lampard is the English equivalent of Seyi Olofinjana, and it’s little wonder really. The lanky Nigerian arrived at Wolves in 2004 following relegation from the top-flight, and went on to become the leading scorer in the league for Wolves in the 2006/07 season. After leaving Wolves, the midfield dynamo enjoyed a deserved career in the Premier League with Stoke and Hull.
The last central midfield slot belongs to Tongo Doumbia. The start of the Stale Solbakken era in 2012 was extremely rosy, with Doumbia, Sako, Ebanks-Blake and co. humiliating teams with their pace, strength, power and killer instinct. However as we all know, the season ended extremely disappointingly in relegation, with Kenny Jackett dismissing the majority of this squad at the start of the 2013/14 season. However, I still firmly believe Doumbia is one of the better players in this line-up after his 35 appearances at Molineux.
Now where we really begin to add some quality. Bakary Sako. The second player in this line-up that is still at the club, although that will probably change in the not too distant future. The mercurial Malian winger, the only Wolves player to have been out in Equatorial Guinea, has supreme technical ability, pace and power, and a true goal-scoring threat – over 30 goals in just over 100 games. It’s no wonder he has many Premier League suitors watching his every move.
Now onto the strikers, and firstly someone who graced the Molineux pitch during my first ever game at Molineux, Henri Camara. He scored two goals in the game against Leicester in October 2003, when Wolves came back from 3-0 down to win 4-3. Camara finished top scorer in the 2003/04 season with 7 goals, and has a wealth of Premier League experience with not just Wolves, but Wigan and West Ham, as well as 99 caps for Senegal. Just don’t mention his exit…
A current favourite of mine, Nouha Dicko. Thanks to his strength, speed and how hard he works for the team – the ultimate lone striker in Jackett’s 4-2-3-1 system. To say I was unimpressed by the Mali hitman’s very short first spell at Wolves in 2013 is an under-statement, but Dicko returned last season and has since scored 19 goals in 39 games and formed an incredible partnership with Bakary Sako, tearing teams apart between them.
So there we have it, an ‘interesting’ all-star, all-African Wolves team, with Henri Camara and Isaac Okoronkwo having been the first significant African players to wear the famous gold and black strip back in 2003. I’m sure you’re all as excited as I am to watch the final of the African Cup of Nations on 8th February.
Images courtesy of The Guardian, Getty Images and English.ahram.org.eg)