As Riyad Mahrez was unveiled at Manchester City last week, he became the most expensive African player of all-time. The Mancunian club’s presentation in front of the Etihad stadium featured two surreal mascots and a hive of children buzzing for the chance to see their new signing up close and personal.
But African stars have not always benefitted from a multimedia, stadium-filling welcome. Here are five all-time African greats whose dream transfers were almost aborted.
1) Abedi Pele – Health Rumours Scare Monaco Away
Abedi Pele is carved into Olympique de Marseille’s Mont Rushmore. However, in 1987 the ‘Maestro’ was on the verge of signing with AS Monaco until a last-ditch attempt by Marseille’s legendary owner, Bernard Tapie. Tapie slipped information to Monaco that the Ghanaian tested HIV+. Monaco passed up on the cunning winger and Marseille swooped to recoup a leader who helped them to two European Cup finals.
2) Rabah Madjer – Outdated Legislation Nearly Drowns Career
A scintillating break-out performance at the 1982 World Cup attracted a long line of suitors interested in Rabah Madjer’s services. However, a constricting piece of legislation stipulated that footballers could not leave the country before the age of 28. Exceptions were rare, but Madjer was determined to break the deadlock and fulfil his dream of playing professional football in Europe. For an entire year, he refused to play with his club side NA Hussein Dey, intentionally plummeting his stock until the Algerian Football Federation acquiesced and allowed him to sign for Jean-Luc Lagardere’s ambitious project at Matra Racing Club .
3) Samuel Eto’o Fils – Never A Fit In Madrid
Samuel Eto’o Fils is now one of the most accomplished African footballers of all time. But in the late 90s, the Cameroonian striker was just another kid imbued with dreams of playing for Real Madrid. A communication mishap meant that a 15 year-old Eto’o was left alone at the airport. Unfazed, the rascal from Douala found a friendly face that safely placed him on a bus to the club’s headquarters. It never worked out for Eto’o in the Spanish capital, though he was enormously successful elsewhere.
4) Salif Keita – Taxi To Saint-Etienne
After building a reputation as a once-in-a-lifetime talent with Real Bamako in his native Mali, Keita quietly left his country on the promise of a contract with French giants Saint-Etienne. Once in Paris, not a soul was waiting for the 20 year-old. Keita exited the airport and asked the nearest taxi to take him to the Geoffrey Guichard stadium… 550 kilometres away, promising Saint-Etienne would foot the bill. “It was expensive”, he would admit with a smile. In retrospect, the fare may have been Les Verts’ cheapest investment considering Keita helped them to three league titles and two Coupe de Frances.
5) Laurent Pokou – The Ivorian Economy Points Him To Rennes
After notching 14 goals in two Cup of Nations tournments with Les Elephants, Laurent Pokou was highly solicited in France. Saint-Etienne and Nantes were particularly interested, but ‘the Asmara man’ was wary of contract issues his predecessor Salif Keita had at Saint-Etienne, while a move to Nantes was interrupted as the Ivorian military denied his departure upon presidential command. Stade Rennes eventually won Pokou’s services after businessman and Rennes fan Nicholas Pinault used his clout in the lumber industry to convince the striker and president Felix Houphouet-Boigny.