The Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon is almost upon us. Here are five superstars in the making to follow in the footsteps of Mané and Aubameyang
Bertrand Traoré – Burkina Faso, attacker
If Burkina Faso are to have any realistic chance of winning their first AFCON title, the nation needs a few players to step up. One footballer that the West-African country will look at with sprinkles of hope in their eyes is Bertrand Traoré.
The left-footed forward, currently plying his trade on loan from Chelsea at Ajax Amsterdam, is undoubtedly Burkina Faso’s hottest prospect in years. The fact that Traoré debuted for Les Étalons at the precious age of 15 should speak volumes.
Now, six-years later, despite his still young age, Traoré is no longer considered a youngster and is expected to be the main man for his country. A lot of weight is on the striker’s shoulders, but if he can support it, the 21-year-old might go down as Burkina Faso’s best ever player.
Ramadan Sobhi – Egypt, attacker
When Egypt manager Héctor Cúper gave debut to Ramadan Sobhi at 18-years of age, multiple European clubs were put on high alert for the versatile forward. Last summer, Stoke City were the ones to eventually secure his signature beating Atlético Madrid in the process. The English side haven’t rushed Sobhi into first team action, though, and have opted to subtly introduce the youngster to the Premier League, giving him some cameo appearances.
The Egyptian hasn’t been a regular for his country either, but he has proven himself to be a great impact player coming off the bench. The upcoming Africa Cup of Nations is the perfect platform for Sobhi to cement his place in the team as a key player. A great display at an international level might also convince his club manager, Mark Hughes, that the talented footballer is ready for more game time in England.
Keita Baldé Diao – Senegal, attacker
The big star of Senegal might be Liverpool attacker Sadio Mané, but in his shadow Les Lions de la Teranga have another great player named Keita Baldé Diao (21). The Lazio wide man is a skillful dribbler, blessed with a burst of pace. In addition, the Spanish-born Senegalese also possesses a strong final product – a quality where many wingers are criticized for not possessing.
Keita can become a key part of what is a very talented Senegal team. Not only for the short-term but for years to come. Focusing on the short-term, Keita arrives at Africa’s most prestigious tournament having enjoyed a good first six-months of the season. A continuation of his great form would surely increase Senegal’s chances of lifting their first ever AFCON title.
Vincent Aboubakar – Cameroon, attacker
Following in the footsteps of Samuel Eto’o is a hard ask for any player. Vincent Aboubakar knows all about that. The Cameroon No9 hasn’t done badly in filling the void but would need to make history with Les Lions Indomptables to really challenge his illustrious compatriot.
The upcoming Africa Cup of Nations presents Aboubakar with a great opportunity to write his own story as Cameroon’s talisman. The 24-year-old has joined up with his international teammates in fine form after being the match-winner in two of his last four games for Besiktas. So, the stage is set and Aboubakar looks ready to fire his country to their first title in 14 years.
Jean Michael Seri – Ivory Coast, midfielder
Ivory Coast is a footballing nation overloaded with strong, powerful players like Wilfried Bony and Yaya Touré. A type of footballer you wouldn’t associate Les Éléphants with, though, is a fragile creative midfielder. Yet, OGC Nice midfielder Jean Michael Seri (25) offers just that to the two-time Africa Cup of Nations winners.
Seri is a great passer of the ball and stands out when it comes providing service for the attack; both from set-pieces and open play. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the Ivorian is the Ligue 1 assist leader with 8. If Seri can showcase his playmaking abilities in Gabon, Ivory Coast’s quest for back-to-back AFCON titles will be a lot more fruitful.