FEATURE: Chances for EPL’s promoted African trio
Having helped guide their respective Championship sides to promotion, here is Africa Football Shop’s assessment on how the African trio may perform in the Premier League next season.
Only three Africans realistically have the chance to make their young boys’ dreams a reality when the season kicks off on August 8, but who will stand out in 2015/16?
Tokelo Rantie – AFC Bournemouth
It is fair to say that Tokelo Rantie hasn’t enjoyed the start to life in England he would have liked, following his £2.5 million move from Swedish giants Malmo in August 2013. But there is belief that the South Africa international, who was part of Bafana Bafana’s AFCON 2015 squad, will soon be able to show his true colours.
The 24-year-old boasts good long-range finishing, quality dribbling skills and good passing ability, but his overall finishing lets him down.
His two goals for the Cherries last season both came away to Birmingham in an 8-0 demolition, taking his overall total to five goals over 47 appearances in all competitions.
Despite not being much of a goal machine, he has been involved in 11 wins in his 16 appearances last season, losing three and drawing two. So there is reason to believe he can still be a valuable asset to the club.
Rantie may struggle to justify his selection in the new season, having played just 128 minutes of football and 1429 minutes over the past two seasons, not starting a league game last term.
One thing that has improved is his goals-per-game ratio, dropping from a goal every 9.7 games, to every six. But that statistic alone is not good enough for a player who will want to compete in one of the world’s toughest leagues.
Bournemouth may chose to loan the South African out to a Championship club in order to get games and see if he can discover some form that attracted the club’s interest in the first place.
However, boss Eddie Howe has shown great belief in the striker since joining the club and could be given his chance at some point during the season. But the club are one of the favourite’s for relegation, while making their top-flight debut, and cannot afford to take any risks with players who don’t perform.
Howe appreciates Rantie needs time to adapt to life in England, has seen improvements in his performances during the first half of last season and knows how good he can be.
Rantie boasts little experience and is still young, so a tough and physical league may mean the south coast club will send him out on loan, as they target Crystal Palace striker Dwight Gayle.
Sebastien Bassong – Norwich City
Having suffered relegation with Norwich City in May last year Sebastien Bassong’s only wish would have been an immediate return to the Premier League, and he got it. However, it didn’t go completely to plan.
He fell out of favour under previous boss Neil Adams, which saw him spend 11 games on loan at Watford between October and January. Essentially meaning he was a part of two Championship promotion-winning teams in 2014/15.
But it was his return to Carrow Road that suggests this African should easily adapt to life back in the Premier League.
The 28-year-old is arguably at the peak of his career, and spending that in the Premier League will be important to him. Particularly under the guidance of a boss who believes in him, Alex Neil, which allowed him to make 21 appearances for the club in the second half of the campaign.
His composure in defence meant he saw just one yellow card in a combined total of 2,743 minutes of football all season. Bassong is not one to make a rash challenge and also provides a threat from indirect set pieces.
He helped Watford to five wins and two draws during his 11 games at Vicarage Road, keeping three clean sheets.
Bassong kept a further nine clean sheets with Norwich, including their 2-0 play-off final victory over Middlesbrough.
Since the Cameroonian’s return to the side, he guided the club to 14 wins, five draws and just two losses.
The former Newcastle United and Tottenham defender isn’t unknown to the Premier League and most clubs will be aware of the quality Bassong possesses. This will be less of a transitional period, but more about using his top-flight experience to his club’s advantage.
Although he may have fell out of favour late on during their last season in the Premier League, he has gone on to play a lot of football since then and will be eager to repay the faith to Neil for bringing him back into the Canaries side.
He will no doubt be a cost-effective valuable fantasy football signing for fans next season!
Odion Ighalo – Watford
There are not many clubs where finishing on 20 goals for the season will see you finish second in the club’s scoring charts, but that was the case for the 26-year-old Nigeria striker.
Initially joining the Hornets on loan from Udinese in July last year, Ighalo quickly became a vital cog in the club’s quest for promotion. And it didn’t take long for the London club to snap him up on a permanent basis in October.
Having had four loan spells away from Udinese in Italy during his time at the club – including Granada, Cesena and Watford – Ighalo has finally found somewhere where he can call home.
His versatility has seen him play a deeper role also, in attacking midfield, but spent most of last season accompanying top scorer Troy Deeney upfront.
His finishing is clinical and has earned his place in the Watford starting XI ahead of a wealth of other attacking options. His dribbling ability is easily as good but lacks any real quality in the air.
It was a massive 38 appearances in all competitions for the striker last season, scoring 20 goals in 35 league games. Just 13 of his appearances came from the bench.
Ighalo scored in three consecutive games from the end of September to early October. But hit his hottest form in the New Year scoring seven goals in January, including four in a 7-2 victory over Blackpool.
While February saw him start and finish the month on the scoresheet, netting six times during the month.
Having played 1940 minutes in the Championship, he has equipped himself with some valuable game time in English football and already looks prepared for the step up to the Premier League. That game time alone is more than what Rantie has achieved at Bournemouth during his two seasons.
He is a proven goalscorer and should look up to Gayle at Palace, who finished the club’s top scorer with 10 goals in the Premier League last season, having been a Championship player not so long back himself.
So Ighalo should have no questions about his ability going into the top flight and is going to make his name to a worldwide audience when his Watford side travel to Everton on the opening day of the season.
Uche Ikpeazu and Bernard Mensah, both 20, could be invloved but are unlikely to feature for Watford this season, with both likely to go out on loan. Ikpeazu boasts Football League experience with loan spells at Doncaster Rovers and Crewe Alexandra.