FT's 10 Best Moments of 2018: #7 African Exodus to China

At FirstTouch, we have a saying that goes like, “a year is never over until we close it.” In the spirit of that ideal, we took our time to look back at the ten most defining moments of 2018, as far as African football is concerned. Could you guess what they are? Number 7 is here.

Things change everywhere and every time, not least so in football. The year 2018 witnessed a big shift in terms of the preferred destination for African stars.

There is something about playing in front of a 60,000 crowd who are faithful to throng the stadiums with their numbers every week and sing “glory, glory Man United!” or “you’ll never walk alone.” It’s priceless to the journey of self-actualization for any professional. The newest sponsor of such dreams for African players happen to be the Chinese Super League.
— Dennis Takaendesa, FirstTouch Africa
Villarreal's Congolese forward Cedric Bakambu runs with the ball during the UEFA Europa League group A football match Slavia Prague v Villarreal in Prague on November 2, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MILAN KAMMERMAYER(Nov. 1, 2017 - Source: AFP)

Villarreal's Congolese forward Cedric Bakambu runs with the ball during the UEFA Europa League group A football match Slavia Prague v Villarreal in Prague on November 2, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MILAN KAMMERMAYER(Nov. 1, 2017 - Source: AFP)

Europe used to be the ultimate dream for any living footballer whether the one just starting out in the dusty streets of Kumasi, Ghana or the new professional who just signed for a top domestic club in one of Africa’s local leagues. It’s not just the prospect of a bulky salary from the likes of the English Premier League, or the festivities such as the Oktober Beer Festival surrounding the Bundesliga neither the rich history and competitive nature of the La Liga that attracts top players. Adding to that, there is something about playing in front of a 60,000 crowd who are faithful to throng the stadiums with their numbers every week and sing “glory, glory Man United!” or “you’ll never walk alone.” It’s priceless to the journey of self-actualization for any professional. The newest sponsor of such dreams for African players happen to be the Chinese Super League.

Generally, the Chinese are quite adventurous people and their drive to loop in top stars into their football system to build it up is one manifestation of such ambitions. With a population of more than 1.3 billion, almost twice that of Europe, you can sure bet that it’s only a matter of time before China becomes one of the biggest stages of the game as we love it. Africa has had a huge chunk of their stars leaving for the Asian country, not to wind up their careers like old times but to actually play and develop. The likes of DR Congo’s Cedric Bakambu joined Beijing Guoan in a then African transfer record back in March and has just secured his first silverware and the first for the club in 15 years by winning the Chinese Cup. He is no small man as the 27-year-old had become the first and only African Player to win the Spanish La Liga Player of The Month before moving to China. Now, he is more than settled with 23 goals and 7 assists in just 28 appearances for Beijing Guoan. On the League’s scoring charts, only three players better his record including Nigeria’s Odion Ighalo who bagged 21 league goals.

The list goes on and on with Cameroon’s 2017 AFCON winning captain, Benjamin Moukandjo, Nigeria Women’s 2018 AFCON winning ace, Asisat Oshoala, Zimbabwe’s Nyasha Mushekwi, Super Eagles captain in John Obi Mikel also on the growing list of African stars who have jumped ship to China.

What other trends did you notice in 2018?