Host nation Egypt is making the final preparations for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, which begins on Friday.
The competition sees Africa’s very best go head-to-head. And with this year’s instalment increasing the amount of teams from 16 to 24, several smaller nations will get the chance to impress on the biggest stage.
A number of star names have used that opportunity in the past, shining at the Afcon and ultimately going on to achieve bigger and better things in their club careers.
Indeed, Samuel Eto’o won the Golden Boot at Africa’s showcase competition on two occasions in his heyday, but surprisingly the lethal Cameroonian never picked up the Player of the Tournament award.
So we’ve looked back at the ‘Best Player’ from every 21st century iteration of the Africa Cup of Nations and explored how the careers of those stars panned out.
International caps: 24
Current employers: Retired
Career path: Utrera, Sevilla, Levante, Mallorca, Arsenal, Portsmouth, Cordoba
Lauren was still a Mallorca player during the 2000 Afcon but made his career-defining move to Arsenal a few months later. The right-back, who was 23 at the time, played a vital role in Cameroon’s victory at the tournament before going on to win two Premier League titles and three FA Cups with the Gunners. He eventually left north London for Portsmouth.
Now 42, Lauren has been retired since 2010 after a handful of appearances for Cordoba. He also won the Afcon in 2002 before surprisingly bringing his international career to an end at just 25 years of age.
2002: Rigobert Song
International caps: 137
Current employers: Cameroon U23 (manager)
Career path: Metz, Salernitana, Liverpool, West Ham, Koln (loan), Lens, Galatasaray, Trabzonspor
From the same generation as Lauren, Rigobert Song was also part of Cameroon’s successive Afcon victories in 2000 and 2002. In fact, the defender captained his nation to glory in 2000 and scored the decisive penalty in the final, in the meantime missing a number of club matches during his only season at Liverpool.
But it was in 2002 that Song was named Best Player, primarily because Cameroon didn’t concede a single goal in the entire tournament. He was on loan at Koln from West Ham at the time and now coaches his country’s Under-23 side.
2004: Jay-Jay Okocha
International caps: 73
Current club: Retired
Career path: Borussia Neunkirchen, Frankfurt, Fenerbahce, PSG, Bolton, Qatar SC, Hull City
One of the most skilful players to ever grace the game, Jay-Jay Okocha was in full flow at the 2004 Afcon. He scored in quarter-final, semi-final and third-place play-off, finishing joint top scorer with four goals. Unfortunately, however, he was unable to win the competition for a second time after 1994.
Universally admired for his outrageous flicks and tricks, the 45 is now retired having arguably made his biggest impact at Bolton Wanderers between 2002-2006. In total Okocha was named Nigerian Footballer of the Year on seven occasions.
2006: Ahmed Hassan
International caps: 184
Current club: Retired
Career path: Aswan, Ismaily, Kocaelispor, Denizlispor, Genclerbirligi, Besiktas, Anderlecht, Al Ahly Zamalek
Ahmed Hassan scored four goals at the 2006 tournament before netting a penalty in the final shootout against Ivory Coast as Egypt picked up their fifth Afcon title. It was the second of Hassan’s four competition victories, and it’s no surprise he had so much success given that he made 184 appearances for his country, making him the most capped international male footballer ever – for any nation.
The midfielder, 30 at the time, went on to play for Belgian club Anderlecht after a long spell in Turkey. He then returned to Egypt and retired in 2013.
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2008: Hosny Abd Rabo
Hosny Abd Rabo has announced his retirement at the age of 34. He contributed greatly to Egypt's golden generation of 2006 to 2010, including an MVP performance during the Pharaohs' 2008 AFCON title run. He always played his best on the biggest stages. Thank you, Hosny! pic.twitter.com/AQ69xQD2GW
— Pharaohs XI 🇪🇬 (@PharaohsXI) January 16, 2019
International caps: 101
Current club: Retired
Career path: Ismaily, Strasbourg, Ismaily, Al Ahli Dubai (loan), Al Ittihad Jeddah (loan), Al Nassr (loan)
During a dominant spell for Egypt, another of the country’s players shone brighter than the rest in 2008. Midfielder Hosny Abd Rabo found the net four times in his first Afcon at the age of 23. He spent most of his career in Egypt, leaving for a brief spell at French side Strasbourg between 2005-2007.
Rabo had been without a club since 2013 before announcing his retirement this year at 34. Still, he managed to fit in 101 appearances for his country, for whom he scored 16 goals.
2010: Ahmed Hassan
Hassan was named Player of the Tournament once again in 2010 at the ripe old age of 34. The veteran captained Egpyt to yet another Afcon title, scoring three times including a brace in the quarter-finals.
2012: Christopher Katongo
International caps: 105
Current club: Green Buffaloes
Career path: Butondo, Kalulushi, Green Buffaloes, Jomo Cosmos, Brondby, Arminia Bielefeld, Skoda Xanthi, Henan Construction, Golden Arrows, Bivest Wits, Green Buffaloes
Christopher Katongo shared the Afcon Golden Boot with six other players in 2012 but came out on top to win the Player of the Tournament gong. That might be because his Zambia team won the competition, the only time they have tasted glory Afcon glory in their history.
In the same year, Katongo won the BBC African Player of the Year award while playing his club football in China, and the 36-year-old striker is still playing today back in Zambia.
2013: Jonathan Pitroipa
Nation: Burkina Faso
International caps: 75
Current club: Paris FC
Career path: Freiburg, Hamburg, Rennes, Al Jazira Club, Al-Nasr, Antwerp, Paris FC
Burkina Faso made it all the way to the final in 2013 only to lose to Nigeria. Jonathan Pitroipa scored the winning goal in the quarter-finals to shock Emmanuel Adebayor’s Togo in extra-time, but the winger was sent off in the semi-final. His country still managed to win but looked set to be without Pitroipa in the final.
However, his red card was overturned and he did line up against Nigeria. Burkina Faso fell at the final hurdle but Pitroipa was named Best Player and is still playing today in the French second division.
2015: Christian Atsu
International caps: 60
Current club: Newcastle
Career path: Porto, Rio Ave (loan), Chelsea, Vitesse (loan), Everton (loan), Bournemouth (loan), Malaga (loan), Newcastle
In between loan spells at Everton and Bournemouth, Chelsea youngster Christian Atsu helped Ghana reach the final of the 2015 Afcon. He scored twice in a 3-0 quarter-final victory against Guinea but could do nothing to stop Ivory Coast winning the final on penalties. One of those quarter-final goals was named the best of the tournament, so Atsu left Equatorial Guinea with two awards.
Now at Newcastle, the 27-year-old continues to represent Ghana but hasn’t scored for the Black Stars since 2016.
2017: Christian Bassogog
International caps: 21
Current club: Henan Jianye
Career path: Rainbow FC, Wilmington Hammerheads, AaB, Henan Jianye
A stoppage time goal in the semi-final was enough to earn Cameroon’s Christian Bassogog the Best Player award two years ago. Immediately after the tournament, which Cameroon won, AaB cashed in on the winger’s reputation boost by selling him to Chinese side Henan Jianye for a club record fee of around £5m.
Bassogog helped his country reach the 2019 Afcon with just his fourth international goal against Comoros in the qualifying campaign earlier this year. Current Cameroon boss Clarence Seedorf has named the 23-year-old in his final squad for the 2019 competition, but Bassogog is not among the favourites to win Player of the Tournament this time around.