Aina ranks Drogba ahead of Okocha, Kanu in his African Premier League GOATs

Nigeria international Ola Aina has ranked the greatest African footballers to ever play in the Premier League, surprisingly snubbing Super Eagles legends Nwankwo Kanu and Augustine Jay-Jay Okocha for the top spot.

The England-born footballer watched several Africans grace the Premier League with their talent but believes Didier Drogba is ahead of every other African player. Aina has just completed a successful season with Nottingham Forest, where he helped Nuno Espirito Santo’s side avoid relegation. Despite being blighted by injuries, the 27-year-old was an important player for Forest, having played 22 matches in the English top-flight.

The former Chelsea defender’s offensive statistics were nothing to write home about, as he contributed just one goal and one assist in the just-ended season, but Forest’s conservative style of play largely accounted for that as the team was usually on the back foot in their matches.

Ola Aina puts Drogba ahead of Okocha, Kanu in his African Premier League GOATs
Photo by Icon Sport

After helping Forest to finish six points clear of the relegation zone, Aina will now turn his attention to the upcoming 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, where Nigeria have tough fixtures against South Africa and Benin on 7 and 10 June respectively.

The full-back is part of a strong 23-man squad named by Super Eagles head coach Finidi George for the upcoming assignments and makes a return to the national team roster after missing the international friendlies against Ghana and Mali in March.

Ola Aina ranks African legends who played in the Premier League

Aina was a guest on the Premier League’s EA Sports FC Uncut show and took part in the blind rank game, where the host would pick an African legend and he would rank the selected players in order of the greatest players from the continent to ever play in the English top-flight.

Given options of one to five, the host mentioned Jay-Jay Okocha first and Aina placed the former Bolton Wanderers forward in number three. Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah followed and the Forest defender put the Egyptian at the bottom of his list at number five.

When the host picked former Manchester City star Yaya Toure, Aina opted to place the ex-Ivory Coast captain in number two. With two more spots left to fill (number one and four), the host gave Aina the option to pick either Nwankwo Kanu or Didier Drogba on his list. In a rather surprising turn of events, Aina put former Arsenal forward Kanu in number four and hurriedly went for Drogba as his greatest African to ever play in the Premier League.

“I’m putting Jay Jay Okocha at number three. Mohamed Salah at number five [and] I’ll put Yaya Toure at number two. I’m going to put Kanu at number four. Didier Drogba at number one and I would’ve put him at number one if he had come up first,” Aina said on the EA Sports Uncut show.

Aina’s admiration of Drogba probably stems from his time at Chelsea. The 27-year-old came through the Blues’ academy and was promoted to the first team in 2015. Like many of Chelsea’s academy graduates, Aina watched Drogba lead the West London outfit to several trophies, including the Premier League and the UEFA Champions League.

The defender is, therefore, more familiar with Drogba, who has been as a role model to many players who rose through Chelsea’s academy, while the fact that he was born in London could also have influenced his lack of affinity with Super Eagles legends Okocha and Kanu.  

How Okocha and Kanu fared in the Premier League

Okocha and Kanu both made their names in the Premier League in the 2000s. Kanu arrived at Arsenal from Inter Milan in 1999 and established himself as one of Arsene Wenger’s most trusted lieutenants. Despite being part of an array of stars at the club, the 47-year-old was a regular in the Frenchman's team.

Kanu spent five years with the Gunners and departed having made over 100 appearances. He also won two Premier League titles and two FA Cups and was part of Arsenal’s much-heralded Invincibles who won the league without tasting defeat in the 2003/24 season. The one-time AFCON winner and Olympic gold medallist also lined up for English sides West Bronwich Albion and Portsmouth before hanging his boots.  

Ola Aina puts Drogba ahead of Okocha, Kanu in his African Premier League GOATs
Photo by Icon Sport

For Okocha, his best years were spent in Germany, Turkey and France before he arrived at Bolton Wanderers in 2002. Still, he thrilled the Premier League’s fans with his magic and skills while scoring some of the most memorable goals in the English top-flight. Although he spent just four years in England, Okocha is widely regarded as one of the best African footballers to ever play in the Premier League.

Comparatively, though, Drogba, Yaya Toure and Salah have achieved more than the aforementioned Nigeria duo in recent years. Drogba had two stints with Chelsea and won the Premier League and FA Cup four times each. He also has three League Cups to his name and fired the Blues to Champions League glory in 2012. While Drogba never won the AFCON with Ivory Coast, his legacy in the Premier League remains on a high pedestal. The former striker’s compatriot Toure was also one of the players who originally started Manchester City’s rise as a force in England.

He joined the Cityzens from Barcelona in 2010 and by the time he left eight years later, he had won three Premier League titles, two FA Cups and two League Cups. Like Okocha, Toure also won the AFCON and was included in a 15-man shortlist to be inducted into the Premier League Hall of Fame last year.

Ola Aina puts Drogba ahead of Okocha, Kanu in his African Premier League GOATs
Photo by Icon Sport

Salah is the only player in Aina’s list who’s still active in the Premier League, and while the Nigeria international placed him at the bottom of his picks, the Liverpool forward is rated very highly by many.

Salah is currently the highest-scoring African player in the Premier League after overtaking Drogba in October 2023. He has also won everything with Liverpool, including the Premier League, FA Cup, Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup.

Football fans challenge Ola Aina’s ranking of Drogba ahead of others

Meanwhile, some football fans have challenged the order of Aina’s choices for the greatest African footballers to have played in the Premier League. The Forest defender’s decision to rank Drogba ahead of the others particularly divided opinion among those who commented beneath the video.

Facebook user Akinfolarin Kehinde wrote: “I disagree with this. This shouldn't be coming from a player. My number is one is Yaya Toure, 2 is Salah, 3 Drogba, 4 is Kanu and the last person is Okocha. That is it! Putting Drogba ahead of Yaya is a disgrace!”

Arvind Hickman also stated in the comments: “Salah is easily number one, but it’s subjective and of course he will pick his countrymen,” while Dramani Fatao opined that “Salah is better than all of them.”

Ola Aina puts Drogba ahead of Okocha, Kanu in his African Premier League GOATs
Photo by Icon Sport

Another user by the name of Teddy Idele said: “That’s his own preference, for me Salah is first. Judging based on trophies and goals, Salah has It All.” Meanwhile, Mido Badmus was rather bemused by Aina’s ranking of Salah at the bottom and fumed: “Salah 5th? You’re a disappointment to Nigeria as a nation I’m no Liverpool fan, but Salah is definitely top 2. He’s the greatest African to have ever played in the premiership to many.”

There were also some fans who backed Aina’s decision to place Drogba at the top of his list, with Chukwuzitere Zyte Orakwelu stating: “Drogba because he is a big game player. Kanu what he did at Arsenal and how he single-handedly dragged Portsmouth to the FA Cup title. Salah, Yaya Toure, Okocha [in that order].”

The Don Kolo Kuzo also said: “All these people that are putting Salah ahead of Drogba that he won Champions League and all that, then Mikel Obi should be ahead of Salah because Mikel has more trophies than Salah and Yaya Toure, including Kanu Nwankwo.” Mutwiri Elphas added in support of Aina’s choices: “Drogba’s PL performance was something else multiple PL champion compared to Salah's one-time champion.”

Aina ranks Drogba ahead of Okocha, Kanu in his African Premier League GOATs
Emmanuel Ayamga

Emmanuel Ayamga is a Ghanaian journalist with a little over five years of experience writing about African football.

His articles and features have been published in renowned news media like Pulse Ghana, The Guardian, DW, Al Jazeera and Sportskeeda. His bylines can also be found in the UK journals World Soccer Magazine and These Football Times.