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Top 5 African players in Manchester United’s history

Manchester United
© Ace Football

Unlike some of their fellow Premier League giants, Manchester United do not have a long history of signing African players. Some of the club’s greatest legends have African roots, but none of them have represented an African nation at the senior level.

However, with Amad Diallo taking Old Trafford by storm in his first senior appearances, this might change in no time. The Ivorian starlet will have a few African names to look up to in United’s history. So, let’s take a look at the top African players to have played for the Red Devils.

5- Odion Ighalo 🇳🇬

Odion Ighalo, PSG
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Super Eagles legend John Obi Mikel was among the players who were very close to joining United in 2005. However, a lengthy transfer saga eventually saw the midfielder join Chelsea. This delayed United’s first Nigerian signing for 15 more years until they signed Odion Ighalo.

Ighalo joined the Red Devils on loan from the Chinese side Shanghai Shenhua in January 2020. Following a strong start at Old Trafford, the former Watford striker convinced the club to extend his signing until the next winter. Ighalo remained as a bench option for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, often playing in Cup games.

During his year-long loan spell, the Nigerian striker made 23 appearances for United, scoring five goals and providing an assist. He left United in January 2021 and moved to Al Shabab, where he won the Saudi Pro League Golden Boot.

4- Mame Biram Diouf 🇸🇳

Football fans recognize Diouf by his successful spell at Stoke City. However, years before joining Stoke, Diouf had attracted United’s interest by his brilliant performances at Norwegian side Molde.

United signed the Senegalese forward in the summer of 2009. Diouf remained on loan at Molde until December and then arrived at Old Trafford. He ultimately played nine games for United, scoring one goal and providing an assist. Diouf also played for the Red Devils’ U23 team, where he scored 11 goals in his 11 appearances.

However, his performance were not convincing enough to secure him a place in United’s squad. The club loaned Diouf out again, this time to Blackburn, before selling him permanently to Hanover.

3- Eric Bailly 🇨🇮

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United signed Bailly on a £30m transfer from Villarreal in 2016. The Ivorian defender found a slow start at the club due to his several injury setbacks. It took him five seasons to make 100 appearances for the Red Devils.

However, he has gradually improved his form since the start of the 2020-21 campaign, reigniting his long-lost spark. A few brilliant performances under Ralf Rangnick has earned Bailly more game time recently.

By the time of writing this article, Bailly has made 113 appearances for United. It remains to be seen whether his recent performances can secure his place in the Red Devils’ starting lineup.

2- Gary Bailey 🇿🇦

Baily grew up and spent most of his life in South Africa. The goalkeeper began his career at Johannesburg’s Wits University in 1976. Two years later, a successful trial at Manchester United secured Bailey a dream move to Old Trafford.

Bailey became United’s number one from 1978 to 1986, winning two FA Cups and an English Super Cup. He made 151 appearances for the Red Devils under Dave Sexton and Ron Atkinson, keeping 58 clean sheets.

The highlight of Bailey’s United career was his crucial save during the FA Cup final in 1983, which earned his side a replay. An injury in 1987 ended the goalkeeper’s days at United. He returned to South Africa, where he joined Kaizer City, before announcing his retirement shortly afterwards.

1- Quinton Fortune 🇿🇦

Another South African, Fortune, joined United after treble-winning 1998-99 campaign. His impressive performances at Atletico Madrid persuaded Sir Alex Ferguson to add him to his already star-studded backline.

Fortune’s great versatility turned him into a reliable backup option at Old Trafford. The South African played both as a wing-back and a central midfielder, but Ferguson even used him as a left-back at times

During his seven-year stay at Old Trafford, Fortune made 127 appearances for the Red Devils. He won three Premier League titles, an FA Cup, and two English Super Cup titles with the English giants. Upon his retirement in 2010, Fortune returned to United to work as a pundit for MUTV. He also worked as an assistant manager at the club’s U23 team for a short period.