African Presence in the 2017 Champions League Final
Looking back at the history of the Champions League, only a handful of Africans have been unlucky enough to reach the finals and end up on the losing side. Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure are two of the prominent ones who have lost the final & never won it again, joining this unlucky group are three players all of whom featured for Juventus in the recently concluded competition. In this piece of a write-up, we will be looking at the careers of all the three aforementioned players and if they’ll be able to add the coveted championship sometime in the future.
Youngest of the three & the only one to actually feature in the final, 23-year-old Mario Lemina has been compared to the likes of Paul Pogba and Abou Diaby but has yet to fully convince his peers of his talent. Unearthed by French club FC Lorient at the age of 11, Lemina only started grabbing attention after he joined French giants, Marseille during the 2013/14 season. With the former French Champions, the 19-year-old quickly established himself as a versatile box to box midfielder whose equally capable as a central defensive midfielder and a right-back.
After a highly successful 2014/15 season with the French giants, Lemina was brought in on loan to Juventus, a move which was made permanent the following summer. Though his time with the Juventus has not personally been an idle one due to the lack of game-time, in total Lemina made 29 appearances for Juve across all competitions last season but only in 8 of those did he start the game. Even during the 2017 Champions League final, Lemina was brought on only during the 78th minute when the game had pretty much run away.
Despite his limited starts for the club, Lemina has been consistent whenever given the opportunity. Arguably, his best game for the club last season came in a Champions League group stage tie against Dinamo Zagreb where he absolutely bossed the midfield. At 23, Lemina has plenty of time ahead of him and with several Premier League clubs reportedly interested in signing him, the Gabon may soon add the Champions League title to his ever-going collection of silverware.
As the captain of the Moroccan National Side, Medhi Benatia has long been rated as one of the best defenders in the game. Having begun his professional career with Marseille at the age of 18, Benatia has never truly had an opportunity to prove his worth with any of the clubs he has been with. Whether it be Bayern or now Juventus for that matter, Benatia has slipped down the ranks as a backup central defender due to variety reasons which include injuries and international commitments.
Having joined Juventus on loan at the start of the 2016/17 season, Benatia could only manage a total of 21 appearances for the club last season, most of which came as a substitute. Despite getting a starting berth early on in the season, a series of minor injuries and the subsequent 2017 AFCON Championships pushed him down the ladder. Coming back to the talent at hand, Benatia has all the qualities of a solid centre-back – Strong in the air, Deadly during set-piece situations and strong passing ability.
Despite his limited appearances for Juve thus far, the club did see enough effort from the Moroccan captain to sign him on a permanent deal till 2020. However, with Bonucci & Chiellini higher up in the pecking order and youngsters Rugani and Caldara pushing up the ladder, it has to be seen whether Benatia can stake a claim for a permanent berth in the side.
For a player who is in the prime of his career, Kwado Asamoah’s career has come to screeching halt over the last couple of seasons. Having had an instant impact at Juve following his move from Udinese in 2012, Asamoah has been largely sidelined over the last three seasons mainly due to a series of career threatening injuries. Despite being available for a large part of the last season, Asamoah has been used more often than not as a back-up to Alex Sandro on the left-flank.
In the 24 appearances he made for Juventus last season, 20 of them were as a starter and despite putting in commanding performances he has often been sidelined during the big games, a fate which he endured during the Champions League defeat against Real. Looking at the positives, Asamoah still has time on his hands but will need to move away from the Italian giants to establish his own career. There is no doubt that the Ghanian international is one of the best talents the country has produced but it’s time for him to prove his title.
 Standard.co.uk, Arsenal and Watford Chase Mario Lemina’s signing