South Africa has is one of Africa’s leading footballing nations, something that has been reflected in the number of South African footballers to make their mark in the Premier League. Over the past 30 years, many of South Africa’s finest have enjoyed spells in the Premier League to varying degrees of success. Some players have gone on to enjoy cult following whilst others have stayed in the game to give back to what led to a successful career. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the best South African football players in Premier League history.
Best South African footballers in the Premier League
Lucas Radebe (Leeds)
Few foreign imports are as fondly remembered at Elland Road as Lucas Radebe. The dedicated centre-back joined Leeds in 1994 from his hometown club Kaizer Chiefs and stayed there for well over a decade, notching up 201 appearances altogether. Whilst he never scored a league goal, his defensive prowess was unrivalled by many in the league.
A solid presence in the back four, his calmness and timing was impeccable thwarting many of the best strikers in world football. His consistency led him to become such an iconic figure that it was his move which inspired Leeds homegrown rock stars The Kaiser Chiefs to name their band after his former club. What a lasting legacy for one of the best and most notable South African footballers the league has seen.
Mark Fish (Bolton Wanderers, Charlton Athletic)
Mark Fish might not be a familiar name to many modern football fans but the midfielder was as a reliable presence as a team could need in the middle of the park and warrants a place on our list of South African football players. A player capable of playing in defence or midfield, Fish was ever-present for the likes of Bolton and Charlton during his time in English football.
With over 200 Premier League appearances, Fish often helped his sides stave off relegation threats and put up dogged fights until the very end of a season. A tireless and hardworking player who never stop pushing to keep his team in the game.
Steven Pienaar (Everton, Tottenham, Sunderland)
Steven Pienaar was a heavily touted prospect when he joined Everton in 2007 having impressed in Europe for both Ajax and Borussia Dortmund. His form translated well to the English game with his pace and trickery helping provide Everton with an explosive option on either wing.
Whilst a short move to White Hart Late proved disappointing, a second stint with Everton reminded everyone of what he was capable of. His best return of 6 goals in the 2012-13 season helped The Toffees to a top 6 six finish whilst his consistent output in the 2009-10 season earned him Everton’s Player of the Season award. A class act all around who realized much of his true potential and is arguably the best player of all the South African footballers to play in the Premier League.
Quinton Fortune (Manchester United, Bolton Wanderers)
Part of the classic Manchester United outfit at the turn of the century, Quinton Fortune was often an unheralded part of Alex Ferguson’s squad. Joining from Atletico Madrid in 1999, Fortune battled to feature in a midfield lined with United legends such as Paul Scholes and Roy Keane.
He deputized well for them often helping press moves forward and showcased excellent link-up play. It was because of this that Fortune won 3 league titles with United as well as the 1999 Intercontinental Cup. He would later return to English football and indeed Old Trafford as part of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s coaching lineup in 2019 before leaving for Reading to become a First Team coach in 2021.
Benni McCarthy (Blackburn Rovers, West Ham)
In the early 2000s, Benni McCarthy was seen as one of the leading strikers in Europe banging in multiple goals for Porto year after year. It was a surprise then when the South African talisman ditched Portugal to move to Blackburn Rovers in 2006 and add his name to our list of South African football players, although it was a masterstroke for Rovers.
McCarthy’s pace and finishing ability was too hot to handle in an extremely impressive debut season scoring 18 goals in 36 games outscoring the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney that year. Whilst Didier Drogba denied him the Golden Boot, McCarthy continued to show his blistering form scoring 10 goals in the 2008/09 season to help keep Blackburn up.
A move to West Ham a year later was far from fruitful with McCarthy leaving London after just one year to join South African side Orlando Pirates. McCarthy briefly returned to Europe with coaching spells in Scotland and Belgium but his goalscoring form for Blackburn and Porto showcased that he was a deadly striker no matter where he played.
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