Football is a game that excels anywhere across the globe particularly in regions influenced by major football powers. For those living in Cape Verde, the game has excelled due to the large Portuguese influence found across the islands. It’s why this island nation just off the African coast has punched well-above their weight down the years. Since their first match in 1978, The Blue Sharks have grown tremendously in stature against other African nations. With a highest FIFA Ranking of 27 in 2014 as well as reaching the last eight of the African Cup of Nations, they are a team that are not to be underestimated. With many players having shone across many top European leagues, Cape Verde are always a good source for unearthing new talents. But who are the greatest Cape Verdean players of all time?
Stopira’s career may not have been one full of highlights but the energetic left-back has given his all no matter where he has played. Known of quick bursts of pace, Stopira could easily travel up and down the touchline without ever running out of steam. Despite having brief moments in both Portugal and Spain, it wouldn’t be until reaching Hungary where he came into his own. After joining NB I side Fehervar in 2012, Stopira became a regular helping the Hungarian side fight for honours for over a decade. Stopira’s form has seen him become ever-present in Hungarian football having played there for over a decade notching up over 250 appearances for Fehervar. On top of this, Stopira has also been to all three African Cup of Nations tournament that Cape Verde has appeared in making a defensive cornerstone for both club and country.
There are few Cape Verdean players who are as well travelled as Djaniny. The tall striker developed a global reputation for using his pace and height to score goals whenever he got the chance. After failing to settle in Portuguese football, Djaniny moved to Mexico in 2014 where his career really took off. Joining Santos Laguna in 2014, Djaniny took Liga MX by storm with defences unable to cope with his power. He proved this in the 2018 season scoring 20 goals in 37 games helping his side win the league title – also finishing as the league’s top scorer. This brought a big money move to Al Ahli in Saudi Arabia where he would slam home 20 goals in his debut season. This saw Djaniny claim the Saudi Player of the Month award in 2019. Another move to Turkey in 2020 with Trabzonspor saw more success for Djaniny. His 10 goal haul in the 2021-22 Super Lig campaign helped Trabzonspor win the Turkish league title adding more silverware to his career. A glittering career for a player who has starred in no less than 3 continents.
Despite being born and raised in The Netherlands, Garry Rodrigues always had his heart set on representing Cape Verde. The tricky winger could be deployed on either flank and had plenty of pace and tricks to confuse defences. It was this form that has seen Rodrigues regularly shine for major European sides such as Olympiakos, PAOK and Galatasaray. Rodrigues’ major breakthrough came with Greek side PAOK in 2015 being a major star whilst fighting for the Greek title earning a nomination in the 2015-16 Greek Superleague Team of the Year. This brought a move to Turkey with Galatasaray where he would score 5 goals and provide 8 assists during their 2017-18 Super Lig title win. This once again saw Rodrigues earn a nomination in the Super Lig Team of the Year underlining his hot form. This also shone through with the national side as he regularly shone at both the 2015 and 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.
For many, Ze Luis has been the leading light for Cape Verdean football for the modern generation. His pace and eye for goal has seen the striker evolve into a predatory forward who could torment sides at the highest level. After struggling for form with Braga, it would be a move to Russian side Spartak Moscow that saw his career really take off. Nailing a regular sport with Spartak, Luis was always amongst the goals scoring 8 times in Spartak’s 2016-17 title win. His form would continue scoring 14 goals in the 2018-19 season seeing the striker earn two Russian Premier League Team of the Season nominations during his time in Moscow. This hot form bought a move back to Portugal with Porto where he once again shone with the Portuguese giants. He cemented his talents winning the 2019-20 Primeira Liga title and being named Player of the Month in August 2019. Since then, he has enjoyed spells with both Lokomotiv Moscow and Turkish side Hatayspor highlighting the demand for his services across European football.
A versatile player in any attacking role, Heldon was a star that shone brightly for both club and country. Able to be deployed as a winger, attacking midfielder or even a striker, Heldon could make chances when it didn’t seem possible. During his club career, Heldon starred for several Portuguese sides including for Sporting Lisbon from 2014-2018. After this, he also enjoyed a fruitful spell in Saudi Arabia with Al-Taawoun scoring 17 times in 52 games. Heldon also was the main star for the Cape Verde national side. He played a pivotal role in Cape Verde reaching the quarter finals of the 2013 African Cup of Nations scoring the vital goal that sent his nation into the last eight at the expense of Angola. Over his international career, he scored 15 times in 52 caps making him the record goalscorer for his nation.