Anderlecht: While Henry Onyekuru has been sent back to the Jupiler League after leaving Eupen for Everton this summer, the Nigeria international will still be aware that he has to take a significant step up after being loaned out to Belgian giants Anderlecht. He demonstrated his goalscoring quality last term, and should relish the prospect of a Champions League campaign. Can he demonstrate enough class and consistency to prove his worth to Ronald Koeman? Anderlecht can also call upon Kara Mbodji, Dennis Appiah, Silvere Ganvoula, Emmanuel Sowah Adjei and skipper Sofiane Hanni.
Club Brugge parted with approximately £4 million last month to sign Zimbabwe midfielder Marvelous Nakamba from Vitesse Arnhem. He’s the kind of player with the talent to transform last season’s also-rans into champions, particularly if he remains the tenacity he demonstrated in the Eredivisie, where he was in the top five in the division for tackles per match. Nakamba will support the likes of Abdoulay Diaby, Tony Limbombe and new signing Dennis Bonaventure.
Zulte Waregem: Last year, Captain Mbaye Leye was one of the revelations of the division as he netted 16 goals to finish fourth in the top scorer charts. His efforts were influential as Zulte finished third, and ultimately secured a spot in the Europa League. This term, he’ll be supported by Congolese duo Nill De Pauw and Aaron Leya Iseka. Marvin Baudry, a Congo-Brazzaville defender, is also on the club’s books, while Nigerian trio Kingsley Madu, Peter Olayinka and Aliko Bala may all be hoping that a big season could see them make the Super Eagles’ World Cup squad.
Gent: While Onyekuru secured a switch to Everton, and Frank Acheampong left Anderlecht on loan for Tianjin TEDA, it remains to be seen whether the Jupiler League’s third outstanding African wideman—Moses Simon—will also leave the division. He’s been linked with Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Brighton, and has been in fine form in pre-season. He’s joined at Gent by compatriots Samuel Kalu and Anderson Esiti, as well as Ghana’s Nana Asare. Mamadou Sylla and Kalifa Coulibaly also featured in the Europa League qualifying draw with Altach.
Oostende: Andile Jali endured a season to forget last year as he found himself out of the side and allowed his fitness to deteriorate while on the sidelines. He appears to be back in the first-team plans this season, having featured in a friendly against LOSC Lille and in the Europa League qualifying defeat by Marseille in midweek, and a partnership with Cameroon’s Afcon winner Sebastien Siani has great potential. Knowledge Musona is a key threat on the left, while Nigeria’s Joseph Akpala may still harbour hopes of an international recall.
Mechelen: One of last season’s overachievers, Mechelen might have their work cut out to repeat that feat this term. However, Yannick Ferrera has introduced several new African faces to his squad, with Moroccan duo Ahmed El Messaoudi and Faycal Rherras arriving alongside Congolese wideman Andy Kawaya and Hassane Bande of Burkina Faso.
Charleroi: Clinton Mata is one of the better right-backs in the league and one of the finest Africans in his position, even if he doesn’t always get the credit that he deserves. A magnificent strike against Oostende last season made the headlines, but it’s his consistent play down the right that’s attracted the attention of Anderlecht ahead of a potential move. Christophe Diandy of Senegal marshals the centre of the park, while Ivorian Chris Bedia leads the line. Watch out for left-siders Dodi Lukebakio and the beautifully named Amara Baby. Goalkeeper Parfait Mandanda is the brother of Marseille’s Steve.
Genk: Mbwana Samatta should head into this season fuelled with optimism after shining in a preseason friendly against Everton ahead of the campaign. The Tanzania superstar caused trouble for Toffees new boy Michael Keane throughout the bout, and also cancelled out Wayne Rooney’s opener with a sweetly dispatched effort. He struggled to maintain his early fine form last term, but will look to compete for the Ebony Shoe this time around. Omar Colley delivered several fine performances in the Europa League last term, and will be stronger for the experience.
Standard Liege will be hoping that their cabal of continental stars can help them improve on last term’s mid-table finish. Ishak Belfodil is among the finest African players in the division, and after netting 14 goals last term, he’ll be hoping to again feature among the top scorers in the league this season. In truth, the 25-year-old—who wears number 99—has never quite lived up to the promise he showed at Lyon and Internazionale. Paul-Jose Mpoku and Mathieu Dossevi are great assets, as is Watford loanee Uche Henry Agbo. Afcon-winner Collins Fai will start in defence.
Kortrijk: Having lost last season’s top scorer – Algerian Idriss Saadi – to Strasbourg, Kortrijk will be looking at the rest of their squad to contribute more going forward. One option could be Nigerian forward Abdul Ajagun, who signed permanently from Panathinaikos earlier this month after falling out of favour with the Greek giants. He’ll be supported by Congolese wideman Herve Kage and Ghana veteran Bennard Kumordzi. Algerian attacker Idir Ouali struggled to impress last term.
Lokeren: After a decade with the club, Ivorian goalkeeper Copa Barry has retired, with the 2009 Goalkeeper of the Year in Belgium a big loss for the mid-table side. Algerian duo Mehdi Terki and Samy Kehli are talented attacking midfield options, while Joher Khadim Rassoul of Senegal will perform less glamorous duties in the middle of the park. Keep an eye out for 22-year-old Ghanaian Eugene Ansah.
Sint-Truiden can call upon a clutch of African strikers who will be charged with ensuring that coach Tintin Marquez enjoys some success in his maiden campaign. Charlton Athletic loanee Igor Vetokele of Angola is the star man, and he’ll be surrounded by Congolese international Jordan Botaka, Yohan Boli, Babacar Gueye and South Africa’s Kurt Abrahams.
Eupen struggled against some of the division’s bigger dogs last season, but their limitations cannot be laid at the door of Senegal’s Mamadou Sylla. The former Espanyol forward contributed eight assists – the joint-seventh most in the division – and struck up an excellent relationship with the departed Onyekuru. On-loan Moroccan Hamza Sanhaji, Ghana’s Eric Ocansey and Odeni George of Nigeria will be some of the players vying to replace the Everton new boy.
Waasland-Beveren: Club captain Ibrahima Seck of Senegal is one of the African players charged with ensuring that the East Flanders side enjoy a more successful season this time around after finishing last term just seven points above bottom. The defensive midfielder featured for the Lions of Teranga at the 2012 London Olympics, and arrived from Auxerre last year after learning his trade in the French lower leagues. He’ll be supported by Angolan defender Jonathan Buatu Mananga, Ivorian Victorien Angban (on loan from Chelsea), Nana Opoku Ampomah, Zinho Gano and Cherif Ndiaye.
Mouscron: Once upon a time, Fabrice Olinga was tipped to be Cameroon’s long-term successor to Samuel Eto’o and was even tipped for a move to Chelsea in early 2015. Now 21, the former Malaga man finds himself at Mouscron–who finished one position above the drop zone last term—and with much to prove if he’s to force his way back into the Indomitable Lions’ set up. Jonathan Bolingi arrives on loan from Standard to lead the line.
Royal Antwerp have potentially pulled off a major coup in the transfer market after recruiting Obbi Oulare on loan from Watford. The hitman has struggled to assert himself in the Premier League, but there are reasons why the club paid £6 million for the son of former Guinea international Souleymane Oulare. Could he prove his worth this time? The new boys can also call upon Isaac Kone, William Owusu, Fabien Camus, Zout, Mamoutou N’Diaye and Moustaphe Sall.