From Demba Ba to Habib Beye: The top 10 African footballers to play for Newcastle United

With the African Cup of Nations underway, Mark Carruthers provides his top 10 African footballers to play for Newcastle United.

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The African Cup of Nations got underway on Saturday as hosts Cameroon battled to a 2-1 win against Burkina Faso.

A whole host of Premier League stars are expected to shine over the coming month with the likes of Liverpool duo Mo Sarah and Sadio Mane, Manchester City winger Riyad Mahrez and Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy all set to feature for their respective countries.

Only three Premier League clubs are not represented during the tournament - Leeds United, Norwich City and Newcastle United.

However, St James Park has been home to a whole host of African stars during Newcastle’s time in the Premier League and several players have become popular figures with the St James Park faithful.

NewcastleWorld takes a look at the top ten African stars and the impact they made during their time on Tyneside.

Demba Ba (Senegal)

Ba’s departure from West Ham United prompted a race for his signature with the likes of Stoke City, Everton and Newcastle showing interest and it was the Magpies that snapped up the powerful frontman.

Despite concerns over a long-standing knee injury, Ba hit form with hat-tricks in wins against Blackburn Rovers and Stoke City forming part of a run consisting of 15 goals in 16 games.

The arrival of International team-mate Papiss Demba Cisse saw Alan Pardew reduce Ba to a supporting role at the top end of the pitch and although the goals dried up, his effectiveness and work-rate did not.

Ba hit the goals at the start of the 2012/13 season and ended the first half of the campaign with 13 goals in 23 games in all competitions.

That form attracted the attention of Chelsea, who opted to activate a £7.5m release clause in his contract to end his time on Tyneside.

Ba may not have longevity with Newcastle - but he departed with a record of 29 goals in 58 competitive games and left a whole host of memories behind him.

Cheick Tiote (Ivory Coast)

There are so many things to consider when discussing Cheik Tiote.  His immaculate debut in a 1-0 win at Everton, his performances alongside Yohan Cabaye during the 2011/12 season and an all-action style that endeared him to United supporters.

But in all honesty, first and foremost in any conversation on the Ivorian is THAT dramatic late equaliser that sealed the most remarkable comeback in Premier League history against Arsenal.

Alan Pardew’s men trailed 4-0 at half-time - but a brace of Joey Barton penalties and a Leon Best goal set St James Park alight.

With injury-time approaching, Tiote stood 25 yards from goal as a Barton free-kick was headed out to him and he crashed a volley goalwards and beyond Gunners keeper Wojciech Szczesny before setting off on a wild celebration that led to an iconic image of the midfielder facing the Leazes End and pointing skywards.

It was one moment in a seven-year stay on Tyneside - but it will live with every United supporter for the rest of their lives.

Tiote departed to join Chinese club Beijing Enterprises in 2017 but sadly passed away after suffering a cardiac arrest in training.  His passing was met by a chorus of tributes from Newcastle players, managers and supporters alike.

Shola Ameobi (Nigeria)

Born in Zaria, Ameobi moved to Tyneside at a young age and signed a pre-contract agreement with United’s academy after impressing with Walker Central Boys Club.

A memorable introduction to the first-team saw the young striker go face-to-chest with Chelsea midfielder Dennis Wise and his first start brought him out on the right side of a contest against a Leeds United defence containing Rio Ferdinand and Jonathan Woodgate.

Ameobi continued to provide support and competition to the likes of Alan Shearer and Craig Bellamy and provided a memorable moment when he scored at the Camp Nou in a Champions League tie against Barcelona.

His best moments came against Sunderland as he made a habit of finding the net against the Magpies local rivals - which earned him the nickname ‘The Mackem Slayer’.

Ameobi often divides opinion amongst Newcastle supporters - and continues to do so - but he continually played through injury when other strikers were out and played a significant role in helping the club bounce back from relegation at the first attempt in 2009.

Papiss Demba Cisse (Senegal)

There can’t be too many players that have enjoyed such an explosive introduction to life at Newcastle than Papiss Demba Cisse.

Moving to Tyneside from Freiburg in a deal worth over £9m, the Senegal striker sent a powerful shot beyond former Magpies keeper Shay Given after coming on as a substitute in a home win against Aston Villa.

It was a sign of things to come as Cisse ended his first half-season with a total of 13 goals in 14 games and they included some remarkable moments.

A brace in a 2-0 home win against Liverpool and a ludicrous dinked effort at Swansea City caught the eye - but a truly freakish goal at Chelsea truly stands out in a glorious catalogue of strikes.

After scoring with a neat touch and finish in the first-half, Cisse sealed with the win with a shot that looped, swerved and dipped into the net from the left-hand side of the Blues area.

Cisse never really got close to reach those levels in his remaining four seasons on Tyneside although still produced some truly stunning moments including a long-range volley against Southampton and a dramatic late winner in a Europa League tie against Anzhi Makhachkala.

Mo Diame (Senegal)

Another Senegalese International to wear the black and white, Diame was one of several signings identified by then-United boss Rafa Benitez to help the club bounce back from relegation in 2016.

Diame went on to score three goals in 37 appearances as Benitez’s side reclaimed their place in the Premier League at the first attempt - although the midfielder did not show his best form until the following season.

A driving force in midfield, his pace, power and underrated use of the ball saw him become a key part of United side that reestablished themselves in the top flight.

Diame departed the club at the same time as Benitez in the summer of 2019 and left with a record of eight goals in 103 games - with many United supporters fondly remembering a truly bizarre equaliser at Brighton during the promotion season as his stand-out effort.

The arrival of his former Hull City manager Steve Bruce as Benitez’s successor came too late to persuade Diame to extend his stay on Tyneside.

Obafemi Martins (Nigeria)

Martins was probably up against it from minute one after being handed the impossible task of replacing Magpies legend Alan Shearer.

The former Inter Milan striker took the number nine shirt after moving to Tyneside from the Serie A giants and caught the eye with an ability to do the unexpected.

A first goal came in a 2-0 win at West Ham in September 2006 and he claimed 17 goals in all competitions during his first season at St James Park as part of an unlikely strike partnership with free transfer signing Antoine Sibierski.

A thunderbolt of a long-range effort in a surprise win at Spurs providing the highlight of a promising first year.

Martins added a further ten goals to his record during his second season on Tyneside and enjoyed playing part of a Kevin Keegan-inspired forward trio alongside Mark Viduka and Michael Owen.

His third and final season with the club was disrupted by injury and the Nigerian international struggled to find form as a campaign ruined by three managerial changes and off-field chaos ended in relegation and Martins departure to Russian club Rubin Kazan.

He remains one of only two Premier League players to have scored a penalty with his right and left foot.

Habib Beye (Senegal)

The Senegal defender actually appeared against United for Marseille when the two sides met in a two-legged UEFA Cup semi-final in 2004 - but it would be a further three years before he became a Magpie.

Able to play at centre-back or right-back (mainly used in the latter with Newcastle), Beye made an impressive full debut in a 3-1 home win against West Ham United and went on to make 30 appearances during his maiden season at St James Park.

A first goal arrived in December of the same season as Beye stooped to head home a decisive late goal at the Gallowgate End in a 2-1 home win over Birmingham City.

Kevin Keegan’s January return to St James breathed new life into the United side and Beye was a beneficiary as he was allowed to play a significant role in attacks from a defensive positive.

However, Keegan’s controversial departure during Beye’s second season on Tyneside ended with relegation and the former Strasbourg defender departed to stay in the Premier League with Aston Villa.

He did make a return to St James when he was booed following an appearance as a late substitute for Villa as an Andy Carroll-inspired side romped to a 6-0 win on their first home game back in the top flight.

Lomana Lua Lua (DR Congo)

After shining with Colchester United, Lua Lua attracted the attention of several Premier League clubs - but the persuasive powers of Sir Bobby Robson and assistant manager Mick Wadsworth led to a £2.2m move to Tyneside in September 2002.

Unpredictable to say the least, Lua Lua’s pace and trickery always provided moments of excitement in a season that saw Robson’s squad decimated by injuries to key players.

He never really established himself as a regular starter but still managed to provide Magpies supporters with some memorable moments including an overhead kick in an Intertoto Cup tie against Lokeren and a double strike against West Ham United on the opening day of the 2002/03 season.

Lua Lua did also cause United a considerable headache - caused by themselves! - when he was allowed to join Portsmouth on loan as his frustrations over not being a regular part of Robson’s plans boiled over.

United, rather naively, chose not to insert a clause preventing Lua Lua playing against them later that season and he predictably grabbed an equaliser for his temporary employers in a 1-1 draw against the Magpies.

That left Robson furious as the goal played a part in preventing Newcastle qualifying for the Champions League - and led to the introduction of the role that prevents loan players facing their parent clubs.

Christian Atsu (Ghana)

After a series of loan moves with Vitesse Arnhem, Everton, Bournemouth and Malaga, Chelsea’s Ghanian winger Christian Atsu joined Newcastle on a season-long loan ahead of the 2016/17 season.

He proved to be a shrewd addition by Rafa Benitez as the tricky wideman scored five goals and provided three assists in 35 appearances as United returned to the Premier League.

Atsu’s stay on Tyneside was made permanent in May 2017 when he signed a four-year deal after United activated an option to buy the winger for £6.2m.

He made over 70 appearances across the following three seasons but departed the club at the end of last season after he was left watching on from the sidelines following Steve Bruce’s decision to leave him out of United’s 25-man Premier League squad.

Chancel Mbemba (DR Congo)

There were high hopes for DR Congo International Mbemba when he followed Anderlecht team-mate Aleksandar Mitrovic to Newcastle for a fee of around £7m in the summer of 2015.

At the age of just 20, the move perhaps came too early for the centre-back - but he did show some moments of quality during a challenging first season on Tyneside.

However, much like the rest of the United side during Steve McClaren’s short reign, he struggled to get to grips with life in the Premier League.

Mbemba was always a regular during that first year at St James Park and continued to be relied on by McClaren’s successor Rafa Benitez as the Spaniard failed to keep United in the Premier League.

However, Benitez limited Mbemba’s involvement during the club’s successful bid for a return to the top tier - although the defender did score his first and only goal for United in the final day win over Barnsley that secured the Championship title.

Mbemba made just nine more appearances for the club before departing to join Portuguese giants Porto for a fee of around £7m ahead of the 2018/19 season.

The defender has enjoyed life in the Primeira Liga and scored both goals as his side beat arch-rivals Benfica in the Taça de Portugal Final in August 2020.