It’s shaping up to be an incredible season for Muslim footballers in the Premier League. Paul Pogba became the world’s most expensive player when he signed for Manchester United this month, and joins a host of other talented Muslims who ply their trade in the top flight of English football.
Here’s 10 players who will be eager to impress in the 2016/17 season:
Now the world’s most expensive player at £89m, Paul Pogba returns to Manchester United from Juventus after leaving the for a mere 1.5m Euros in 2012. The 23-year-old was brought up by his devout Muslim Mother in a tough French estate in Roissy-en-Brie, and in June posted an Instagram picture of himself paying respects at a Paris Mosque during Ramadan.
Switzerland’s total of six registered Muslim players was the second highest as Euro 2016; beaten only by Turkey, who had eight. Among these players was Arsenal new-boy Grant Xhaka, who has signed from Borussia Monchengladbach for a fee in the region of £38m (who says Wenger never spends any money, eh?). At 23, Xhaka has already played for Switzerland 47 times, and his intelligent defensive midfield displays have seen him compared to Bastian Schweinsteiger by national team boss Ottmar Hitzfeld.
Prior to representing Germany at the Euro 2016 finals, Mesut Ozil made a pilgrimage to Islam’s holiest city, Mecca, and affirmed his faith by uploading an Instagram picture of himself in front of sacred Black Stone. The 27-year-old Arsenal midfielder, who recites the Quran before matches, will be hoping to reproduce the form that saw him win the club’s Player of the Season award last season.
The Ghana international was pictured in Muslim prayers with his brother, Jordan, in 2013. Then of French Ligue 1 side Marseille, Ayew has since completed a £20.5m move to West Ham after spending last season at Swansea, where he scored twelve goals in twenty-five appearances. The 26-year-old has been granted a four-year-deal, with the £20.5m fee making him West Ham’s record signing.
When pictures emerged of the Leicester City squad dressed as superheroes for their Christmas party in Copenhagen, there was one notable absence: Riyad Mahrez. Being a practising Muslim, Mahrez doesn’t drink, which wouldn’t have done the Algerian any harm in last season’s title winning season with Leicester City. Mahrez, 25, scored 17 Premier League goals last season, and was voted the PFA Player of the Year.
Angry Liverpool fans recently took to Twitter to put to rights a fellow supporter who claimed that a Muslim praying at Anfield was a ‘disgrace’. The said Twitter account was subsequently flooded with pictures of Emre Can praying on the pitch, along with messages of support for the German international. Still only 22, Can will be hoping to bring some silverware to Anfield in his third season at the club.
Following an horrendous knee injury in February, Zouma is now back in training with Chelsea and will be looking to pick up where he left off after impressing in the first half of last season. Zouma, whose middle name is ‘Happy’, revealed to Sport magazine in December 2015 that he is a devout Muslim, and spends a period before each game in quiet reflection. With Chelsea boss Antonio Conte favouring a three-at-the-back system, this could well be a breakthrough season for the 21-year-old [sic].
The Senegalese International midfielder recently entered the West Ham record books by scoring the first goal at the new London Stadium, helping them to qualify for the Europa League in the process. After 33 league appearances and five goals last season, Kouyaté will no doubt play a major role for the Hammers again in this campaign – his third for the club. In June 2015, Kouyaté posted a message on Twitter in 2015 wishing a happy Ramadan to all Muslims.
Another player who was part of the Switzerland Euro 2016 squad, Shaqiri scored one of the goals of the tournament with a stunning bicycle kick against Poland. Stoke City fans will be hoping to see goals of a similar ilk this season, and Shaqiri himself will want to improve on his disappointing tally of three goals last term. Although a devout Muslim (he can be seen praying during games), Shaqiri is also believed to celebrate Christmas.
Following a title winning campaign with Leicester and a Euro 2016 final appearance with France, the 20-year-old central midfielder will be looking to continue his success after recently signing for Chelsea. New Blues boss Antonio Conte has splashed out £30m for his services, and there is already talk that he is forming a strong midfield partnership with Nemanja Matic.