Africa Cup of Nations: Bennacer dazzles, Ziyech disappoints on transfer stage
The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations ended with Algeria victorious but plenty of players helped or hurt their transfer prospects in the 2019-20 season. ESPN FC's Nick Ames picks out several who boosted or busted their chances of a big summer move.
Players whose value increased
Ismael Bennacer, MF, Empoli/Algeria
The Algerian midfielder was named AFCON's best player and few would seriously disagree. He was not flashy and made none of the headline contributions provided by the likes of Riyad Mahrez and Baghdad Bounedjah. But he performed with a maturity in midfield beyond his 21 years, rarely missing a beat and helping Djamel Belmadi's side become comfortably the smoothest, sleekest all-round unit in the tournament.
Bennacer joined Empoli from Arsenal in 2017 and has been outstanding since, shining in Serie A last term. Reports suggest the Gunners have a clause in their favour to re-sign him but instead it seems likely he will join AC Milan. Another one that got away in north London?
Marco Ilaimaharitra, MF, Sporting Charleroi/Madagascar
Madagascar were the tournament's surprise package and it would be little shock to see teams circling around the players who propelled them on their remarkable run to the quarterfinals. Many of them were, in fact, relatively old in football terms but the 23-year-old Ilaimaharitra will have caught a number of eyes. He missed their win over DR Congo through suspension but was otherwise a fluent, classy presence in midfield and scored an historic winner against Burundi in the group stage with a marvellous free-kick.
The French-born Ilaimaharitra started out at Sochaux and currently plays in Belgium for Charleroi, but a return to a top league could well be on the cards before long.
Youcef Belaili, FW, Esperance de Tunis/Algeria
It takes something to keep Yacine Brahimi out of Algeria's team but that's exactly what the 27-year-old Belaili, who plays in Tunisia for Esperance, achieved this summer. Belaili is an outstanding inside-forward who was tipped for great things earlier in his career but saw his momentum stall in 2015 when he was banned for two years after testing positive for cocaine. His re-emergence has been remarkable. Many believe him to be the country's most gifted player and his group stage winner against Senegal, allied to a series of energetic and creative performances, did little to dissuade those watching.
These are now the peak years of his career: will someone in Europe take a punt on showcasing his lavish talent to a wider audience?
- - Ames: Algeria's messy, but deserved, victory
- The good, bad and ugly of 2019's Africa Cup of Nations
- Africa Cup of Nations: All you need to know
Youssef En-Nesyri, FW, Leganes/Morocco
Morocco may have fallen unexpectedly flat but their 21-year-old striker, En-Nesyri, saw his stock rise during the month. He scored their winner against Ivory Coast with a fine finish and pounced to equalise against Benin too; he's a livewire who constantly gets himself into threatening positions and his form in Egypt came off the back of a promising La Liga season with Leganes.
A strapping figure at 6-foot-2 who moves well and can lead the line adroitly, he seems destined for bigger things sooner rather than later.
Players whose value dropped
Hakim Ziyech, FW, Ajax/Morocco
Ziyech is keen to leave Ajax this summer but his performances at AFCON may not have persuaded any suitors from England, Germany or Spain to cough up the £25 million it might take to get him. Had he not hit the post with a spot-kick in added time against Benin, Morocco would have reached the quarterfinals and perhaps built up the momentum to go all the way. But his calmness under pressure for that penalty was not the only concern.
He's a fantastic player to watch but his efficiency, particularly when shooting from range, is sometimes in doubt and his radar was off throughout the Cup of Nations. He took 16 shots across Morocco's four games, landing only four on target, and perhaps the kindest interpretation is that he had just come from a long, desperately hard domestic season.
Nicolas Pepe, FW, Lille/Ivory Coast
It looked as if this could be Pepe's tournament when, within moments of kicking off in Ivory Coast's opener against South Africa, he struck the woodwork with a sumptuous free-kick. He continued to cause trouble throughout that first half but his tournament slumped after that.
The prolific Lille star, sought by a clutch of Europe's top clubs, was on the bench by the time the Elephants' quarterfinal against Algeria came around, with Wilfried Zaha having hit form. He still looks likely to head to the Premier League this summer but supporters watching at AFCON for signs of what he might bring may have had to temper their expectations.
Christian Bassogog, FW, Henan Jianye/Cameroon
The Cameroon winger was the breakout star in 2017 but couldn't make a similar impact this time even if he flickered into life during spells of their round of 16 defeat to Nigeria. In a generally workmanlike side that struggled to adopt Clarence Seedorf's methods, plenty was expected of the man who helped dribble them to that surprise title two years ago. But he was largely kept quiet and there is unlikely to be a queue of clubs hoping to bring him back from China, where he represents Henan Jianye, on this evidence.
Thomas Partey, MF, Atletico Madrid/Ghana
The Ghana midfielder's reputation has grown steadily during his time at Atletico Madrid to the extent that Diego Simeone has said he is not for sale but but given the chance to be a dominant presence for his national team, he largely failed to step up at AFCON. Partey looked ponderous throughout, neither a slick presence on the ball nor a particularly imposing figure off it, and reflected a stale Ghana team that failed to inspire.
At 26 he will have a few more chances to put things right for the Black Stars but form like this will not cut it in La Liga or for any of the Premier League clubs who have reportedly shown an interest.