BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
It is 20 years since a Nigerian last won the African Footballer of the Year award. The last Nigerian recipient was the legend, Nwankwo Kanu who was decorated on the opening match day in Lagos at the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations for his exploits in 1999.
When the final shortlist was released on New Year Day, the sole Nigerian candidate in the top 10, Alex Iwobi, crashed out. Nigerians can only look forward to next year to find out if any of the country’s footballers can win the award.
Yet in the first eight years of the CAF organised award, Nigerians dominated, winning five times, while five other Nigerian players made the final cut of three in other years of the early period.
Ever since 1999, Nigeria’s best outings were the runners-up position by Mikel Obi in 2013 and the second-runners up ranking of Vincent Enyeama in 2014.
Another edition of the award holds tomorrow on the slave-trade island of Gorée, two kilometres off the Atlantic Ocean coast of Dakar the capital city of Senegal.
When a shortlist of 34 was initially composed, there were three Nigerians – Alex Iwobi, Ahmed Musa and Odion Ighalo.
When the list was pruned to 10, speedy striker, Ahmed Musa and current highest goal scorer in the qualifying series for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, qualifying series, Odion Ighalo did not make the cut.
Iwobi, a nephew to the legendary Austin Jay Jay Okocha, had a mountain to climb among the penultimate 10 before last week’s final shortlist. It was a heavyweight composition, hence he could not make it to the last three like his uncle, Austin Jay Jay Okocha did some years ago.
Despite his acclaimed fame and admiration, Okocha never won the title as he agonizingly missed out in 1998, 2003 and 2004. Incidentally, those were the eras when Nigerian footballers made waves across the globe.
When Victor Ikpeba won the 1997 award, Nigeria’s Taribo West, then featuring for Inter Milan was the second runner up.
In 1998 when Okocha lost the award to Morocco’s Mustapha Hadji, Sunday Oliseh, then playing for Ajax Amsterdam.
The African Footballer of the Year Award has a long history as it was initially done by French publication, FranceFootball magazine in the 1970s. Expectedly, the award skewed in favour of players from the Francophone countries who were the main focus of the magazine.
In 1980, with the assistance from the late Bashorun MKO Abiola, the then African Sports Journalists Union (ASJU), now simply AIPS-Africa, initiated its awards ceremony that were held in irregular intervals and often adopt the results released by FranceFootball,
In 1992, CAF started its official awards. At the early stage, Nigerian dominated. Even though Abedi ‘Pele’ Ayew of Ghana won that of 1992, the next years saw a preponderance of Nigerians.
Rashidi Yekini won that of 1993 while Emmanuel Amuneke beat Liberia’s George Weah to win that of 1994 and Yekini emerged as the second runners-up.
George Weah won that of 1995, but had two Nigerians as runners-up – Emmanuel Amuneke and Daniel Amokachi.
Nwankwo Kanu beat George Weah to the award in 1996 while Daniel Amokachi was the second runners-up.
Iwobi could see his club mate and former winner, Gabon’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang emerging as winner again. He won in 2015.
Apart from Arsenal as a common denominator for both, they also have Gernot Rohr as a coach both have passed through.
Rohr handled Gabon to the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations and had Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as one of his players. Iwobi is one of Rohr’s key players in the Super Eagles.
Also, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s father, Pierre-François Aubameyang who had 80 international caps, was in the Gabonese team beaten 3-0 by Super Eagles at the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia.
In a final shortlist that is a replication of that of 2017, Aubameyang have Egypt’s Mohamed Salah and Senegal’s Sadio Mane to contend with. The Egyptian was two weeks ago named as BBC’s African Footballer of the Year 2018.
If past trend is anything to go by, CAF Award may just re-echo the award result of BBC.
Those who fell out along with Iwobi in the final shortlist are Andre Onana (Cameroon & Ajax), Anis Badri (Tunisia & Esperance), Denis Onyango (Uganda & Mamelodi Sundowns) and Mehdi Benatia (Morocco & Juventus).
others are: Riyad Mahrez (Algeria & Manchester City) and Walid Soliman
(Egypt & Ahly).
The final phase will involve votes from CAF Media Experts, Legends, Coaches of the quarter-finalists of the CAF Champions League and CAF Confederation Cup, and Coaches & Captains of the 54 Member Associations.
With Iwobi out of contention for the topmost award, there are other Nigerians who hope to begin 2019 with accolades. Asisat Oshoala is hoping to win the women’s version of the African Footballer of the Year. She is the reigning queen of the pitch. Contending with Oshoala are two other Nigerians; Francisca Ordega and Onome Ebi.
Nigeria still eyes awards in other categories. Super Eagles’ Wilfred Ndidi who features for Leicester City in the English Premiership is in line for the Youth Player of the Year Award. His challengers are Achraf Hakimi of Morocco and Borussia Dortmund as well as Franck Kessie of Cote d’Ivoire and AC Milan.
Nine time African champions, Super Falcons are shortlisted along with Cameroon and South Africa for the Women’s National Team of the Year Award.
The three teams will be at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France next year. Nigeria beat the other two countries via penalty shoot-out in the semi finals and final respectively of the CAF Women’s Nations Cup in Ghana.
The coaches of the three women’s teams are also in line for the Women’s Coach of the Year Award. For the Men’s National team of the Year, the big teams are glaringly absent. The shortlisted are Madagascar, Mauritania and Uganda.
Madagascar, the home country for CAF president, Ahmad, got into reckoning by becoming the first team to qualify for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. The team will make a debut at the competition which venue remains undecided.
Hard playing Uganda qualified back-to-back for the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time since their 1976 and 1978 qualifications.
Mauritania is another surprise qualifier for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, profiting from the disqualification of Sierra Leone. Like Madagascar, Mauritania will be debuting at 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
SHORTLIST FOR AFRICAN FOOTBALLER OF THE YEAR 2018
- Mohamed Salah (Egypt & Liverpool)
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon & Arsenal)
- Sadio Mane (Senegal & Liverpool)
Women’s Player of the Year Nominees
- Asisat Oshoala (Nigeria & Dilian Quanjian)
- Chrestinah Thembi Kgatlana (South Africa & Houston Dash)
- Francisca Ordega (Nigeria & Washington Spirit)
Youth Player of the Year
1. Achraf Hakimi (Morocco & Borussia Dortmund)
2. Franck Kessie (Cote d’Ivoire & AC Milan)
3. Wilfred Ndidi (Nigeria & Leicester City)
Men’s Coach of the Year
1. Aliou Cisse (Senegal)
2. Herve Renard (Morocco)
3. Moine Chaabani (Esperance)
Women’s Coach of the Year
1. Desiree Ellis (South Africa)
2. Joseph Brian Ndoko (Cameroon)
3. Thomas Dennerby (Nigeria)
Men’s National Team of the Year
Women’s National Team of the Year
3. South Africa