Football without superstars is like tea without sugar, like bread without butter or beans without dodo (fried plantain).
We are in the season of celebrating the super stars, the players whose lights have shone brightest in the football constellation.
Next January, the Confederation of African Football, CAF, will elect its winner of the prestigious African Footballer of the Year Award for 2014.
The event has become very significant for the players, because it shoots their status and profiles sky high, onto a new pedestal of respect and prospect of additional fortunes!
In the final list of five players for the 2014 award there are a few surprise inclusions. The first is Vincent Enyeama.
It is not common to find goalkeepers listed for the African award. If it were not so, there is no reason why he should not have been listed, or have even won the award in 2013. Easily, his stellar performances in the French league for Lille FC, and for Nigeria in the African Cup of Nations, earned him more than enough credit to merit an indisputable place amongst Africa’s best players.
The belated observation made by a few of us who commented on his omission last year, may have precipitated and ignited the present attention on him (and possibly other goalkeepers in the next few years).
Goalkeepers occasionally used to be part of the selection process. Unfortunately, it’s been a long time since the last nomination or election. Before Vincent’s present nomination the last goalkeeper to be listed (and he did not win it even then) was Antoine Bell of Cameroon in 1989.
Before him there were Badou Zaki of Morocco in 1986 (winner), Thomas Nkono of the Cameroon in 1979 and 1981 (winner) and Ahmed Faras of Morocco (winner) in 1975.
Emmanuel Okala was the only Nigerian goalkeeper to be awarded an African Best Player of the Year award by the African Sports Journalists Union, ASJU, sometime in the early 1970s when the body briefly took over the organization of the award but was not sustained.
Emmanuel’s award, the trophy still hung on a shelf in his sitting room in Enugu, is, therefore, not recorded as part of the generally accepted African best footballer award.
The good thing is that Vincent’s nomination may have reawakened and redirected more critical look-in at the performances of African goalkeepers often overshadowed by the on-field players, mostly strikers or midfielders, where goal-scoring rate is much higher in the consciousness and consideration of those making the selection.
That may also explain why ALL of the players that have won the award since inception (except for the goalkeepers) have been goal scorers (strikers or attacking midfielders). No defender has ever won the award despite the whole army of absolutely brilliant defenders in the continent’s history! Vincent’s nomination could precipitate an attitudinal re-alignment and change!
The other surprise nominee is Gabon’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Pierre-Emerick, I believe, has been one of the most underrated African players in Europe. He has been around the football circuit in Europe ‘quietly’ plying his trade and honing his goal-scoring skills and instincts.
Joining Borussia Dortmund FC last season has changed not only his profile but also the quality of his football, providing him the platform to showcase his immense striking prowess and nose for goals.This past year, particularly, he has matured into one of the deadliest strikers from Africa, playing in the Bundesliga and European Champions League.
His speed, pace and deadliness in front of goal have been phenomenal. Playing for one of Europe’s best teams along side some of the world’s top players has surely sharpened the added edge to his game these days. He is attracting raving reports plus a lot of attention, respect and accolades to himself.
Coming from a small African country that does not win anything in the continent surely has reduced his direct impact in Africa, but since such hardly came into consideration as in the cases of George Weah in 1995 and Frederic Kanoute in 2007, it would not surprise me if, purely on the strength of present performance, he is acknowledged in a year that few Africans have really been exceptional.
Surely, in terms of ability and his contribution to the ongoing success of his Borussia Dortmund club, week in week out, he stands shoulder to shoulder with any of others in the five-man CAF nominees list.
Ahmed Musa is also another surprise inclusion.
He is a regular in CSKA Moscow FC. He is one of the fastest footballers in the world with the uncanny ability to out sprint any defender. His finishing and crosses could be inconsistent and that has often reduced his overall impact. His performances for Nigeria during the 2014 World Cup and during the AFCON 2015 qualifiers stood him out as one of the more consistent strikers in a field of erratic strikers in the Nigerian team.
His goals (two against Argentina during the 2014 World Cup and another during the recent AFCON 2015 qualifiers), registered him firmly in the minds of the public. The goals were such beauties that I believe they are a major consideration in his nomination. His chances of winning the 2014 African award are slim considering that the next two players in the list may be just ahead of him in terms of impacting their club and country.
Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan could have won the African Best Player award if he had not been playing his football in the same era as Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o and Yaya Toure. One after the other, these three players have completely dominated the African football scene in the past decade.
You must be exceptionally gifted to break their monopoly of the title. That’s the reason why even extra-ordinarily gifted players like Austin Okocha and Michael Essien did not win it.
Asamoah Gyan has resurfaced again in the list, even as he has moved in the past three seasons to establish himself as one of the best players ever in Asian football history. But Asia is not Europe.
To play in a completely obscure league for a completely unknown club called Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates, does not help his cause to become Africa’s best player.
However, some people think he played some of his best football during the 2014 World Cup, scoring two goals and becoming the African player with the highest number of goals in the history of the World Cup, one goal ahead of legendary Roger Milla.
The only reason Asamoah can win the award this time would be because selectors may already be developing Yaya Toure fatigue!
Yaya Toure has been so dominant in the midfield where he plays for his club and for his country that it will surprise no one should he get the award for the fourth consecutive time. Without question he is the most gifted African player of this generation – tall, powerful, elegant, graceful, skillful, deceptively quick, technically proficient, and masterful on the ball.
He is the only African player in FIFA’s list of the world’s best 20 players in 2014!
This season he has not played quite up to the level of the previous season but he is still dominating every midfield, dictating and controlling play, and delivering deadly ‘poison’ of goals whenever he finds himself in the periphery of opposing goals! Except that CAF may sentimentally want a new face to adorn the award and to break the monotony of another Yaya Toure victory, he is favoured, in my estimation, to clinch the title of Africa’s best footballer in 2014!