On Thursday night in Lagos, Nigeria hosted the CAF awards for African footballers, coaches and teams that excelled in 2013.
It came as a shock to many Nigerians when Sunday Oliseh (former Super Eagles star) announced the winner of the most prestigious of the awards, which is the “best player of the year” (for 2013) and the winner was Ivory Coast’s Yaya Toure, instead of Nigeria’s John Mikel Obi as expected by most Nigerian football fans.
In the build-up to the awards it was time for football politics to come to the fore once again. Yes, football politics.
Over the years, national and linguistic parochialism usually came to play in the minds of Africans in choosing which player should win the award, colouring sane judgment of quality and consistency of players’ performance during a calendar year.
Till date, many Nigerians have not come to terms with how one of the most skillful players – if not THE most skillful – to have ever come out of Africa, the mercurial Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha, never did win the African Footballer of the Year award. Not a few blame a perceived Francophone conspiracy as the major reason Okocha was overlooked during the years when he was at the top of his game.
While it may be difficult to criticise the preference of Cameroun’s Samuel Eto’o to Okocha during those years of the former’s dominance of the CAF awards – not the least because my memory of the comparative performance of both men over those years seems to fail me now – I am sure Okocha’s name would remain eternally in the hearts of Africans who have surely not seen a player even close to his mesmeric like since he quit the round leather game.
The award for Africa’s best player of 2013 saw two individuals – one Anglophone and the other from a Francophone country – who had successful seasons in 2013 as frontrunners.
Millions of Nigerians were hoping that John Mikel Obi would be named Footballer of the Year based on his fine displays for club and country and his solid team credentials last year which include an Africa Cup of Nations title with Nigeria and a Europa Cup triumph with Chelsea.
While Ivory Coast’s Yaya Toure, the other favourite, had a very solid and consistent 2013, his zero team honours last year represented a significant minus, at least in the minds of those for whom winning a trophy is everything.
Herein lies the confusion and controversy surrounding such awards. There is seemingly an equal placement of priority on a player’s individual performance and team honours in choosing who should be selected as best player.
Was the choice of the majority who voted for Toure the right one? I think it really was.
Let’s face it; awards for ‘best player’ should be dished out with emphasis placed more on who has consistently shown the best technical and tactical performance over the course of a year.
Yes, it is significant that a player has contributed to his teams’ overall success, but I think when we talk of “best player” we should be referring more to an individual who by his play alone has caught the eye the most, and not one who just, by the good play of his teams, won something with them.
We should be taking into consideration the one whose overall technical brilliance has mostly titillated millions of watchers and how consistently he has shown us that brilliance in a year.
I think it is for these reasons why many like me think Okocha deserved the CAF award in the past, and it is for these reasons I think Yaya Toure deserves it now.
Toure is simply at a higher level technically, and was a regular and more consistent performer for his club last year, while Mikel was really only a little more than a fringe player for Chelsea.