The Confederation of African Football (CAF) held its 2018 Awards Ceremony in Guinea last Tuesday. The occasion which was a howling success saw the Egyptian and Liverpool football star, Mohammed Salah, re-emerging as the African Footballer of the Year. He beat the 2015 winner and Gabonese striker, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal, and Senegalese international and fellow Liverpool playmaker, Sadio Mane, to second and third places, in that order, to clinch the prestigious title.
Salah deserved the crown again in view of his exploits in the last season’s English Premier League, winning the golden boot as the highest goal scorer in the competition and also inspiring his club, Liverpool, to the final of the 2017/18 UEFA Champions League but lost to the current holders, Real Madrid of Spain.
The Egyptian monopolist burst into the European scene in 2012 when he signed for Basel. His exploits caught the attention of Portuguese iconic coach, Jose Mourinho, who signed him to Chelsea two years later.
However, his sojourn with the Blues was so brief because his performance fell far below expectations as a result of his slow adaptation to the English football league. AS Roma of Italy came for him in 2015 and he featured for only a season until Liverpool’s current manager, Jurgen Klopp, a German, signed him back to England in 2017, having noticed his aggressive and pacy football which are the hallmarks of German soccer.
We salute the 26-year-old football king for retaining his crown. He has remained a case study in perseverance and dedication with the ability to rule his “soccerdom” for many years to come in the manner that Cameroon’s legend, Samuel Eto’o Fils monopolised the crown for three consecutive years (2003, 2004 and 2005), crowning it with the 4th in 2010.
Sadly again, no Nigerian players made the final cut on the list of awardees. This was understandable. The performances of our clubs at the various continental championships are also nothing to write home about. They can only give what they have – mediocrity – as evidenced by their early exits from those competitions.
But there is still a lot our footballers can learn from Salah’s feat and those of the others before him. Our players have been missing from the annual awards because they lack the attributes that earn their counterparts the continental honours and fame. Not one of them even came close to clinching the second or third position in Guinea. Nwankwo Kanu holds the record as the only Nigerian to win the award twice – 1996 and 1999. Before him were Rashidi Yekini – 1993; Emmanuel Amunike – 1994 and Victor Ikpeba – 1998. They achieved those feats while playing for leading clubs in Europe.
For a very long time now, many Nigerian footballers have been languishing in low class clubs in Europe. Those who play for notable clubs come from the reserve bench in most cases. The fact that our players have been missing out in the prestigious award is an indication that they are not challenged. They appear to be contented with watching their counterparts from lesser countries basking in honours. Nigeria also appears incapable of producing quality players from the home front any longer. We ought to bow our heads in shame, considering the fact that at the time a Nigerian player last won the award in 1999, Salah was still a kid?
It is also a known fact that the standard of our domestic leagues has been on hold or on the decline. In the 70s and through to the 90s, the country was swarming with numerous star players featuring in the domestic leagues. Their exploits culminated in Nigeria’s first appearance in the 1994 World Cup Finals held in the United States and the gold medal won by the Dream Team I at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games… a feat that was celebrated all over the continent with Ghana declaring a work-free day to boot.
The perennial crisis bedeviling our football in the last 15 or so years has also been the bane of the game. The fallout of the divided house is the lethargy that has characterised our soccer in recent years.
Even in the list of African Xl compiled by the Federation, none of those plying their trade in Europe was considered eligible, not to speak of the mediocre players in our local leagues. This trend ought to give our football administrators some sleepless nights. The recurring failures of our players to win the prestigious diadem have proven one thing: Nigeria is the Giant of Africa but with clay feet! This is no longer acceptable.