There is no doubting the fact that Nigeria’s football cruised on a very high altitude in 2013 beginning with CAF’s flagship competition, the Africa Cup of Nations which Nigeria won against all expectations with a set of ‘rag tag army’ as it were, under the leadership of a ‘General’, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi.
This was even attested to by the CAF president himself, Alhaji Issa Hayatou when he paid a courtesy call on the Lagos State governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, SAN.
Apart from Super Eagles respectable performance at the FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil where the coach of the world champions, Spain poured accolades on Keshi and his wards, the Golden Eaglets dazzled the world to the admiration of all Africans, including the egg heads at the Cairo headquarters.
When former Eagles captain, Sunday Oliseh, who co-compered the Award ceremony with South African television star, Carol Tshabalala told everyone to hold their breadth, I knew the worst had happened again like they did to Austin Okocha in 1998.
Yes, Yaya Toure deserves the award but I feel that Mikel deserves it more because he imparted more on African football through his exploits in Nigerian colours at the Nations Cup, World Cup qualifiers and as Africa’s representative at the Confederations Cup in the year under review.
As a body that wants to promote African football, CAF should have centered its awards on its competitions at club and national levels like the Europeans we copy in everything. It must have been borne out of criticism of the award that CAF introduced another Award for players plying their trade in the local leagues of its affiliated member federations. A duplicity I must say.
Like the CEO of Brila FM, Dr. Larry Izamoje said after the ceremony, CAF stated on its website that Awardees must have imparted on African football, and therefore nomination should have been based on players performance in its competitions rather than their exploits in their European clubs. I agree totally with him because only that will make the CAF Award meaningful.
For those who kept hammering the fact that it was an individual award and therefore should be given to the Ivorian because of his exploits at Manchester City Football Club, what will they say about the 1998 edition which was given to Mustapha Hadji ahead of Austin Okocha, who at that time was a better choice because of his club exploits. Was the Moroccan not chosen because of his exploits at the Nations Cup in Burkina Faso which the Eagles did not attend because Nigeria was serving a CAF ban?
What football did Hadji play at his club that Okocha didn’t play for PSG and later Bolton Wanderers (when again he was denied for Samuel EtoÓ) in the period in question?
The major problem with the CAF Award which most people gloss over is that voting is done mostly on sentiments by the coaches and technical directors of CAF. Sentiment based on the bloc of the continent the nominees hail from. This has accounted more for why someone like Okocha did not win it, Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan has not won it and now Mikel Obi.
Voting on most occasions, I believe, are done on the rivalry between the Francophones who are more in number in Africa and the Anglophones who are fewer. At times too Anglophone players who ply their football career in France are more favoured by the French-speaking voters, believe it or not. Also some Anglophone countries like Ghana see Nigeria as an arch rival who should never be supported. Same goes for South Africa who see Nigeria as too domineering.
If the voters who gave it to Yaya Toure, a good player no doubt, are true to themselves, how could they rate Mikel who was voted Man of the Match three times during the Nations Cup in South Africa where Toure also featured but didn’t get a mention below the Ivorian?
Politics of African football which the French-speaking countries have mastered so much have hindered Nigeria’s football progress for a long time, otherwise why would the Super Eagles always appear in the Nations Cup final but get robbed one way or another? They remain the team with most final appearances than any other including the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon who rode on the back of the Eagles for three of their four Nations Cup victories.
Cast your mind back to their victories at Maroc ’88 and Ghana-Nigeria 2000 when referees’ faulty and fraudulent calls robbed the Eagles of victory. The same politics affected Nigerian clubsides until the advent of Enyimba when the country joined in playing the ‘dirty’ politics with CAF bigwigs through our own Dr Amos and the then Abia State Governor, Orji Uzor Kalu who knew what to do by warming himself into the heart of CAF’s lord of the manor, Alhaji Issa Hayatou. The story of how Enyimba became African champions should be left for another day.
Today, courtesy of Nigeria, Hayatou is a chief in one of the South west towns as well as other benefits the Cameroonian has got by associating with Nigeria football officials. In the days of Dr Adamu, Nigeria only misses things when her interest crosses with Hayatou’s.
Therefore if CAF wants its Award to remain prestigious like that of its European counterpart, UEFA, its Award should be seen to be for players who impart more on African football through its competitions rather than those who make impact only in foreign leagues. I can’t imagine one European player making great impact in the South American, North American, Asian or better still, African league being voted European Player of the Year. Enough of this second slavery through football.