This year’s Confederation of African Football (CAF) Footballer of the Year award will keep football buffs on their toes. The three final nominees for today’s gong are all capable of going home with the laurel. But, one of them will smile home with the coveted laurel.
The nominees are strikers for their teams, with eyes for goals. Two of them contributed to the qualification of their country’s national teams for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
CAF had pruned the long list of players earlier listed to three and the race for the award will see 2015 winner – Gabon’s ‘talisman’ Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – going up against Egypt’s Mohamed Salah and Senegal’s Sadio Mane. The duo of Salah and Mane are aiming for the title for the first time.
There is no doubt that the three players have made impact, both at club and national team levels, and they have shown that they are the best on the continent with their eyes for goals and their leadership qualities in their national teams.
Aubameyang has been an inspiration to the Gabonese national team. His presence often gives the team the needed impetus against opponents. Also at his Borussia Dortmund German club, the Gabonese international has cut a cult-like posture for himself and has continually shone like a star, netting in all directions.
His contribution to the team cannot be underestimated and his choice of selection for this year’s award cannot be questioned based on present form at the club level.
Like Aubameyang, Salah and Mane have shown the stuff they are made of. Apart from inspiring their national team to qualify for the 2018 Russia FIFA World Cup, they have displayed exceptionally with their English Premier League club – Liverpool.
Football buffs, however, believe that the battle for the award is between Salah and Mane, whose performances at national team and club level have been outstanding in the last one year. Though Aubameyang has been in superb form for Borussia Dortmund, his display for the Gabonese national team has not been exceptional in competitive tournaments.
One unique thing that has been introduced to this year’s award was opportunity given to football fans and the general public to have, for the first time, a say in the selection process for the African Player of the Year and the Africa’s Finest XI.
Public voting opened for the two categories on December 24, 2017. The details of the exercise will be made public today at the CAF Awards Gala 2017at the Accra International Conference Centre in Ghana.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, 28, is a French-born Gabonese footballer, plying his trade in the German Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund and Gabon’s national team. He is known for his speed, having clocked 30 metres in 3.7 seconds, and his capability of playing as a forward or a winger.
He began his career at Milan, who loaned him to four French clubs before he joined Saint-Étienne permanently in 2011. After winning the 2013 Coupe de la Ligue final, he joined Dortmund, where he has twice won the DFL-Supercup in 2013 and 2014. Despite playing once for France Under-21, Aubameyang made his senior international debut for Gabon in 2009, and has represented them at three Africa Cup of Nations tournaments and the 2012 Olympics.
Aubameyang won the CAF’s African Footballer of the Year award in 2015, becoming the first Gabonese player to win the award. In December 2016, he was named by The Guardianas the eighth-best footballer in the world. He is the son of former Gabonese international Pierre Aubameyang and younger half-brother of Catilina and Willy, who have both played for Milan youth teams. His mother is French from Spanish descent. He is Gabon’s highest goal scorer.
On March 4, last year, Aubameyang scored more than 20 Bundesliga goals for the second consecutive season, with two of the goals recorded in a 6–2 defeat of Bayer Leverkusen. Four days later, he scored a hat-trick in a 4–0 win over S.L. Benfica to put BVB into the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
Twenty-five-year-old Mohamed Salah is an Egyptian footballer who plays for Liverpool and the Egyptian national team. He has been representing the Egyptian national team since 2011. He also featured in the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup and the 2012 Summer Olympics. He won the Swiss Super League in his first season with Basel, and was awarded the CAF Most Promising African Talent of the Year in 2012. The following year, he was awarded the SAFP Golden Player award for being the best player in the Swiss Super League. Salah played for Chelsea, Fiorentina (on loan) and for Roma before transferring to Liverpool last year.
He is a quick, mobile, hard-working and tactical player, with good technique and an eye for goal. What stands him out are: his speed, dribbling skills, first touch and ball control, as well as his ability to use both his pace and flair on the ball in order to beat opponents, and create scoring opportunities for himself or his teammates. As a versatile forward, he primarily plays as a winger on the right flank, a position which allows him to cut into the centre onto his stronger left foot, and either shoot on goal or play quick exchanges with other players. He can also play in the centre behind the main striker as either an attacking midfielder or second striker. His technical skills, pace, position and direct playing style have led him to be nicknamed the “Egyptian Messi”, in the Italian media.
Salah made 11 appearances for the Egypt U-20 team and Egypt U-23 team, representing Egypt in both 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup and the 2012 Summer Olympics, scoring in all three of the team’s group matches in the latter tournament, helping them to the quarter-finals.
On September 3, 2011, Salah made his debut for his country’s national football team in the 2–1 away defeat by Sierra Leone. He scored his first goal for Egypt’s first team in the 3–0 win against Niger one month later. He later scored a goal in the 93rd minute in stoppage time against Guinea to give Egypt an important 3–2 away victory in a 2014 World Cup qualifier.
Salah was a member of the Pharaohs’ squad for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations held in Gabon. On January 25, last year, he scored in Egypt’s 1–0 win over Ghana to secure first place in Group D. He went with the Egyptians all the way to the final, scoring twice and assisting two times in 6 games, earning him a place in the CAF Team of the tournament.
Salah was the top scorer for Egypt with five goals during the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification, including both goals in the decisive 2–1 victory over Congo DRC, one of which was a penalty in the last minute to make the Pharaohs reach their first World Cup finals since 1990.
Salah has scored 17 Premier League goals this season since his summer arrival from Roma
Senegal’s 25-year-old Sadio Mané is a footballer who plays for Liverpool. Mane began his career with Metz in France, he moved to Red Bull Salzburg in 2012. After winning the Austrian Bundesliga and Austrian Cup in 2014, he was signed by Southampton. In 2015, Mané set a new Premier League record for the fastest hat-trick when he scored three times in 176 seconds during a 6–1 win over Aston Villa. He joined Liverpool in 2016 for a fee of £34 million, making him the most expensive African player in history at that time.
Mané has earned over 40 caps for Senegal since his debut in 2012, and represented his country at the 2012 Olympics, 2015 Africa Cup of Nations and 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.
In his first season with Liverpool, Mané got the Liverpool Player of the Season award on May 9, 2017.
In the first match of the new season, on August 12, last year, away to Watford, Mané scored Liverpool’s first goal of the season in a 3–3 draw. He was named Premier League Player of the Month after scoring a goal in each of the Reds’ three matches in August.
Mané was part of the Senegalese team at the 2012 Olympic tournament, and started every match as they advanced through Group A as runners-up to Great Britain before losing 4–2 after extra time in the quarter-finals to eventual champions Mexico.
He was ruled out of the Senegalese squad for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations after suffering a calf injury in Southampton’s 2–0 win against Arsenal on January 1, 2015. Mane later returned to the squad, and started in their final two group matches against South Africa and Algeria in a group stage exit.
Mane represented Senegal at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon and scored a goal in each of the nation’s opening two games, 2–0 wins against Tunisia and Zimbabwe. After a goalless draw in the quarter-final clash against Cameroon, he missed in the penalty shootout as his country was eliminated.
He was an important player in the second qualification of Senegal for the 2018 Russia FIFA World Cup.
Besides the prestigious African Player of the Year, the trio of Asisat Oshoala (Nigeria), Chrestina Kgatlana (South Africa) and Gabrielle Aboudi Onguene (Cameroon) will also battle for the Women’s Player of the Year.
According to CAF, the Awards Gala that will see the decoration of players, officials and administrators for their achievement in 2017, while football stakeholders are looking forward to the event as nominees and legends flock the Ghanaian capital for the much awaited event.
From Abedi Pele, winner of the maiden edition in 1992, to Riyad Mahrez, crowned in 2016, the winners who represent various generations, will be given prominence at the ceremony designed to celebrate the key players of African football.
Others are Nigerian trio, Emmanuel Amuneke, Nwankwo Kanu and Victor Ikpeba, Cameroonian and four-time winner, Samuel Eto’o Fils and compatriot Patrick Mboma, Ivorian Yaya Toure, a four-time winner and countryman Didier Drogba and El Hadji Diouf of Senegal.
The rest are: Mustapha Hadji of Morocco, Malian Frederic Kanoute, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Gabon and Togolese Emmanuel Adebayor.
Also, the women are not left out as previous Queens of African football have been listed for the biggest assemblage of football stakeholders.
The list of invitees is not only limited to previous winners. It has been extended to other players and officials, whose contribution towards the progress of African football cannot be overlooked.