BY RAPHAEL EKPANG

Not a few are at ease that in the last two decades Nigerian players have not won the coveted football award. The last time a Nigerian player won the title was in 1999 when the former captain of the country’s national team, the Super Eagles Nwankwo Kanu clinched the award for the second time while playing for Arsenal in the English Premier League. Kanu carved a niche for himself as the first player to win the award twice. Besides, Samuel Eto’o and Didier Drogba of Cameroon and Ivory Coast respectively who also won the award four times each. Though, El Hadji Diouf and Mohamed Salah have both won the award twice each recently. After Kanu, in subsequent editions Augustine Jay Jay Okocha and John Obi Mikel only came third and second respectively. Sadio Mane was named the 2019 African Player of the Year after winning the UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) Champions League with his club Liverpool and leading Senegal to the Africa Cup of Nations final. Mane won the award for the first time after finishing runner-up to his Liverpool team-mate Mohamed Salah of Egypt in 2017 and 2018. Now, the question begging for answer is what could be responsible for the inability of Nigerian players to win the award 20 after years? Obviously, one cannot but agreed that the award has always been given to African best at every given occasion. But what baffles many is the fact that no Nigerian has been found good to win the award in the last two decades after. The late Rashidi Yekini, Emmanuel Amunike, Victor Ikpeba, all won before Nwankwo Kanu, a record that places Nigeria as a good football side, despite producing the highest number of the award winners the country is continuously sliding in this regard. Many believe that CAF politics seems to be playing a major role in determining who emerged as Africa’s best. If CAF politics is really a factor then it is obvious that Nigeria football administrators have lost touch in the politics of CAF or better still have failed to play the politics in favour of our players. It could be recalled that in 2003 and 2004 when Jay Jay Okocha came third behind Samuel Eto’o and Didier Drogba there were speculations that the former PSG and Bolton Wanderer star was un-arguably the best in the continent, but was caught in the politics of CAF. Further recalled that Okocah was named BBC African best in 2003 and in 2004. Secondly, our leagues have remained a mirage, so how possible players from a league that has degenerated over times meet up with their contemporaries in other African’s leagues, no wonder Nigerian players are rushing out to play in other African’s countries where their leagues’ management derive joy in developing the league and it’s players on like Nigeria where the league managements are developing their pockets at the expense of the league and its players. A league where the highest bidder is declared a winner at the end of every season, as we’ve seen in the abysmal performance of Nigeria’s representatives to CAF Champions League and Confederation’s cup competitions continuously. Another factor could be traced to the clubs Nigerians played in Europe. You cannot expect a player who plays in one of the obscure clubs in the division one league in Europe or America to beat other African players who plight their trade in top clubs in Europe to the award, so, no matter how good a player seems to be his club matters when it has to do with recognizing the best in the continent. The best club a Nigerian is playing at a moment is Leicester City which is currently 2nd on the EPL table, so what about other Nigerian players; some are in China, America, English Champions league among other lower leagues and inconsequential leagues around the world, yet at the end of every year, Nigerians will be expecting that one of their players will emerge as African footballer of the year. Another factor is age cheat; age fabrication allows older players to enter in youth competitions, a situation FIFA has lamented over the consistent use of overage players in youth competitions mostly by African countries. According to FIFA overage players have been wrongly used in various youth competitions, and often benefitting from unfair advantage due to greater physical maturity compared to players of the approved age. The issue of age cheat is of great consequent to most of our players because when a player who should be playing at his peak, that is at age 25-27 is claiming 17 by the time he is qualified to contest for African best at age 22 and above definitely such player would be at his retirement age, therefore the possibility of becoming African footballer of the year becomes slimmer or impossible. It will take Nigerian players selfdevelopment like those who have won it to be able to win the Africa footballer of the year award outside the above factors otherwise there are no indications that even in the nearest future a Nigerian can still win the award again.

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