CAF’s Footballer of the year: Why no Nigerian was considered

Nigeria’s administrative capital, Abuja, has also acquired the reputation as a favorite centre for hosting glamourous international events, political, social and sports.
Such a high-profile sport event took place in Abuja Thursday, January 5, 2017 – the Confederation of African Football (CAF) award for African footballers all over the world in recognition of their high  performances in 2016.
Usually, top on such occasions is the crowning of Africa’s Footballer of the Year. Other categories of honour include; female footballer of the year, coach of the year,  National Team of the year, the Youth player of the year and the African Team of the year and other recent additions.
Many Nigerians out of sentiment though, are particularly peeved that no Nigerian footballer made the Africa 11 event. This has to be so and justified because Nigerian’s Super Eagles have on the last two consealtive occasions failed to appear at the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) currently going on in Gabon and the assessors must be using the participation and performance of footballers at the AFCON mostly to select Africa’s First Eleven.
The truth is that there has been a dearth of quality Nigerian players in recent times. And when the Super Eagles won the Africa Cup of Nations for the third time in 2013 in South Africa, it was mostly through the technical savvy of national coach, late Stephen Okechukwu Keshi and his team.
Nigerians still recall with nostalgia the glamourous era of the Super Eagles in 1994 which won the Africa Cup of Nations for the second time for Nigeria and later the same year proceeded to US for the World Cup where they stunned the world with their brand of exhilarating football, after which they were rated the fifth best team in the world.
But it was not surprising because the team comprised such talents like Rashidi Yekini, Jay Jay Okocha, Emmanuel Amuneke, Daniel “the Bull” Amokachi, and indeed the rest who had been making waves in their European clubs. Of course,    Amuneke and late goal-king, Rashidi Yekini, at this period won Africa’s footballer of the year each.
Then another group of talented Nigerian footballers comprised the 1996 Atlanta Olympic squad that won the gold medal  for the first time by any African team.
It was not surprising that the captain of the team, Kanu Nwankwo had to win the Africa Footballer of the year twice.
Other members of the team were Victor Ikpeba (Prince of Monaco) who also won the top individual African prize once, Jay Jay Okocha and others too who had the quality to win any top African football prize.
The point being made is that Nigerian footballers of that generation were indispensible regulars in their European teams unlike these days when many Nigerian players are regular bench-warmers in their European clubs.
For instance Jay Jay, as a 20 year old in Frankfurt FC in Germany, displayed his extraordinary dribbling skill when he took on a whole opponent’s defense and disposing them before scoring against legendry German national team goalkeeper, Oliver Khan. Later, he moved to England and literally single-handedly lifted the Bolton Wanderers FC from their perennial relegation-threatened status to a stable position in the premier league through his breath-taking displays. The appreciative fans coined the slogan that Okocha was “so good, they named him twice” (Jay-Jay).
In recognition of this, fans of the influential British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) voted him Africa’s footballer of the year.
The failure of CAF to reward Jay Jay with Africa’s highest individual football award during his stellar career must be an indictment on the selection process.
On the optimistic side, though, two Nigerian young players, Kelechi Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi, won awards at the CAF award. There is hope that either of them would in the near future win the award provided they continue to improve.

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