With the exclusion of the names of the erstwhile captain of the Super Eagles Vincent Enyeama and the current skipper Ahmed Musa from the list of the top 10 nominees for the African Footballer of the Year award released by CAF on Monday, November, 2nd 2015, Nigeria has failed produce Africa’s best in 16 years.
CAF dropped Enyeama and Musa, who were on the initial 37-man nominees’ list, ruling out the possibility of a Nigerian winning the 2015 edition of the most prestigious award for African footballers at the award ceremony billed to hold in Abuja on January 7, 2016.
Nwankwo Kanu was the last Nigerian to receive the honour and that was as far back as 1999, during the 1999-2000 season when he scored 17 goals in 36 appearances for Arsenal.
Kanu was also Africa’s best in 1996 when he shone at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics, helping Nigeria win Gold after beating Brazil and Argentina in the semifinal and the final respectively.
Nigerians enjoyed dominance of the Africa Footballer of the Year award in the 1990s, winning it five times between 1993 and 1999.
Rashidi Yekini won it in 1993 and Emmanuel Amuneke claimed it in 1994 after Nigeria won the Africa Cup of Nations that year. Yekini also placed third in 1995 behind Liberia’s George Weah.
In 1996, when Kanu won it for the first time, Weah came second and Daniel Amokachi came third. Victor Ikpeba, who was in top form for AS Monaco, won the award in 1997, with Taribo West coming third behind Chadian, Japhet N’Doram. In 1998, when Mustapha Hadji of Morocco won the award, Austin Okocha and Sunday Oliseh came second and third respectively.
Then post-1999, except for Okocha’s third-place finish in 2003 and 2004, no Nigerian made the top three nominees’ list for the award until 2013 when Chelsea’s Obi Mikel placed second, after the Eagles won the AFCON, and then 2014 when Enyeama placed third.
From 2011 to date, Manchester City and Ivory Coast midfielder Yaya Toure has dominated the award.
Toure, who was the only African nominated for the FIFA Ballon d’Or for 2015, stands a good chance of winning the Africa’s best footballer award the fifth time having helped his country to win the 2015 AFCON.
Gabon striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who is in top form for Borussia Dortmund, also stands a chance of emerging the winner of the award this year, after finishing second last year.
The others on the 10-man list are André Ayew (Ghana and Swansea), Aymen Abdennour (Tunisia and Valencia), Mudather Eltaib Ibrahim ‘Karika’ (Sudan and El Hilal), Mohamed Salah (Egypt and Roma), Sadio Mané (Senegal and Southampton), Serge Aurier (Ivory Coast and Paris Saint Germain), Sofiane Feghouli (Algeria and Valencia) and Yacine Brahimi (Algeria and Porto).
A former CAF instructor and Eagles coach, Adegboye Onigbinde, blamed the situation on the failure of football authorities in the country to map out and implement proper developmental programmes.
“I think it’s because we have not been developing football. I’ve not seen the football developmental programme for Nigeria. I’ve been talking about this for 50 years and nothing has been done about it,” Onigbinde said.
“The problem with our football didn’t start in the 1990s, it started earlier than that. In the 1960s up to the 1980s, leading clubs in Nigeria were getting players from secondary schools. But that is no longer the trend.
“We started killing sports in Nigeria the day the Federal Government cancelled teachers training colleges. With the cancellation of the teachers training colleges, we failed to replicate the experienced games masters we had through some other means. If you want to develop football, you have to first produce instructors, who will in turn produce coaches, who will in turn produce players. That is the route. Where are the instructors?”
Onigbinde added the country’s football was lagging behind because the administrators have failed to create the right environment for the sport to grow.
“In terms of coaching, FIFA and CAF have coaching programmes, which Nigeria is not utilising. When I was on CAF technical committee, about six years ago, we decided that all African coaches must be graded.
“Ghana has graded more than 2,000 coaches. Egypt has graded more than 4,000 coaches. Nigeria has graded only about 400. In football, we say a player is as good as his coach.”
Another pointer to the decline of the fortunes of Nigerian football is the fact that no Nigerian player was named among top 10 nominees for the African Player of the Year Based in Africa.
The list had Abdeladim Khadrouf (Morocco and Moghreb Tetouan), Baghdad Bounedjah (Algeria and Etoile du Sahel), Felipe Ovono (Equatorial Guinea and Orlando Pirates), Kermit Erasmus (South Africa and Orlando Pirates), Mbwana AlySamatta (Tanzania and TP Mazembe), Mohamed Meftah (Algeria and USM Alger), Mudather Eltaib Ibrahim ‘Karika’ (Sudan and El Hilal), Robert KidiabaMuteba (DR Congo and TP Mazembe), Roger Assalé (Ivory Coast and TP Mazembe) and Zineddine Ferhat (Algeria and USM Alger).
An ex-international, who was prominent in the Nigerian league, Friday Ekpo, said Nigerian players didn’t do well in that category essentially because Nigerians clubs failed in continental tournaments this season.
“We didn’t make the top 10 for Africa-based players because our clubs crashed out early from the CAF Champions League and the CAF Confederation Cup this season,” Ekpo said.
“We need to grow gradually with focus on really developing our league. Our league is improving. The League Management Company deserves commendation but a lot more still needs to be done.”
Ekpo said it was unfortunate that the current Nigerian players have failed to match quality of their predecessors, who ruled Africa and made impact globally in the 1990s.
He said, “We had very good players in the 1990s. Their time has gone and their successors have not been able to replicate what they did. I believe we are going through a phase of change in our football. Time will come when we will dominate the award again. When we get our football right, we will dominate it again.
“It took time and planning for countries like Cape Verde, Burkina Faso, Mali and other nations, who used to be underdogs in African football, to develop into contenders. I believe when our football stabilizes, we will see exceptional young player, who will take over from this generation.”
From the foregoing, our players are not doing enough in Europe any more, when we were winning the award, and the players were doing exceptionally well for their clubs in Europe. What is happening now is frustrating and calls for concerted efforts geared towards due diligence from both the Administrators and Players alike.
Players with potential for international success, like Kelechi Iheanacho, Victor Osimhen and Kelechi Nwakali, just to mention a few, should be on the ‘watch-list’ of the Nigeria Football Federation, from ensuring that they do not fall into the hands of crafty agents who will slave them away to the obscure part of Europe or somewhere in Asia where these players eventually disappear into oblivion, even if they play regular football at their clubs; to the welfare and general well-being of these players, per-adventure they get injured while on international or club duties.
Seeing a Nigerian, in the near future, mounting the podium to receive the diadem of the African Footballer of the Year will most certainly be heartwarming, but like we say in this part of the world, ”all hands must be on deck” to witness it happen again.