Do CAF awards need reform?
When the 2013 Glo/CAF Footballer of the Year award nominations were announced, many Nigerians began to have a sense of entitlement about the award.
After their senior national team won the 2013 African Nations Cup, beating the Ivorian team on its way, they had decided amid themselves that, for the first time in 15 years, a Nigerian – John Mikel Obi would be named the best football player in Africa over his Ivorian rivals – the Manchester City midfielder, Yaya Toure and Galatasaray forward Didier Drogba. But at an elaborate event held in Lagos, Yaya Toure was crowned the best African footballer denying the Nigerians what they felt was their just right.
Feeling cheated, the Nigerians have raised a hullaballoo about the awards, criticising the fairness of the process. As much as it is easy to dismiss their complaints as just unsportsmanlike, one still wonders, do they have a point? Is Yaya Toure the deserving winner? What criteria does CAF really use in determining the winner? Is it individual performance of the player for his club or national team no matter what the team did not win, especially in a Nations Cup year or the laurels the player has won for his teams? And the most reaching question of all: Is there a conspiracy against Anglophone-African countries as far as the CAF award is concerned?
No player from an English-speaking African country has won the award since Nigeria's Kanu Nwankwo did in 1999. One might say perhaps they didn't perform as much as their French-speaking counterparts but in 2012, Christopher Katongo and John Mikel Obi made the final three when they won the African Nations Cup and UEFA Champions League with Zambia and Chelsea, respectively, while a certain Alex Song (whose major achievement that year was his move from Arsenal FC of England to Spain's Barcelona FC) made the shortlist.
CAF awards the prize by using a voting system in which the senior team coach of its member national football associations vote for the three final nominees in a point-based order of preference with the player with the highest preference scoring more points on each vote. A summation of the total weighted-points-average is then used to calculate the player with the highest number of points overall. That player is then given the award.
Considering the figures released by CAF after the event, 28 out of the 53 national team coaches that voted ranked Yaya Toure higher than Mikel Obi and Drogba, including South Africa, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Malawi (which are Anglophone countries); while just four (including Nigeria) voted for Mikel. So it could not have been a conspiracy against Anglophone countries, it was the decision and prerogative of the voters who in this case are the National team coaches and head of technical teams of each CAF-affiliated African country.
Understandably, Yaya Toure was phenomenal for his English Premiership side Manchester City FC, scoring vital goals and assisting a lot more but had no laurel to show in the year. For his country Cote d'Ivoire, he wasn't able to do much as they crashed out to Nigeria in the quarter finals of the African Nations Cup and were only just able to edge out Senegal for the World Cup tickets.
Mikel on the other hand didn't feature much for his club team Chelsea FC of England; as a matter of fact, his role was largely limited to that of a substitute. Not a known goal scorer (he scored his first Premier League goal in six seasons last year), his work rate and his expertise in defensive midfield duties and his contribution to overall play were laudable. In the past year, he won the Europa League with his team and he was an integral member of the Nigerian team that won the African Nations cup after 19 fallow years.
So the important question remaining is should the criterion for the award be changed in a way to give more weight to individual performance than team achievements or should the coaches continue to have the liberty to individually decide what performance matters more?
A clarification of CAF's position on this matter would make the award more transparent and less controversial, as this is not the first time this tempest would arise. In 2003/2004 Nigerians also expected the then-National team skipper, Austin ‘Jay-Jay' Okocha to win ahead of Samuel Eto'o of Cameroon, although the reverse actually happened and the issues were still the same (Okocha had an arguably better individual performance to the boatload of laurels Eto'o won with his teams while performing averagely by his stratospheric standards). Yaya Toure's win, however, sends out a message that winning laurels with club and country doesn't guarantee getting nominated or winning the African footballer award.
Another strong point against CAF in this year's event is that there were no awards or recognition whatsoever for female footballers this year? The fact that there were no major female football competitions the past year does not mean there should be no outstanding female performer from the continent. Women deserve as much recognition as men from CAF if it wants to redeem the credibility of the awards and the confederation itself. – Super Steel Africa
• Habib Oladapo is a contributing editor for Super Steel Africa. Follow @StBeeblahi