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My take on African Best Player Awards

Going to the Glo-CAF awards, I had no doubt in my mind about three things related to the award of Best African Player for 2013: whom Nigerians wanted to win it, who would win it, and who really deserved to win it.

That the event was to be held in Nigeria gave many Nigerians the erroneous impression that the selection process could be influenced one way or the other by the stridency of the ‘noises’ made. For days before the event the Nigerian media was awash with stories of John Mikel Obi’s exploits in Europe as well as sentimental justification for why he should win the award.

Of course, that was understandable. The week before, Mikel had played his 400th match for Chelsea and scored his fourth goal for the club in about seven seasons since he joined the club.

No Nigerian had been given the award since 1999, when Kanu Nwankwo won it for the second time, so Nigerians yearned for one of their own to win it, particularly in a year that the country’s national team had convincingly won the Africa Cup of Nations and qualified rather easily for their fourth World Cup. It made absolute sense, therefore, that such a team should produce the continent’s best player.

However, in critically and dispassionately looking at the Nigerian Super Eagles team, it was challenging to pinpoint one truly outstanding player that had done enough and left memories of consistent performances to impress the 53 or so countries whose managers and captains would cast the decisive votes.

Has Mikel been a major contributor to the victories of Nigeria? Has he also been playing impressively and regularly for Chelsea?

The answers to these would finally have to be placed side by side against the performances of his closest rival in this year’s award – the immaculate, elegant and powerful midfield general and one of the best midfielders in the world currently – Yaya Toure.

Mikel Obi is a very efficient but ‘silent’ player. In trying to capture how he is rated, Daniel Amokachi, the great Nigerian player and now assistant coach of the Super Eagles, describes Mikel’s style of football as not being ‘sexy’ enough.

Mikel is a great player, no doubt. He is one of the most gifted defensive midfield players out of Africa in Europe presently. He is a regular player for Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea and Stephen Keshi’s Super Eagles.

There is something about his style of play that leaves an unfinished taste in the mouth. When he is not featured in a team he is never really missed. That is a damning reality. When he is featured, it often appears he is not expected to do anything extraordinary.

It is ironic but true that it may be easier to search for a pin in a haystack than to recall a decisive pass, a great dribble, a great shot, or a moment of magic by Mikel. His football is neither mesmerising nor dazzling. What he is, is a silent, efficient and effective operator in midfield, gliding through matches without making the critical moves that make the difference between winning and losing.

That is Nigeria’s sole candidate in the 2013 awards. Unfortunately, apart from the guaranteed two votes coming from the Nigerians in the electorate college made up of managers and captains of 53 African countries, he has to contend with the only African Player that I believed would win it.

Yaya Toure is almost the direct opposite of Mikel in terms of their roles for their teams. Yaya, twice a previous winner of the award, has been the most impressive and most consistent African player in Europe in the past three seasons.

In 2013 he was a lot more matured, playing majestically for Manchester City and Ivory Coast, two teams that unfortunately did not win anything in 2013. That’s the issue – the teams he played for won nothing but in terms of individual performance he was way ahead of every other African around the world – effective, efficient, flamboyant, mesmerising and even ‘sexy’.

It would have raised eyebrows if he had not been crowned. When he is not playing, his team misses him. When he is playing, a great deal is always expected of him. That’s the difference between Mikel and Yaya. That’s why Yaya Toure would have been selected ahead of Mikel.

Apart from those two, the player that deserves the award ahead of all others, even Yaya, would not get and did not get it, only because the role in the teams he plays for is one that is not often considered for the Award. That greatest contributor, in my humble opinion, to Nigeria’s monumental victories in 2013 and Lille’s impressive showing in the French league where he plays, is goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama.

He has been a pillar and backbone of the Nigerian team. When he is not in goal, his absence is felt. When he is, he is relied upon to keep a clean slate, which he almost always did with supreme confidence and efficiency. So good was he in goal for Lille that he was only a few minutes away from creating a new European record of not conceding a goal in the longest number of games.

So, for his roles in the most successful team in Africa in 2013 and dominance, performance and consistency in Europe, Vincent Enyeama completely deserves to win the award of Africa’s Best Player in 2013, even as a goalkeeper.

Only two goalkeepers, Badou Zaki of Morocco in 1986 and Thomas Nkono of Cameroon, in 1979, have ever won the award.

Vincent may not been left out of the 2013 consideration but if a Nigerian truly deserved it (and I think the country’s emphatic victories make that so), it should have been him. His choice as a member of Africa’s best XI is no consolation. He is without question Africa’s safest pair of hands.

Having said all that, the 2013 Glo-CAF award was a night of superb entertainment, and a celebration of the return of Nigerian football to the apex of African football. The Most Promising Talent Award, the National Team of the Year Award, the Best African Coach of the Year Award, the Fair-play Award, and the Platinum Award for (political) Service to Football, all went to Nigerians. That is some consolation.

On the great night, there were a few things missing: the conspicuous absence of Chief Dr Mike Adenuga Jnr, the female awards, and other contenders for the award of Most Promising Talent.

It was a night when Nigerian music, in particular, perfectly drove an evening that was another beautiful, award-winning spectacle from the Globacom stable

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