When the legendary Liberian, George Weah (of AC Milan), won the FIFA player of the year award in 1995 (only five years after the prize was formalised) little did we know that the African continent would go so long without having another winner of the biggest individual honour in world football, considering the array of talents our beloved continent has been blessed with.
Well, here we are nearly twenty years on since that time and the closest any African has come to winning the Ballon d’or was in 2005 when Cameroonian Samuel Eto’o (then of Barcelona) was named third best behind Ronaldinho and Frank Lampard in the award presentation in Zurich.
This year, Africa’s only nominee among the 23 man list released by FIFA on Tuesday is Ivory Coast’s midfielder Yaya Toure. The Ivorian has been at the heart of everything good about the English champions since his big money move from Barcelona four years ago.
Toure (though not enjoying the best of starts this season) he was instrumental as his team snatched the title from previous winners Manchester United last term where his combination of strength, poise on the ball and skill was great to watch. He ended up bagging nineteen goals (a rarity for a midfielder), nine assists, 64 shots, and had the best pass rate in the whole of the English Premier league with 2502 passes (followed by Steven Gerrard with 2220 and Gareth Barry on 2155)
The only things that would stop the former Dynamo Kiev midfielder from emulating Weah by scooping the award come January 12th is because his Manchester City team failed to overcome Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League second round and go on to win the trophy last season and the Elephants of Cote d’ivoire were woeful at the last FIFA World Cup in Brazil where they failed to qualify from the group stage.
Though Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona’s Lionel Messi are once again favourites for the award, having an African mentioned alongside those greats calls for smiles, especially when considering the fact that only Europe and South America had representatives in the nominations.
With quality young African players like Nigeria’s Kelechi Iheanacho and Cameroon’s N’jie coming up, hopefully the continent will be celebrating its second winner in a few years time.