“Only four more days to vote for the BBC African Footballer of the Year. Will it be Gyan, Ayew, Eto’o, Yaya Toure…” said the BBC Africa Have Your Say (BBCAfricaHYS) tweet – @BBCAfricaHYS. My instincts got the better of me. I twitted back: “@BBCAfricaHYS is promoting African Footballer of the Year award. I find this nonsensical, football I support is a team sport… let it be!”
This was and is still my subjective stance about individual football awards. There are myriads of them, not only in Africa, all over the world. They are handed out on regular basis, mostly at the end of the year even though football calendar does not follow January to December pattern. Other people see it differently, of course. That is why it exists in the first place.
None of the five shortlisted African footballers play their club football in Africa. This captured my interest, as if I did not know already. Three footballers play their football in English Premier League, Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure and Asamoah Gyan. Samuel Eto’o and Andre Ayew play their football in Italian and French leagues, respectively. Not to risk starting the uncomfortable ‘who is an African’ debate, I will not detail careers of these footballers – some of them have not played club football in Africa for well over a decade.
It is an African award, so every African footballer can win it. The BBC runs the award, so they make the rules. I do not know what motivated the BBC to come up with the award, and I do not know its intended achievement(s). But I am convinced the award is nothing but an advertisement of foreign leagues at the expense of African clubs. It is a hazard to club football in Africa. You could be excused these days if you were thinking that club football on the continent does not exist anymore.
Where are footballers from TP Mazembe, a Congolese football club that has just won African club championship despite all the political unrest and social problems affecting their country? Do they only deserve recognition when they play for European clubs? Yes, Eto’o et al are good role models given what they have achieved, and some of them are doing remarkable charity work on the continent. Yet too much focus on them gives a wrong impression that unless one plays football in Europe they are not worthy of any recognition.
If any example was needed that African clubs have capable, if not better footballers, then look no further than African Cup of the Nation (AFCON), a biennia African football tournament competed for by all African countries. The record holders of the competition, Egypt, who won third successive trophy of the competition this year, has managed the feat with largely home-based footballers, including their coach. Countries such as Ivory Coast, Cameroun and Nigeria, with largely European-based footballers have not enjoyed the same level of success. In comparative terms, the later group also boasts a host of ‘big-name’ footballers than Egypt.
The current Egyptian captain, Ahmed Hassan, lifted the trophy in January for a third time, equaling the winning record of his compatriot, Hossam Hassan – both played their club football in Africa. These records depicts a triumph of Egypt, as a team not just these two individuals. Can you imagine Hassan not being on the shortlist if he played in England, Spain, Italy or France? The award is for all African footballers, it must be inclusive and reward footballers accordingly, not on reputation of football clubs or leagues one play in.