Most Nigerians who were at the venue of the 2013 GLO/CAF Awards in Lagos on June 9 or those glued to their seats at home, watching the ceremony live on television, had a common mindset:
They wanted the most prestigious prize in the awards for Nigeria; nay a Nigerian!!
But as luck would have it, Nigerian international and Chelsea midfielder Mikel Obi lost out to Man City midfielder, Yaya Toure, from Cote d’Ivoire, in the race for the African Footballer of the Year Award.
The disappointment of many Nigerians about the outcome, however, simmered down, as Nigeria outshone other African countries at the event and won four different prizes.
This feat makes Nigeria the only country that has garnered most awards at the CAF event in a year.
The prizes are the Most Promising Talent of the Year Award, given to Kelechi Iheanacho; the Coach of the Year Award, won by Stephen Keshi, the Youth National Team of the Year Award, won by the Golden Eaglets and National Team of the Year Award, won by the Super Eagles
Besides, the Fair Play prize was given to the Nigerian Supporters Club.
Besides, Mikel Obi and Super Eagles goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama were among the 11 players selected for the imaginary African team, while Keshi was named the coach of the side.
Besides, President Goodluck Jonathan received the Platinum Award for his contributions to the development of football in Nigeria.
Nevertheless, while many football pundits in the country express their happiness at the well-deserved awards given to Nigeria, others feel that Nigeria was shortchanged in the African Footballer of the Year Award.
Some argue that Obi has distinguished himself by his performance at the 2013 African Nation’s Cup and his superlative performance at club level, as Chelsea FC won the Europa Cup in 3013.
They argue that selection for the award was tainted with undue politics, alleging that the Francophone voters appear to be biased against Anglophone players.
Former Super Eagles Coach Adegboye Onigbinde, however, dismissed the notion, insisting that Nigeria fared well at the awards with some first-class prizes such as “National Team of the Year Award.’’
He warned against unfounded claims on alleged bias in CAF’s selection processes, reiterating that the decisions were not a one-man affair.
“CAF has a group of assessors, including coaches and even journalists, who are asked to make nominations, after which a final list is drawn.
“After that, a proforma will be sent to the assessors to make a comprehensive assessment of the nominees, including their psychological and intellectual capabilities, among others.
“I want to believe that a thorough job has been done and the winner has emerged; that is final,’’ he added.
Onigbinde, however, conceded that a lot had to be done to reposition Nigerian football to its former status where Nigerian players dominated the awards.
Sharing similar sentiments, Chief Okechukwu Ijioma, the Chairman of the Abia State chapter of the Nigeria Football Supporters Club, said that all the nominations for the CAF awards were based on merit.
He stressed that all the honours given to Nigeria were justified, even as he also upheld the voting of Toure ahead of Mikel.
“Look at their overall performance, Toure plays in almost all the matches involving Man City, while the same does not apply to Mikel.
“When Toure is not playing, you see the negative impact of his absence; when he plays, you see his impact on the team.
“In terms of goal scoring, Toure has been consistent and he is even among the top scorers for the club this season but Mikel rarely scores goals,’’ he added.
Ijioma said that the only perceptible edge which Obi had over Toure was winning the Nation’s Cup.
All the same, former Super Eagles Coach, Samson Siasia, said that the Super Eagles deserved the National Team of the Year Award.
Siasia said that many people wrote off the Eagles before the 2013 Nations Cup, adding that the players put up a good performance and pulled surprises.
“When they were going for the tournament, nobody gave them a chance.
“After their first match, many people thought their prediction about the team had come to materialise.
“Then they improved match-by-match; and with commitment and hard work, they excelled,’’ he said.
On the merit of the award given to Toure, Siasia stressed that all the prize winners in the CAF awards deserved what they got.
The former Super Eagles gaffer said that being the first runner up was not bad for Obi, going by the form of Toure at present.
Siasia noted that Obi was no doubt a great midfielder but the role which he played in Chelsea did not allow him to play a pivotal role in the attack.
He, nonetheless, said that with more determination and hard work, Obi would become more prolific in the midfield, while scoring more goals.
However, Mr Peter Bassey, a football analyst, has a dissenting opinion.
He said that it was high time Globacom stopped sponsoring the CAF awards, as CAF was apparently more favorably disposed towards players from French-speaking African countries.
Bassey dismissed arguments that Toure scored more goals than Obi, saying that goal scoring was not the only yardstick for the selection.
“In 2006, Fabio Cannavaro, an Italian defender, won the World Footballer of the Year Award; if such awards are based on goals, how many goals did Cannavaro score, being a defender?
“The award was given to him, based on his performance and achievements, having won the World Cup with Italy.
“In the case of Obi, he won the Nations Cup and the Europa cup in 2013 and performed above par; what did Yaya Toure win?
“The truth is that coaches from French-speaking countries are more in number; so they use their strength to vote for players from Francophone countries yearly,’’ he said.
Bassey said that he would not forget Jay-Jay Okocha’s experience in a hurry, adding that the ex-International also came second when the people’s expectations were high that he would win the top CAF prize in 2004.
However, Mr Martin Oche, a footballer fan, said that Nigeria had a fair scorecard at the event, having won four honours.
He underscored the need to separate sentiments from the CAF awards to enable it to maintain its credibility and glamour.
Oche said that even though Obi was a good player, Toure was far ahead of him.
“A player should be judged by his personal performance and not that of his club or country.
“I believe Obi will win the award in no distant time but not when Toure is still blazing hot.
“There was a time when Nigerian players dominated the awards and the same Francophone coaches voted at that time.
“I strongly believe that politics has no root in the CAF selections,’’ he added.
All in all, soccer pundits believe that Toure has consistently proved himself to be a world-class midfielder, as his goal-scoring prowess gives him an edge over Obi.
Stakeholders are, however, of the view that Nigeria performed creditably well in the 2013 CAF awards.
They urge Nigerian players aspiring to win the African Player of the Year Award in the coming years to strive to put up a superlative performance, as the prize is highly competitive. (NANFeatures)
By Chijioke Okoronkwo, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)