SportsGuard: ‘Mikel Obi was Africa’s best in 2013’

on   /   in Sports 12:24 pm   /   Comments

By Aaron Ekong

SportsGuard column for today was about the Glo-CAF Award scheduled for Lagos on Thursday but a concerned Nigerian, Aaron Ekong who writes for sportsuniteni sent in a piece on the Award. He said our mind so we decided to bring it to you readers to savour.

May I continue from where we left it in 2013 and convey my sincere wishes of a happy New Year to all readers of Sports Unite Nigeria. I really wasn’t in the mood to write until the morning after New Year’s day when I turned on my TV set to watch a popular daily sports program, only to be thoroughly disappointed by what I was hearing.

Inevitably, the discussion had come to the Glo-CAF African Footballer of the Year Award billed to hold here in Lagos next week, and when asked to comment, one of the (regular) panelists, presumably a full-blooded Nigerian going by his name, was to state, almost with an air of irrevocable finality, that:  “… we all know that Cote D’Ivoire’s Yaya Toure will win the prize …”! 

And what were his reasons for reducing the continent’s most coveted individual football honour to a predictive one man race long before the contest? “… Yaya has simply been awesome this season; scoring goals and playing superbly for Manchester City, including outstanding free kicks … “ So there you have it!

It is bad enough when you come out in the full glare of television cameras to run down your own kin in an open contest, but that no attempt is  made whatsoever to do an objective analysis is what I will not accept, especially on a medium that is meant to inform as well as educate the audience.

That notwithstanding, the point is that I completely disagree with this (in my opinion) myopic opinion that had been going round since the time of the BBC Africa player award a few weeks ago. My humble position is that John Mikel Obi was clearly Africa’s best player in 2013. I will rate him, not only above Yaya Toure, but above even his compatriots, Victor Moses and Vincent Enyeama, both of who also performed marvelously in 2013.

Now  I know for sure that the process of selecting the CAF  Player of the Year is full of intrigues and therefore totally unpredictable, but let me start by reminding my TV panelist that if being “awesome” and “playing marvelously” for some EPL club or even “scoring incredible free kicks” was the defining criterion, a certain Austin “Jay Jay” Okocha should have won this prize several times over, but we all know he never did. 

As I’ve already mentioned, this is CAF’s flagship individual award, and except it is done without any sound conceptual logic, it cannot and should not be divorced from CAF’s flagship tournament, the Africa Nations Cup. Therefore the prime (‘though not the only) criterion for selecting the best player in Africa in 2013 must be performance at the CAF Africa Nations Cup which took place in South Africa in January 2013. Anything short of that will mean CAF themselves devaluing their own competitions and awards.

Despite going into the Nations Cup almost completely written off, Nigeria won that competition and Mikel Obi was clearly Nigeria’s outstanding player, applying his wealth of experience as a proven champion in Europe to coordinate Nigeria’s defensive and offensive play en route winning the trophy. It may pay us to remember that Yaya Toure and his fellow superstars of Cote d’Ivoire were actually knocked out of that tournament in the quarter-final stage by the Super Eagles of Nigeria in a match where John Mikel Obi completely stole the show, cutting off the Ivoriens’ attacks and propelling the Eagles’ own surge for goals. Where was Yaya Toure?

It is on record that Yaya Toure has never bossed Mikel Obi in any match involving both, and that includes this season which my TV panelist thinks has been extra-ordinary for Toure. In a team (Chelsea) which arguably has the toughest competition for midfield places under (unarguably) the most demanding and difficult to please coach in the world (Jose Mourinho), John Mikel Obi has maintained his place as the prime choice in the terribly difficult central defensive midfield role, something he has done successfully for over six years and under no less than the same number of coaches now. He deserves our respect at the very least.

At the FIFA Confederations Cup where coach Stephen Keshi allowed Mikel greater freedom to roam, we saw the Nigerian score a terrific goal while teaching the Spanish world class midfielders a few new tricks to savour.  In predicting beforehand that Nigeria would win the Africa Nations Cup last year, one of the factors I took into consideration was Mikel’s form and incredible record of achievement by way of trophies as a team player.  
We’ve had players in the past who chose to play to the gallery, amassing immense popularity for themselves but leaving the national team trophy-less. So football is primarily a team sport and the best team players must always be amply rewarded.

The CAF Award I believe covers the whole year, from January to December, and I implore everyone connected with this great task to take the trouble to really analyse what each player achieved throughout the year, not just the game we saw on DSTV  last week.

Mikel Obi, in my opinion, was surely Africa’s proven best in 2013.

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