By Marcellinus Offor Igirigi
The above caption of this little piece is an afterthought. I had to change it, even as I still maintained the structure and content of the initial article after reading Patrick Omorodion (Sunday, January 12, 2014) and Paul Bassey (Monday, January 13, 2014) about the same issues bothering on the just concluded Glo-CAF Awards in Lagos, Nigeria. I think Nigeria and Nigerians have a strong case.
However, let me put it in musical perspectives. Coming from the Cameroons, the CAF President is not a novice to popular Francophone music genres which sprout from the famous Makossa and metamorphosed into Soukous, Zengue, Ndombolo and their niece Mapouka. No matter how insane and unacceptable these manners of music may appear before the eyes of other minds, they express other cultures. Thus, the initial heading of my writing had read; “Issa Hayatou: dancing another Ndombolo on Nigeria”. And, like I said above in-between the lines, though the title got re-baptized, the ideas remain the same. The so-called CAF Awards for the African player that really impacted on the African Football in the year 2013 ran with a lot of Ndombolo. It’s a ‘twerking’ dance style that’s jarring to our sensibilities and must be put to a stop.
Before the deceit got into a start that night, a friend called me from the freezing Dublin, Ireland, and I expressed my fears. CAF had already hatched the eggs, let the swan swim. Nigeria had all kinds of awards dangled like paradisiac apple before her. Best coach (congrats to Keshi), best team, best junior, best this, and best that. Bla! Bla! Bla! In fact, it remained best stadium, best goal-post, and, of course, ‘best open letter’. At the last count, our country went home, beaten again by the dancing Hayatou and his dançarinas. We snouted home with a heavy basket, not just full of awards, but fooled of the award.
Make no mistake about it, the in-thing that night was the best African Footballer of the year 2013. Pure and simple. Just like the best footballer of the year, Cristiano Ronaldo, in Zurich, got the Fifa Ballon d’Or and stole the show penultimate Monday, January 13, 2014 and as Franck Ribéry did with the UEFA later last year. Other awards are simply blood pressure-elevating preliminaries. Make a deep probe, where Nigeria and Nigerians won, were there really any slight competition? No.
But enough of this Ndombolo thing! New thieveries ignite memory bank. More than any time in history, the horrible robbery of the 2004 African Player of the year award from Nigeria’s Austin Jay-Jay Okocha was the most painful and a case of barefaced debauchery. I remember vividly. Okocha was the Captain of Sam Allardyce’s Bolton Wanderers and the name of African football that era. I recall he left for the African Cup of Nations held in Tunisia with a farewell curling rocket of a free kick against Aston Villa.
Subsequently, he was presented with the BBC African Player of the year award. No description is more apropos than the statement of the BBC Press Office of January 7, 2005. Inter alia, it read: Jay-Jay, “The gifted midfielder shone on the African stage during 2004 when he led his country to third place at the African Cup of Nations in Tunisia. In a turbulent campaign for Nigeria, during which three prominent players were sent home and the side lost its opening game, Okocha steered his nation towards victory scoring four goals on the way and being voted player of the competition.”
In that Tournament, the talisman scored the 1000th goal of AFCON history and was pivotal in sending perennial foes, the Lions of Cameroons back to the jungle. Hayatou, however, had other plans. Without qualms of conscience, he single-handedly took the hosting of the Awards from Cairo in Egypt to the Cameroun Mountains in Yaoundé and handed it over to his junior brother Samuel Eto’o Fils. Eto’o, a polished player and revered in Nigerian more than his native home, knew, in all ramifications, that he took another player’s CAF/MTN award, Okocha’s. Without iota of doubt, that year belonged to the talisman, the magician Jay-Jay. Since then, like the proverbial disenchanted Jews, I longed for the messianic era when sane-minded, respectful and respectable former players like Kalusha Bwalya would take over CAF and purify it.
I think we in Africa are mixing-up things and, thus, a bit confused about the differences between the most famous player, the richest, the most televised, the most fashionable with the African Player of the current year. Often, the results leave the entire population of soccer enthusiasts terribly flummoxed. It is high time for soccer technocrats in Africa to define, or redefine, the context, content, meaning and relevance of the so-called African Footballer of the Year.
In the year under scrutiny, of all the established stars South American offers the world of soccer, Ronaldinho Gaucho, was crowned the “Rei da América” (King of America) 2013 in a pool conducted among 345 professional journalists of CONMEBOL. That was, because, he ‘impacted’ directly on competitions organized by the Confederation of South American Football in 2013. At his age, he was so brilliant throughout the games and, no doubt, was one of the architects that retained the Cup for Brasil for consecutive years. Against all odds, but spurred-on by sheer determination to succeed and propelled by the deafening supporters’ chants: “Eu acredito!” (I believe!), Clube Atlético Mineiro was crowned Champion of South America’s apex Club competition, the ‘Copa Libertadores’.
Permit me to stretch this thought longer. Let the reader, in his passion for soccer idols come along with some critical reasons. In all fairness and clarity, what was Didier Drogba’s name doing in a list of the best African three in 2013? I mean, if we place the wisdom and soccer savoir-faire of CAF and their magus coaches on the balance of justice, the scale of uprightness and equilibrium, what did the famous ‘Deadly Drog’ do for both clubs and country in the past year more than Ahmed Musa, Asamoah Gyan, Vincent Enyeama etc? What parameters were employed to get our beloved Drogba into the last three players that impacted, in all veracity, on the African football in 2013? I said ‘our beloved Drogba’ because I can bet with the angelic hosts that the Nigerian fan base of Chelsea’s Drogba, or Drogba’s Chelsea, is only second to that at the Stanford Bridge in London. So, what happened with CAF’s nomination was pure bias. It’s a personality disorder which blurs barest vision for right judgment. If not bias, then it’s a culpable ignorance. And Africa continues to be lampooned. Shameful!
Thus, if there be any competition for the best player in Africa, it should have been between Obi Mikel and the Egyptian Mohamed Aboutrika. Mikel stands above Toure in all ramifications, Africanly speaking, even with Chelsea in Europe. Aboutrika stands tall by his ever-presence and consistent dominance of the African Club football via Al-Ahly Sporting Club.
Following from this premise, we can mention Sunday Mba. These are logical facts and not just sentiments. Yaya Toure has admirers in Nigeria more than anywhere else in Africa. I spend time watching Manchester City because he’s on the pitch doing the ‘pukuse’. And I can make boast to say that it’s only Nigerian fans that wear the shirts of, brag, fight and are ready to die for non-Nigerian African players scattered all over Europe, especially, the EPL.
But as light-weighted as Sunday Mba’s soccer portfolio may seem to African coaches, he scored the goal that drove Toure and his co-Elephants out of the 2013 AFCON in South Africa and, of course, the winning goal of the Cup; had a strong presence in Rangers’ quest for African club glory and, undoubtedly, the central operating machine of the CHAN Eagles as they qualified Nigeria for the first time in the Championship taking place presently in South Africa.
So, I think we need some catechesis about the meaning of the award – African Best Football Player of the Year. In fact, that CAF even sliced the award into two: the superior one for an “international player” (Europe) and the inferior for a “local player” (Africa), is an indicator to brute stupor. According to our own Fela Anikulapo Kuti, it’s pure “colomentality” – an interminable slavery to Europe.
*Marcellinus Offor Igirigi wrote in from Brasília, Distrito Federal, Brasil.