By Biodun Busari
Senegal and Bayern Munich FC midfielder, Sadio Mane has won the African Footballer of Year award in the ceremony that took place in Rabat, Morocco on Thursday, July 21, 2022.
Mane, who won the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Best Man Player award for the first time in 2019, beat his former team mate, Liverpool forward, Mohamed Salah from Egypt and Chelsea goalkeeper, Edouard Mendy, his Senegalese compatriot, to bag the award the second time.
The 30-year-old forward player had a sterling performance last season which made him win the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) title for Senegal and secured a spot for the World Cup qualification to hold in Qatar later this year.
He was also part of the Liverpool team that beat Chelsea to win Carabao and FA Cups last season, before he secured a move on a three-year deal to German giants Bayern Munich last month.
On the award, Mane said: “I am really honoured and highly delighted to receive this award again,” Mane said on Thursday. “Thanks to my coaches, my club and national team colleagues and those friends who stood by me during difficult times.”
“I dedicate this award to the youth of Senegal. I’m very emotional and don’t have the words to express how I’m feeling,” he added.
Super Eagles’ drought with the award
While Nigeria remains a footballing nation, which the African continent and the world at large cannot underrate, the Super Eagles have lagged in winning the award.
The country has prided itself as the three-time African Champions in 1980, 1994 and 2013. Also, the U-23 Dream Team I, also known as the Olympic Eagles won the Gold Medals in the Men’s Football at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, United States.
The Super Eagles of Nigeria had been in six editions of the FIFA World Cup from 1994 except in 2006 in Germany and the next one slated for Qatar in the winter of 2022.
With these outstanding records, Nigeria still stands an outstanding force to challenge for any trophy in soccer competitions.
But, like in most of our country’s sectors, the Nigeria’s professional players have failed to win titles with their European club sides, which should earn them privileges to compete with other African players for AFOTY award.
They have also not won AFCON for the country in a long while which has been detrimental to their own personal glories year in, year out.
Football Federation’s moves
Recently, Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare, received the 10-year football development Masterplan in Abuja.
After an order from President Muhammadu Buhari, the ministry in September 2021 inaugurated a 17-man committee which included the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) General-Secretary, Dr Mohammed Sanusi, to produce a Ten-Year Football Development Masterplan that will ensure youth football development, in line with FIFA’s commitment.
While receiving the report submitted by the Alhaji Ibrahim Galadima led committee in his office at the Moshood Abiola National Stadium Abuja, Dare assured that the recommendations of the report will be implemented.
“I want to assure you that this report will be submitted to Mr. President and its action plan followed through to the letter. This will not be one of those reports that will be allowed to gather dust in some office or book shelf without implementation. This will be different,” Dare said.
If the Sports Minister’s words are to be trusted, Nigeria should then be hopeful that the plan to revive our football at home and in Diaspora is here. Whatever it is in the report should help NFF to evaluate our score sheet and correct our anomalies.
Reviewing historic moments of Nigerian football
When Nigeria won the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) hosted by Tunisia in 1994, the squad advanced to dazzle the world in the summer of that same year in their debut FIFA World Cup finals, where they were edged out by Italy in a 2-1 loss in the round of 16.
Nigeria glamorously emerged to be the fifth best country by FIFA ranking in 1994 that year which was the highest achieved by an African football nation.
Sadly, after that edition, Nigeria had always been eliminated either in the first or second round of the subsequent tournaments.
Similar occurrences were recorded at the Olympic games, part of the squad that won AFCON and participated in the 1994 USA FIFA World Cup were mixed with the developing youngsters in 1996, and they won gold medals in the Men’s Football having eliminated the favourites – Brazil and Argentina in the semi-final and final respectively.
Later, at 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the Dream Team IV came second by winning the Silver, and retrogressively in 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics Games, the Dream Team VI fairly secured the Bronze as the third best team of the tournament.
All these feats, arguably, were achieved on a number of factors, but mostly on the consistent performance of Nigerian players plying their trades abroad. The crop of players in the local leagues were brilliant as well. Their blend gave the country results.
How former Super Eagles won awards
During these times, Nigeria could boast of her players playing regular games and winning titles with their clubs, which afforded them to deliver for the country in their collective efforts.
Only four Nigerian footballers had won this award, with a number of them to have been shortlisted. Moreso, the last time the country had this was in 1999. It could be rightly said that the 1990s were the best moments in Nigeria’s football history as Rashidi Yekini in 1993, Emmanuel Amuneke in 1994, Kanu Nwankwo in 1996, Victor Ikpeba in 1997 and Kanu Nwankwo again in 1999 won the awards.
Yekini was the Nigeria’s highest goal scorer of all time scoring 37 goals. He played for Vitória de Setúbal in Portugal and was also named the African Footballer of the Year in 1993.
Amuneke got a brace in AFCON final hosted by Tunisia when Super Eagles went up against Zambia to win 2-1 for Nigeria. He was playing for Zamalek of Egypt and Sporting CP in Portugal, before he moved to Spanish giants, Barcelona. Building momentum, Amuneke won Egyptian Premier League in 1991–92, 1992–93, African Cup of Champions Clubs in 1993 and CAF Super Cup in 1994. He then won Taca de Portugal for Sporting CP in 1994–95.
Nwankwo Kanu was in his Ajax prior winning the award in 1996. He scored 25 goals in 54 appearances and came on as a sub in Ajax’s 1995 UEFA Champions League final win over AC Milan. And the next year he started in the 1996 UEFA Champions League Final against Juventus. In 1996, Ajax sold Kanu to Serie A side Inter Milan for around $4.7 million and won the award as an Inter player.
Ikpeba was branded the Prince of Monaco during his spell at the French club, Monaco. He showed outstanding form subsequent to the 1996 Olympics, scoring 13 league goals to help the club win the league title, and also finishing as the second-top goal scorer in the 1996–97 UEFA Cup. His performances earned him the award in 1997.
Kanu is the only Nigerian male player that has won the award twice. He was named African Footballer of the Year for the second time in 1999. In the 1999–2000 season he scored 17 times in 50 matches for the Gunners, including a hat-trick in fifteen minutes against Chelsea in October 1999 to turn a 2–0 deficit into a 3–2 victory.
Others who have not won but came close as second and third were Sunday Oliseh, Daniel Amokachi, Austine Jay Jay Okocha, John Obi Mikel and Vincent Enyeama. They played regular games for their clubs, but such cannot be said of the current Super Eagles again.
The last times the country came close with the award were in 2013 and 2014 when Mikel and Enyeama finished second and third respectively.
Review of old tactics and new strategies
These feats are achievable again if we face our fears with courage and hardwork. The NFF should combine whatever is in the report with tactics that have worked for the nation in the past.
Adequate preparation for every game and funding are important. While pointing to the success in the past, the football governing body in the country played a major role in preparing worthy facilities for players to lodge and train ahead of their encounters.
The second factor which contributed to the success of Nigerian soccer at the national level was the crop of players invited for matches. In those good days when football was our national passion, zealous and aggressive players were always called up to deliver.
The Super Eagles managers would invite players who plied their trades at top-flight European leagues, or those that played competitive leagues elsewhere in Africa. The pride is that they worked as a team to earn victory when they wore green and white colours for national assignments.
Nigeria did not qualify for this year’s World Cup and this should be the time to reflect and reposition as the team progresses for the next AFCON qualification.
What Nigeria should target is to qualify and win the next AFCON, harvest young and dedicated players that would prepare for the World Cup in the next four years after this year’s, and gets to the semis of the competition to set a new record.
And lastly, Nigerians would be glad to see Super Eagles not only winning titles in Europe, but also compete for the subsequent African Football of the Year awards.