Africa has been blessed over the years with many supremely talented players who, due to the misfortune of sheer bad luck, have found the coveted award of African Player of the Year eluding them in their prime. Here is Pulse Sports’ Thomas Freeman Yeboah to present five of such players.
Austin Azuka Okocha
He is rated as the most talented player to have ever emerged from Nigeria. He is naturally gifted and entertained fans with his trademark dribbling and skills.
The highest point of his career was his days at Frankfurt and Paris Saint Germain. Most of his playing mates, including Ghana’s own Tony Yeboah, will attest to the fact that he made goal scoring easy. The Brazilian maverick Ronaldinho, who had the opportunity to play alongside Okocha at Paris Saint Germain, once said that some of his mind-boggling dribbles were learnt from Jay Jay.
The only consolation Okocha got was winning the inaugural BBC African Footballer and the successive one, becoming the only player to retain the award.
In 2007, he was rated the 12 African best footballer for the past 50 years as recognition for his contribution to the game, and to his credit was the highest ranked Nigerian on the list. Edson Arantes Do Nascimento, popularly known as Pele, also named Okocha in his respected list of 125 greatest living footballers in 2004.
It is really pathetic that the former skipper of the Super Green Eagles was always a near man when it came to the African Footballer of the Year award – he finished runner-up twice. The former Nigerian playmaker, who was an idol to many fans, should be on the list of past winners of an award that was even won in 1997 by Victor Ikpeba, his national teammate, who in all fairness was way below his pedigree.
The various individual honours and bouts of international recognition as a footballer speaks of the heaviness of Okocha’s weight as a footballer, and of why he is indeed the greatest African footballer who never won the most coveted individual award on the continent.
The ex-Ghana and Frankfurt striker gave most goalkeepers a cause for concern. He proved his worth on the domestic scene by winning the Ghana topflight goal king award on two occasions before he took a decision to ply his trade abroad.
Tony Yeboah rose to prominence in the Bundesliga at Hamburg SV and Eintracht Frankfurt, emerging as the first African to win the Bundesliga top scorer’s award. He won it twice, too.
Yeboah took a decision to join Leeds United and he continued his goal scoring prowess. The Ghanaian scored spectacular goals against Wimbledon and Liverpool, both of which till date are rated among the greatest goals in the history of the English Premier. One of them was even nominated for the English Premier League goal of the Past 20 years in 2012. He has been a cult-hero at Leeds United till date due to his immediate impact in the team.
Tony Yeboah finished 9 in the FIFA Player of the Year in 1993 and was nominated twice for the African Footballer of the Year, but placed third and second in 1992 and 1993 respectively.
Considering his numbers, he should have had the opportunity to lay his hands on the African Footballer of the Year Award once in his career due to his world class talent.
At national team level, he was part of the Black Stars team that finished runners-up in the 1992 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) and also contributed immensely when Ghana participated in the 1996 AFCON, but fortunately he never played at the FIFA World Cup.
Samuel Osei Kuffour
The former Bayern Munich centre-back is arguably the greatest African defender of all-time. Known for his great physical power, he is best remembered for his time with Bayern Munich, whom he represented for over a decade, winning a total of 16 major titles, and playing in nearly 250 official matches.
With regards to national team football, he represented Ghana at all-levels: U-17, U-20, U-23 and the senior national team and participated in both the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup.
Osei Kuffour was short-listed twice to go to the podium of the African Player of the Year award, but missed out on both occasions. He was beaten to it by Nwanko Kanu in 1999 - a year which happened to be sad one for Kuffour, after his team Bayern Munich had conceded two late goals to lose the UEFA Champions League final to Manchester United.
In 2001, Osei Kuffour was the clear favourite to win the coveted award, following an incredible season in which he helped Bayern Munich win the UEFA Champions League and the FIFA Inter Continental Cup (he emerged the hero in the Intercontinental Cup final, scoring the only goal of the game against Boca Juniors in extra time). But in the end, he missed out on the award to Senegalese El Hadji Diouf in a controversial manner. The decision was highly criticised by a lot of soccer connoisseurs and is up till date remembered as one of the low points of the award.
Essien has often been touted as a box-to-box midfielder for his ability to exert boundless energy in supporting both offensive and defensive play. His tough tackling style also earned him the nickname ‘The Bison’.
One attribute of Essien that made him an exceptional player was his ability to play at different positions- lateral defence, central defence and midfield.
The former Chelsea midfielder in his heydays was a force to reckon with in midfield - that was why he was one of the trusted men for Jose Mourinho.
He was voted the French Ligue Footballer of the Year in 2005, before joining Chelsea at a club record fee, a deal that also made him the most expensive African signing at the time. He hit the ground running at Chelsea and helped them win the English Premier league and later the FA Cup, League Cup and the UEFA Champions League.
The former Lyon star man’s best year at Chelsea was the 2006-07 season. He played in different positions and scored incredible goals to rescue points for Chelsea. He was voted the Chelsea Player of the Season and his goal against Arsenal was voted the Goal of the Season.
However, all these awards didn’t propel him to African Footballer of the Year award. He was unfortunate to have played with Didier Drogba in the same team and the excellent Ivorian striker outshined the Ghanaian when they vied for the African award.
Essien, a consistent dominant force for several years, should have at least won an African Footballer of the Year Award once, but that wasn’t the case. This is especially heartbreaking given the fact that a player like Mali’s Frederick Kanoute, who produced just one year of magic, has his name in the list of past winners.
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Hossam Hassan epitomises Egyptian football and is one personality who should have won the Africa Footballer of the Year Award considering his consistency at the top for several years in his career.
The former Al Ahly and Zamalek striker finished second in CAF’s list of greatest African footballers in the past 50 years, with Roger Milla winning the ultimate.
He is the all-time to scorer of the Egyptian national team with 69 goals in 169 games. He won an incredible 14 league titles with both Al Ahly and Zamalek, all the while helping the Egyptian national annex three Africa Cup of Nations titles.
He was a clinical finisher who made goal scoring very simple. His mere presence in front of goal gave opposing sides major cause to worry at both club and country level.
Hossam Hassan played at the top level football for about two decades and shone even at age 40 in 2006, contributing to the success story of the Pharoahs of Egypt when they won the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) on home soil.