COMMENT By Solace Chukwu Follow on Twitter
It took something like three hours of song, dance, and loquacity in Accra, but Mohamed Salah was not to be denied. The Egypt international claimed his first Caf Africa Player of the Year award, becoming only the second Egyptian to sit atop the tree, after Mahmoud El Khatib in 1983.
Stating it is his first is deliberate, as there can be no doubt we are on the cusp of a run of dominance.
Precedent bears out this view: since Emmanuel Adebayor in 2008, Riyad Mahrez in 2016 is the only first-time winner who has failed to retain. However, beyond what recent history suggests, there is the dizzying trajectory of the wave that the Liverpool man is now riding, as a number of factors seem to have snapped into place all at once.
At 25, the former Basel man and Chelsea reject is only now entering his physical peak, and has simply become a more mature player.
Part of this is to do with the leading role thrust upon him, and to which he has taken so well, with Egypt.
As the talisman for a largely solid, functional national team, the onus to bear the team's attacking standard has encouraged him to shed any strains of fantastical thinking and simply fashion the simplest route to goal. The result, inevitably, is a calm, grounded outlook.
This has coincided with moving to Merseyside, where he has found in Jurgen Klopp a manager who considers him an incisive forward rather than a mercurial winger.
In that regard, perhaps Serie A stymied him somewhat, with its tactical strictures. Yet, it is certain his spell at Roma served to shake out whatever crumbs of self-doubt were lingering in the aftermath of his failed stint at Stamford Bridge.
Granting him greater license to play inside the box, and utilizing, in Roberto Firmino, a striker whose strength is his movement away from that zone, Klopp has let the Pharaoh out. The results have been sensational: 23 goals on 29 games since joining in the summer.
Perhaps the most crucial element though, and one which is inherently volatile, is that of rivalry.
This is embodied in Sadio Mane , with whom he shared the podium on Thursday. Of course, both share a training pitch as well, and Mane's second-place finish was eerily representative of how the Senegal international has come to play second fiddle to his Egyptian counterpart.
For all that Mane has sought to play down the suggestion, there has been a palpable miasma of discontent hovering around him through the season. His brilliant goal away at Burnley over the New Year, incidentally in a game Salah missed due to injury, was followed by a pointed lack of celebration.
In the first place, it was to the Egyptian that he lost his preferred starting position, having to move over to the left side of the attack to accommodate the newcomer on the right.
While Liverpool are remarkably fluid upfront, the subtle difference between playing on the right or the left for a predominantly right-footed forward like Mane is that the former allows him to be more direct and use his pace more immediately to get in behind on the outside of the full-back.
So it is that, as Salah's star has shone, Sadio's has waned. There may be no outward animus, but can such a blatant inverse proportionality not prey on the latter's mind?
It is a relationship and dynamic that will be interesting to watch, seeing as its implications are so far-reaching. They both will need each other if any is to usurp the other, especially as the balance between individual prosperity and team accomplishment becomes even more precarious in awards of this nature.
What would be more valuable to either, and how far would they go to achieve that goal?
At the moment, Liverpool are in fine form, and even though the league title seems a formality even at this stage, the Reds are in the Champions League Round of 16 (they have history in the competition) and may fancy a deep run in the cup.
There is now a sense that a direction is being forged at Anfield, and Salah's goal have played a massive part in charting it. Yet, it was only a year ago that the bottom seemed to fall out of Liverpool's season when Mane went off to the Africa Cup of Nations.
Evidently, these are two important attacking components within a team whose renaissance remains somewhat fragile, and if a fracture were to occur between them, it is clear bad results would not be far off; see: the Merseyside derby, in which Mane elected to go for goal, with the score at 1-0, rather than play in Salah, a decision which would greatly impact the final outcome.
Whatever the case, it would appear it is in Liverpool that the course of African football will be decided over the next couple of years.
The variable that is Naby Keita, arriving in the summer and destined for the very top, further stirs what is an already boiling pot.