By Ed Dove
With the 34 nominees for the 2012 African Footballer of the Year named, Goal.com Ghana’s Ed Dove considers the credentials of the Ghanaian nominees, and presents his views on the field of selection as a whole.
Three Black Stars have been honoured among the 34, and while Andre Ayew, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, and Kwadwo Asamoah are perhaps unlikely to win the award at the end of the year, these players can be rightly acknowledged for their efforts in 2012.
ANDRE AYEW - Olympique Marseille
For Ayew, nomination may well be considered a silver lining on a black cloud in an important year of a nascent career. At a national level, things began badly, as the much fancied Black Stars fell to Emmanuel Mayuka’s late winner in the Africa Cup of Nations semi-final in Bata. Despite bagging two goals in the tournament, ‘Dede’ never quite managed to set the competition alight as he had threatened to.
Throughout the event the Black Stars dominated possession, and teams, without showing the cutting edge to truly inspire fear in their opponents. Ayew was typical of this, linking impressively with younger brother Jordan, but only fleetingly making a monumental contribution – an example being the extra time winner against Tunisia in their Franceville quarter-final.
On domestic duty, for his club side, Olympique Marseille, the year has been particularly trying. Slumping to a 10th place finish in the French Ligue 1, their worst for 11 years, OM were barracked from all quarters, and had to watch on torturously as rivals PSG splashed the cash – enough to potentially dominate the domestic circuit for the visible future. Troubles were compounded by a galling maiden league title for south coast rivals Montpellier – OM forced to look on longingly as La Paillade celebrated their triumph.
Ayew retained his place in Marseille’s first 11, but without progressing as many around him had forecast after his celebrated initial years at the club. Big games against MHSC and Bayern came and went without Abedi Pele’s golden boy showing what he is capable of, despite a respectable scoring return. A hat-trick against Lille in the 2011 Trophee des Champions now feels like an age away. In time to come, however, Ayew will surely find himself among the chief contenders for this award.
EMMANUEL AGYEMANG-BADU - Udinese
For Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, the year has been one of steady progression and augmented recognition. A crucial component of the Ghana team that progressed to the semis in the Afcon, Badu scored an important equaliser against Guinea, and managed to further cement himself in the Black Stars’ midfield. Domestically, Badu has risen in prominence at Udinese, his club side since November 2009. With Gokhan Inler departing for Napoli, the midfielder has been called on to replace the ex-captain in the centre of the park. The Berekum-born Black Star has performed admirably, enough so to somewhat soften the blow of Kwadwo Asamoah’s transfer to Juventus this summer.
After not featuring in Ghana’s uninspired 2-0 victory over Malawi in their initial qualifying bout ahead of Afcon 2013, an injury also looks like keeping Badu out of the return. Anthony Annan is set to remain marshalling the midfield in the near future, particularly after his impressive strike in the first leg, but if Kwesi Appiah’s men are to rove to glory in South Africa, they will surely need to call on the maturing talents of the diminutive Badu. Being named among the 34 nominees for the Caf award is testimony to the growing appreciation that exists for this young man’s talents.
KWADWO ASAMOAH - Juventus
The third nominee, Kwadwo Asamoah, is a dear friend of Badu, and similarities between the two men have not been lost on observers. Initially, their styles are akin; even if Asamoah allegedly possesses a higher technical proficiency. Both offer energy and dynamism in the midfield, as well as the ability to contribute both in defence and in attack, allowing their teams to switch fluidly between phases of play.
Their career trajectories have also followed similar pathways. Asamoah is an ideal illustration of Udinese’s guiding method, that of using their expansive network of scouts to pluck potential stars from the world’s more obscure leagues, trusting them domestically, blooding them in Serie A, before eventually selling them on to larger clubs for a handsome profit. Whilst Badu is still undergoing his tutelage in Udine, Asamoah has already arrived at the terminal stage of the conveyor belt, having been brought by Turin superclub Juventus this summer.
‘Asa’ has impressed in his early showings with the Old Lady, even setting up a goal for full back Stephan Lichtsteiner in his first Serie A appearance for La Vecchia Signora. With the Juventus midfield packed with technicians such as Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal, it may fall to Asamoah to add gusto and drive to the Bianconeri midfield, whilst simultaneously protecting those around him. Whatever his role evolves to become, Juve supporters can be confident that they have a star in the making on their books. The young midfielder is primed to step up to the dual challenges of Champions League competition and the defence of the Serie A title, whilst his fortnightly outings in front of over 40,000 will stand him in good stead to combat the rigours and pressures of playing for the national side. Asamoah may well become the brightest of Black Stars.
Ultimately, the award is likely to end up with one of the African heavyweights, perhaps more established than the aforementioned. Yaya Toure’s masterly performances guided Manchester City to their first Premier League title since 1968, whilst then-Chelsea duo Didier Drogba and John Obi Mikel excelled as the Blues won their first European Cup, the former scoring the decisive penalty against Bayern Munich in the final, whilst the latter put on a wonderful midfield display against Barcelona in the semis. In the North East, Demba Ba and Papiss Demba Cissé have set the Premier League alight with their attacking performances, Cissé in particular with two stunning strikes against Chelsea in May and a magnificent return from his first six months in England.
With the award winner to be named in the Banquet Hall, State House in Accra on the 20th of December, all Ghanaians will be urging the Caf officials to choose one of their stars for the prize. Whilst it’s unlikely, imagine the boost the nation would receive ahead of Afcon 2013 were one of their trio to be heralded as Africa’s finest.
Ultimately, 2012 may not prove to be the year for the Black Stars, but a fine showing in South Africa may do the trick, and we may well see some more of Ghana’s sons added to next season’s list of nominees.
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