By Lolade Adewuyi
Nigeria’s John Obi Mikel will go head to head against Cote D’Ivoire pair Yaya Toure and Didier Drogba for the Caf African Footballer of the Year award to be announced at a gala in Lagos on January 9.
The trio emerged finalists for the award after Caf pruned the list of 10 players on Monday. Those dropped include Nigerian trio of Vincent Enyeama, Emmanuel Emenike and Ahmed Musa, Egyptian veteran Mohamed Aboutreika, Burkinabe midfielder Jonathan Pitroipa, Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan and Gabon’s Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang.
First time nominee Mikel will attempt to unseat reigning player of the year Toure and former winner Drogba. Both Ivoirians have won the award twice, with Yaya hoping to make it three wins on a spin.
In a year where national team football accolades will be key to the award, Mikel should expect to get a favourable look in by the coaches of the 53 national associations that make up the voting pool.
The Chelsea midfielder led Nigeria to Africa Cup of Nations title in February 2013, helping the Super Eagles defeat the Ivoirians in a testy quarter final encounter along the way.
Having won the Goal Nigeria Player of the Year Award for the second time in 2013 among many other accolades, Mikel certainly looks good enough for the African title this term.
With key performances that showed him as the fulcrum of the Nigerian side that broke a 19-year barren run, Mikel has placed himself at a vantage point. After all, he is the only one among the trio that has ever won an Afcon title.
While the Ivoirians have succeeded at their club sides, they have never been able to bring their talent to bear on the continent.
Such is the disappointment that has trailed the so-called Golden Generation of Ivory Coast who have been unable to back up their immense talent with a title at senior national team level.
At every point when they had been expected to make their number count, Drogba, Yaya & co. have failed, picking up two Afcon silver medals in 2006 and 2012 and finishing fourth in 2008.
Yaya Toure | Can he make it a third straight award?
Despite arguments that an award of this kind is supposed to be individual in nature, that is, it should only be about the tantalising goals and headlines that a footballer makes, it will be a disservice to the game if players who win championships as part of a whole group are overlooked.
At the Nations Cup, Mikel shone far above the Ivoirian duo as he was named man of the match three times and made the official team of the tournament.
He scored a goal at the Confederations Cup and also helped his country qualify for the 2014 World Cup, the first time in more than a decade that a reigning Afcon winner will play at the Mundial.
His performances in the past year received lots of praise from many quarters including one major endorsement from Zambia legend Kalusha Bwalya who said on SuperSport: “He’s good enough for the African footballer of the Year award.”
Taking nothing away from Yaya’s performances as the Elephants qualified for the World Cup and his impressive displays for Manchester City, Mikel certainly made the biggest impact in African football last year with the Super Eagles.
Seven years after winning his last Young Player of the Year award, the Chelsea midfielder surely deserves to win the 2013 Caf African Player of the Year award.