By Kingsley Kobo
The names of these five footballers resound in the modern history of African football. All of them have been celebrated by the Confederation of African Football (Caf) with more than one individual honour, however, they have bemoaned several times for failing to win a couple of prestigious titles and honours that could have added a glossier shine to their legacy.
|GEORGE WEAH - LIBERIA
In 1995 the former Liberia international became the first African football player, and only to date, to be named Fifa World Player of the Year (now Fifa Ballon d’Or). At the same time he won the European Footballer of the Year and African Footballer of the Year awards.
He is one of the living legends of African football, and has inspired hundreds of young talent from the continent, both as a star player, a philanthropist and a peacemaker. His business acumen and entrepreneurial success improved the approach to soccer careers in the continent.
However, the retired striker still regrets never winning the Africa Cup of Nations title, even though pundits still give him kudos for singlehandedly preparing and sponsoring his side to their debut qualification in 1996. He was named African Footballer of the Year thrice in 1989, 1994 and 1995, but never won the Uefa Champions League, despite finishing top scorer with seven goals while playing for Paris Saint Germain in the 1994/95 season.
|ABEDI PELE - GHANA
The former Ghana international had a rich career that spanned over 20 years, during which he became a household name across all the sub-regions of Africa, with kids emulating his pony hairstyle and aspiring footballers modelling their style after his tiki-taka.
The attacking midfielder was one of the pioneers of African football in Europe, earning much of his fame in France where he won the prestigious Uefa Champions League in 1993 with Olympique Marseille.
He became the first man to win the African Footballer of the Year award three times in a row in 1991, 1992 and 1993, and was a member of the Ghana squad that clinched the 1982 Africa Cup of Nations, but he never tasted the Fifa World Player of the Year award, which he keeps confessing had been his greatest dream.
|SAMUEL ETO'O - CAMEROON
The Cameroon captain is the only African footballer to win the Uefa Champions League three times – twice with Barcelona in 2006 and 2009, and in 2010 with Inter Milan. He won the Africa Cup of Nations twice with Cameroon in 2000 and 2002, and remains the tournament’s all-time top scorer with 18 goals.
The striker is also the only man to have won the African Footballer of the Year award four times, thrice in a row from 2004 to 2006 and in 2011. However, he could have become the second African player to win the Fifa Ballon d’Or in 2005, but was beaten to third position behind eventual winner Ronaldinho and second-placed Frank Lampard.
However, Eto’o says: “I have no regrets because to me the greatest award for a footballer is winning on the pitch and not the votes in a competition which you are not directly participating in.”
|KANU NWANKWO - NIGERIA
Kanu Nwankwo remains one of the most successful Nigerian footballers, notably for leading the U-23 national team to win the continent’s first gold medal in the Summer Olympic mens football tournament in 1996 in Atlanta, USA.
His most important career achievement was winning the Uefa Champions League with Dutch side Ajax in the 1994-95 season. He was also a legend in one of the great Arsenal teams, marked by two Premier League and two FA Cup titles won across five seasons, scoring 35 goals in 119 appearances.
He won the African Footballer of the Year award twice in 1996 and 1999 but never claimed the Africa Cup of Nations title with the Super Eagles, only getting close in 2000 when Nigeria reached the final and lost to Cameroon on penalties.
“Nobody would say Kanu never had a great career because he didn’t win the Africa Cup of Nations. You win some, you lose some, that is life and it applies to football,” he once said in an interview.
|DIDIER DROGBA - COTE D'IVOIRE
Many people outside Africa would understand you better when you introduce Cote D’Ivoire as Didier Drogba’s country. The player is even more popular than his country abroad and an idol back home. His arrival in 2004 inspired the upsurge of the country’s best ever football generation.
Many Ivorians who felt the Chelsea legend was jinxed were dumbfounded when he helped the London club to win their first Uefa Champions League title in 2012. However, his local critics still argue that all his successes are individual or on club level and that he has won nothing for his country.
Drogba has won the African Footballer of the Year award on two occasions – in 2006 and 2009 – and led the Elephants to their first Fifa World Cup in 2006, but the Africa Cup of Nations title has eluded him and his side many times. “It doesn’t matter if I don’t win it with my team. Ronaldo won two Fifa World Cup titles with Brazil, but never won the Uefa Champions League. However, he’d remain a great footballer,” Drogba had said.Follow Kingsley Kobo on