Super Eagles supporters my be disappointed that their man was overlooked for Africa's top honour, but Ivory Coast's Manchester City ace is truly the continent's standout performer
By Ed Dove
If the GLO-CAF Awards Ceremony had been a football match, the home side would have led 1-0 for 90 minutes before conceding two goals in stoppage time.
For the vast majority of the evening, the Lagos audience delighted in the enormous recognition their nation, Nigeria, was receiving. Stephen Keshi was named as Africa’s coach of the year following his excellent tactical work and his magnificent achievements over 2013. Kelechi Ineanacho, the precocious youngster, beat Ebenezer Assifuah to claim the continent’s Breakout Star award, while the nation’s fans received the ‘Fair Play Award’ for their pertinent, endless contributions throughout the year.
Stephen Keshi: Africa's Number One
Sunday Mba may have missed out on the Domestic-based Player of the Year award, but three Super Eagles (Vincent Enyeama, John Obi Mikel & Emmanuel Emenike) made the 2013 CAF Dream Team.
As the evening wore on and as the honours piled up, those in assembly began to anticipate the crowning glory. The night was set up to be Nigeria’s, but no one could quite breathe easily, no one could quite relax, until our king, Mikel, was sitting firmly on the throne, flanked by his Ivorian pretenders.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite to be, and the mood of the evening changed with CAF’s final, decisive decision.
The protestations of Nigerians, particularly on Twitter, after Yaya Toure’s name was revealed as African Footballer of the Year centred on the fact that while Mikel had won both the Europa League and the Cup of Nations in 2013, Toure had won nothing. Based on achievement, based on honours, Mikel should have been CAF’s champion.
Indeed, when the two men met at the AFCON, in that unforgettable quarter-final between the Super Eagles and the Golden Generation, it was Mikel who truly rose to the occasion. Toure performed, along with his compatriots, beneath a haze of indifference, unable to get a grip on their myriad of abilities and seemingly unwilling to take the risks needed to unsettle Keshi’s men.
Mikel, on the other hand, was a majestic influence. He continued his form of the tournament and dictated play for the Super Eagles, inspiring those around him and driving his team forward. He was the creative heartbeat of the side and was a key man as a youthful Super Eagles side claimed the continental crown.
Should Mikel have been Africa's Player of the Year?
In this instance, it is important for CAF to clarify the conditions of the voting. If the award is to recognise the most successful or most influential performer of the year, then Mikel should feel disappointed to have missed out, and Nigerians can rightly cultivate the sense of injustice that they inevitably will.
The award, however, is to recognise Africa’s finest player; it, therefore, becomes hard to look too far beyond Yaya.
The Ivorian may not have been at his best over 2013, nor lifted any silverware, but he remains Africa’s standout talent. He is the player capable of performing like no other, of dominating contests like no other and of performing more consistently than any other.
It is testament to Toure’s powers that even though he wasn’t at his magnificent best throughout 2013, he was still BBC African Footballer of the Year, featured prominently in the Guardian’s list of Best Players of 2013 and was the only African star to be named in the shortlist for the World Player of the Year.
For what it's worth, he was also top of my personal list of the continent's Top 25.
At the end of last season, he failed to distinguish itself in a Manchester City team that was losing its way under Roberto Mancini, but this term he has not only begun to rediscover his form of old, he has also added some new dimensions to his game; witness, for example, his sublime free kick against Fulham and his admirable goal tally.
His partnership with Fernandinho has the potential to be one of world football’s finest midfield combinations and the Ivorian is clearly thriving under the tutelage of Manuel Pellegrini. At the end of November, he was, by some distance, Africa’s most-prolific passer, averaging 82.6 per game; by contrast, Africa’s next-best was Mounir Obbadi, averaging some 20 fewer than Yaya.
Yaya beat both Mikel & Drogba to claim the top spot
Over the coming 12 months, Toure will look to win his second Premier League title and will also face Barcelona, his former club, in the Champions League round of 16.
Mikel and Toure will head to the World Cup as equals.
They are both key central midfielders for teams that will share similar expectations for their prospects: Cote d’Ivoire may have been eliminated in the first round on their two previous outings on the globe’s grandest stage, but they will be buoyed by the prospect of a favourable group. Nigeria ought to be confident about their own chances of escaping their pool and will no doubt be emboldened by the legacy of 2013.
This tournament will provide a perfect environment within which to compare the relative influences and abilities of Mikel and Toure; their Premier League contributions reveal only one winner, but the Chelsea man, in the green of Nigeria, is a different prospect.
If Mikel can guide the Super Eagles to unprecedented territory in Brazil, then Nigeria fans may not be so glum come CAF’s 2014 awards ceremony. The Chelsea man is unlikely to ever match Toure’s performance levels in England, but, in a World Cup year, the tale of the tournament always leaves the most lasting impression.