COMMENT By Solace Chukwu Follow on Twitter
The European Golden Shoe has, in recent times, had only one realistic African candidate. Pierre Emerick Aubameyang’s stylistic peculiarities may have seen him unable to achieve his big move from Borussia Dortmund this summer, but no one would argue he has delivered prodigiously for Die Schwarzgelben since joining from St Etienne in 2013.
Last season, his total of 31 pipped rival Robert Lewandowski to first place in the scoring stakes in Germany. That, however, was only good enough for third place in the Golden Shoe ranking, behind Lionel Messi and dark horse Bas Dost, who got 37 and 34 respectively.
The Gabon international has steadily produced in Germany, with his goal average per game doubling over the past three seasons: from 0.48 in 2014/20215 to 0.96 in 2016/2017. If the trend continues, 2017/2018 promises to be his most prolific season yet, and could well see him take a big step toward grabbing the Golden Shoe prize.
Aubameyang’s biggest obstacle is, of course, Lionel Messi, but this season sees Barcelona under new management and shorn of one prong in their MSN attacking trident following Neymar’s move to Paris. It remains to be seen how the Catalan side adjust to their new reality. It could provide an opening for Aubameyang, even though he himself is having to come to terms with new management under former Ajax boss Peter Bosz.
If, however, the Panther fails to push on as expected, there are a number of interesting African candidates, and one of them in particular out of left-field.
The sprightly forward has quickly established himself as indispensable at Anfield after his debut season with the Reds. Hailed by some as last term’s most successful transfer, he heads into the new season with no mid-season Africa Cup of Nations obligations, and having put behind him a knee injury which ruled him out of action at the tail end of last season.
So, what makes him a likely candidate? Well, it is worth noting that Mane has hit double figures for goals in each of his last four league seasons, three in the Premier League and one in the Austrian Bundesliga. He scored 13 in 27 appearances for Liverpool last term, and his mix of pace in behind and dribbling in tight spaces is sure to continue to bamboozle Premier League defences.
It would require a huge step up though, not just for him but for Liverpool, who may very well lose Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona, and who have, in Roberto Firmino, a striker more feted for his work without the ball than with it. The burden of goals in the team would have to be spread a lot better in order to compensate, and Mane would be expected to provide a big scoring contribution to the cause.
Liverpool’s persistence was rewarded when Roma finally budged and allowed Salah join Klopp’s high-intensity project this summer. The Egypt international has taken to his new surroundings quite swimmingly, scoring freely in pre-season, which portends good things for the competitive matches to come.
While Salah is a proven goal threat, he will need to both simplify his game and step up in a big way to make an impact in the European Golden Shoe race. He scored 15 times in 31 appearances for Roma last season (which is commendable given that Serie A is not exactly a high-scoring division), but that represents his best-ever goal return.
Perhaps without an out-and-out no. 9 in the mould of Edin Dzeko ahead of him, we could see the very best of Salah as a prime goalscoring threat.
Last season may have been a huge comedown for both Leicester and Mahrez, but in 2015/2016, we saw just how great a player he could be. He scored 17 as the Foxes romped to an unlikely title, and also got into double digits for assists.
There is, however, some uncertainty over where he will be playing this season. The player is reportedly open to a move to Roma, but a deal is nowhere near completion at the moment. A case can be made that, with Leicester returning to the style which won them the title, staying would not be the worst thing in the world for the Algeria international.
The question then is, can he hit the heights again?
A surprise selection, and one whose cause will almost certainly be hurt by the Uefa coefficients, which only give Belgian league a multiplier of 1.5. Hanni is also more of an attacking midfielder than a striker, but he has shown a knack for finding the back of the net.
He scored 14 times last season for Anderlecht in 29 games, and is already off the mark this term for the reigning Belgian champions. A wonderfully gifted playmaker, he could benefit from the renewed pace of Henry Onyekuru upfront forcing defenders back, as indeed he already has once this season.