COMMENT By Solace Chukwu Follow on Twitter
There can be no doubt: this is the era of Mohamed Salah.
Tuesday's CAF Award confirmed what everyone already knew; the Egyptian is king, and his dominion is absolute.
For the second year running, he beat out Liverpool teammate Sadio Mane and Arsenal striker Pierre Emerick Aubameyang to claim the gong.
While the four in a row won by Yaya Toure between 2011 and 2014 makes it hard to countenance, there once was a time when this was a difficult award to retain. Sure, the great Samuel Eto'o, arguably the continent's finest of all time, managed it twice in the noughties, but even players like Didier Drogba and Emmanuel Adebayor never did.
In the 90s, it was practically unheard of.
This can be spun as a positive; that Africa's top players are not capable of maintaining a high level of performance for longer periods than before.
The other side of the coin is that the field is less competitive now, less democratic in its distribution. While the top three has stayed the same from 2017 to 2018, there was never a sense that Salah might not win.
Koulibaly at left-back? Ziyech overlooked? Bailly, Aurier included?
Can anyone still take Caf's Awards seriously?https://t.co/Xsf1YE6XMR pic.twitter.com/1ZJxru2zhk — Ed Dove (@EddyDove) January 9, 2019
Nor, indeed, is there a sense that we will not be having the same conversation in a year's time. Last night's awards came on the heels of the announcement that Egypt will host the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, a decision that presents Salah with a very unique opportunity.
Four times Egypt have played host to the rest of the continent previously, and only once – in 1974 – have they failed to win.
This fact installs them as favourites for the title right away, irrespective of their position in the CAF rankings. Their triumph in 2006, after they had finished well behind Ivory Coast and Cameroon in World Cup qualifying and looked less than likely contenders beforehand, is ample warning.
So, an opportunity for Egypt, and for Salah, but also the pressure that comes with it.
While their previous title vintage was chock full of impact players and quality, their squad this time around orbits a lot more around the ability of one man. This makes the Pharaohs a lot less sturdy, as was in evidence at the World Cup.
Much as Javier Aguirre has sought to give the team a more attacking bent, its stated aim remains to extract the absolute maximum from its talisman.
In that sense, Salah's dislocated shoulder in the Champions League final was almost symbolic of the weight he had – and has – to carry with his national side. His continued ability to do so will define Egypt's chances. It would also, in a sense beyond the purely numerical, make him immortal.
Both Yaya Toure and Eto'o were named the continent's best on four occasions, and while it seems now that there is little that can realistically impede Salah's pursuit of that mark, why leave it up to that? Neither, in their absolute glory, produced a 'lasting work' with their national team.
Cameron's cycle of dominance was just at an end when Eto'o began to reign in 2003, and the Ivoirian hoodoo was only broken after Yaya's quadruple.
Were Salah to go the distance this summer, it would elevate him to that level even then, especially considering the state of affairs in the Premier League.
Liverpool stand on the cusp of a historic first title since 1990, an achievement that would embellish the Salah mythos even further.
Of course, if these were to all come together, we'll be gathered again in a year, extolling a third Player of the Year gong for the 26-year-old.
It would make for the fullest legacy in African football for a generation.