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Osimhen faces tough battle for CAF best player award

Nigerian players taking the stage ahead of the 2023 CAF Awards in Morocco, with Victor Osimhen looking to win the country’s first men’s POTY trophy in 24 years

Those who hold this school of thinking may be overlooking several other significant areas that might ignite our continental supremacy once again, if winning the AFCON for the fourth time and for the first time in ten years is the only indicator of Nigeria’s purported ability in African football.

The last time the Super Eagles won the AFCON was in South Africa in 2013 and it’s going to be almost 11 years by the time the 2023 tournament kicks off in Ivory Coast January 13. But one thing that is worthy of remembrance is that the last time a Nigerian was named the African Player of The Year was in 1999 – Nwankwo Kanu.

So also is the last time a Nigerian coach was named the Coach of The Year in any category, while it’s been 19 years since a Nigerian team won the Club of The Year award let alone a Nigerian player winning the Interclub Player of The Year in male and female categories since it was introduced in 2005.

Only former Super Eagles captain Vincent Enyeama won the African Champions League Best Player award, and that was in 2004.

Therefore, focusing on what some of our best individual talents can achieve on the continent will also go a long way towards etching some pride in Nigeria’s football history, at least, since talent has never been the problem.

On Monday (today), Eagles and Napoli striker Victor Osimhen (Player of The Year; Men), Super Falcons trio Asisat Oshoala (Player of The Year; Women), goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie (Goalkeeper of The Year; Women) and young midfielder Deborah Abiodun (Young Player of The Year, Women) are eying four of the biggest prizes at the 2023 edition of the Confederation of African Football Awards in Marrakech, Morocco.

With five women’s Player of The Year Awards in the bag, Barcelona Feminine forward Oshoala is seeking a record-extending sixth title in the women’s category and leads the way for the three other Falcons who are hoping to win their categories for the first time.

Largely, Oshoala, Nnadozie and Abiodun had a tournament to remember at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, where the Falcons reached the round of 16. The trio also had season-defining moments for their various clubs in the period under review (December 2022 to November 2023).

The only man in the mix, Osimhen, however, attracts the biggest attention and that is not unconnected to his form and the seeming stiff competition he faces from the two-time winner, Liverpool man from Egypt Mohamed Salah, as well as Morocco’s PSG star, Archraf Hakimi, in the period under review (November 2022 to September 2023).

Scoring 26 goals to help Napoli win the Italian Serie A for the first time in 33 years, emerging top scorer in the league last season and also firing Nigeria to the next AFCON in Ivory Coast should be enough credentials to stake a claim as the best player on the continent. But missing out on the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where Hakimi and Morocco shocked the world to reach the semi-finals, the first by an African side, could hinder Osimhen’s chances, some analysts opined.

At club level, Hakimi also won the Ligue 1 with PSG and the 25-year-old defender scored five goals plus four assists in 28 appearances.

However, some feel Sallah isn’t much of a threat because he didn’t have any piece of silverware to show for his 19 goals and 12 assists in the English Premier League last season.

To an extent, the personalities of Osimhen, Hakimi and Sallah will also compete in terms of appeal to the CAF panelists and everyone who will have a vote in the decision and that’s where it becomes difficult to think it would be a walk in the park for any of the trio

Hakimi and Morocco’s World Cup feat, however, appeals to logic, as much as Osimhen’s individual performance, even among Nigerians.

“So Hakimi won the French league, as did Osimhen. The Nigerian striker scored plenty of goals, Hakimi got as far as the semi-finals of the World Cup, a tournament Nigeria didn’t qualify for. If (Lionel) Messi winning the world’s best player award was based on his achievements at the World Cup, then Hakimi should be African Footballer of the Year. Despite Haaland achieving what he did (the treble) at City, he was deemed not worthy. The World Cup is the yardstick, and a decision on the best in Africa should be decided based on greater accomplishment,” on-air personality Charles Anazodo stated.

“It’s not just about being on a team that won the title, otherwise Zambo Anguissa would be in the running too. Osimhen was the top scorer in Serie A and Napoli’s main guy. Was Hakimi PSG’s man guy? His World Cup counts for something, but the title thing isn’t the same,” Sola Egunjobi argued.

Osimhen was the highest-ranked African player in the last Ballon d’Or award ceremony and that is another logic that gives him the advantage.

“If you’re going by club performance, it’s easily Osimhen. If you’re going by national team performance, it’s easily Hakimi. Osimhen also finished as the highest-ranking African in the Ballon d’Or. I honestly see this going either way,” Dayo John said.

Beyond Osimhen, Oshoala, Nnadozie and Abiodun, who are Nigeria’s global stars of women’s football, the real idea of doing it again with the CAF Awards also lies in what happens on the domestic scene.

The last Nigerian who won Coach of The Year in any category was the late Stephen Keshi in 2013 after he led the Eagles to a third AFCON title in South Africa the same year. More worrisome is also the fact that Enyimba in 2003 and 2004 was the last Nigerian club to be named Inter-Club Team of The Year.

“We believe we have big teams but we don’t. We need to work on our structure and develop our leagues. We need to make it enticing and make sure it’s competitive. We can’t compare what the North Africans and South Africa are doing with our league,” football administrator Sanmi Doherty said.

“As a club owner, part of what I think we should keep doing is to engage the private sector to invest in our football. That way we can attract top-class players and coaches and that makes it more competitive. If we do that, maybe in a few years, our league should be there,” Doherty added.

In as much as talent has never been the problem, what that means is that proper development is what is needed to eliminate the disgrace of continental failure of Nigerian clubs and coaches. As promising as it looks for the global stars from Nigeria, the ones at home need to be pushed and given the platform for excellence.

If Osimhen wins the men’s award for the first time in 24 years, since Kanu won it in 1999, Oshoala wins a record-extending sixth women’s crown, Nnadozie stays undisputed as the goalkeeper of the year and Abiodun also brings the young player gong home, it doesn’t mean we will win the 2023 AFCON.

What it means is that Nigeria should return for another with more nominations turned into winning more frequently and not after donkey years.

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Sydney Okafor

I am so passionate about this my profession as a broadcast journalist and voiceover artists and presently a reporter at TV360 Nigeria

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