By Anesu Chakanetsa
THE 2023 Ivory Coast Confederation of African Football (CAF) Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) draw held last week created great musical and football memories.
The tournament will be held early next year.
American-Senegalese singer Akon was one of the events directors (ED) and struggled with that for the rest of the night.
Music is his thing.
Faces of past-time African footballers caught the eye of photographers and cameramen alike.
Didier Drogba, Sadio Mane, Ashraf Hakimi and John Obi Mikel were the dignitaries picking teams for the draw.
And one would ask: Why the four?
It is without doubt they have considerable achievements in their football lives, both in Africa and abroad.
But there were other players who appeared to be absent from the lot, who also had great achievements.
Our very own ‘Flying Elephant’ Peter ‘Nsukuzonke’ Ndlovu, the first African player in the English Premier League cannot go unmentioned.
Groomed at Highlanders ‘Bosso’, he found himself at Coventry City.
He remains the first African player to grab a hattrick in the EPL, and that was against Liverpool!
But the question still remains: Who is the greatest African footballer of all time?
Statistically, the greatest players Africa has ever seen is the Ivorian Yaya Toure, because he scooped four consecutive African Footballer-of-the-Year gongs.
But some will argue, during that period there were no competitive players.
Africa is well known for having players competing for that gong.
Yaya Toure’s reign came just after the Samuel Eto’o-Didier Drogba debacle and just before the Muhammed Salah-Sadio Mane sometimes Riyad Mahrez one which currently is on the descent.
The Moroccan Ashraf Hakimi is taking over but there is a Guinean who is breaking records in Bundesliga, who might be Africa’s next big thing – Guirassy!
Before we look at who is celebrated as the greatest African footballer ever, we must consider that the choosing of best players has very much changed because of the coming technology whereby statistics are now being used rather than judging by the eye.
Journalists, football officials and even players would know who the football god is by just judging by the eyes.
That is why some so-called ‘dinasaurs’ (people from the past) still argue Ronaldinho and Zinedine Zidane are better than Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo even though statistics prove otherwise. ‘Ama 2000′ will always look at ‘Uncle Google’ rather than look to videos of past skills and piercing passes.
In Africa, players like Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha of Nigeria and Abedi Pele (Ayew) of Ghana are still regarded as best players because of their skills and sheer power.
But Dynamic players have come over the years who do not have much great appeal to the eye, but can bang goals, cover much distance, provide myriad passes and make considerable tackles.
To make matters worse, nowadays, a player and his/her team will have to win something to become the best.
And this idea came from the top.
French Magazine’s Ballon d’Or winners will have to win either the UEFA Champions League or the World Cup to scoop that much hyped gong.
If it’s not these big two, it has to be one of the major titles in big European leagues.
Few, if not at all Ballon d’Or winners from Africa and the Americas have won it on the premise of winning the Copa America or AFCON title.
BBC has, over the years, awarded best African footballers for their displays in Europe, and that has affected CAF.
That syndrome has percolated to motherland Africa of late.
An African footballer-of-the-year will have to win something big for his European Club, (maybe soon it will be Saudi Arabia).
Homeland victories play second fiddle.
For example, during the years (2012-2015) when Yaya Toure was scooping Africa’s top award, delegates looked much into his Barcelona and Manchester City performances rather than his native Ivory Coast.
In 1995 George Weah won the Ballon d’Or because of his performance for AC Milan in the European Champions League rather than for Liberia.
From 2006-2010, Muhammed Aboutrika was one of Egypt’s, and Africa’s, most dangerous striker.
His tragedy was being based in Africa despite winning three AFCON titles with Egypt and several gongs with Egyptian giants Al Ahly.
And CAF created an award for Best African Footballer Based in Africa! Insane!
What if there is a player like Muhammed Aboutrika who is performing better than those in Europe?
Will he or she be limited to that much less prestigious award.
Ideologically, that award means African football is unsovereign and Africa does not believe in her systems.
It is only recently where delegates are looking into both African and European successes.
Sadio Mane, Riyad Mahrez and Muhammed Salah have been valiant for their countries but luckily enough, they have been performing well at their clubs.
Back in the day, Okocha would bag the gong because of his excellent football in Africa firstly, rather than his Bolton Wanderers Club.
Africa has vast football talent, some of which has been stolen by Europeans.
But it still produces the best to the extent it is difficult to choose Africa’s all-time great.
Even when Mahrez, Mane and Salah’s time is simply waning, Hakimi stands firm in claiming the coming times.
But Guirassy of Guinea is doing great things in the Bundesliga.
If he can have the leadership qualities to lead his national team to greater heights, that would be great, otherwise he will suffer the Erling Haaland or Emmanuel Adebayo’s bad omen of being great players for their clubs, not countries.
Andre Onana of Cameroon still has the chance to prove for his club (Manchester United) and country that he can be the greatest goalkeeper Africa has ever seen.
Indeed, it is difficult to choose Africa’s greatest player because of how Europe dominates Africa’s football thinking and choices.
However, there still has to be Africa’s GOAT in football.
To be continued…