19 years ago was the last time a Nigerian player ever won the prestigious CAF player of the year award despite the country’s great dominance in African football.
It was the year when former Super Eagles and Monaco striker, Victor Ikpeba, who was popularly regarded as the prince of Monaco defeated the likes of fellow compatriot, Taribo West and Chad’s Japhet N’Doram for the award.
The CAF Awards is an awards evening held to honor the best African association football players. It is conferred by the Confederation of African Football.
However, it is so sad that the scenario has changed as Super Eagles players have failed to hit the highest ranks for both club and country compared to their African brothers who have shown consistency.
Nigerians enjoyed dominance of the Africa Footballer of the Year award in the 1990’s, winning it five times between 1993 and 1999.
Presently, the Ivory Coast’s Yaya Toure remains the only stand-in player in Africa that has been in the headlines for winning the award three times, of which nobody seems to give him strong competition. Even though attention has shifted to Gabon’s striker, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who on Thursday was honored with the CAF player of the year award, after defeating Yaya Toure and Ghana’s Andrew Ayew, it is still clear that Nigerian players remain asleep with their game and may not even be contenders to win next year.
In the past players such as the late Rashidi Yekini and Emmanuel Amuneke, Daniel Amokachi, Kanu Nwankwo, Sunday Oliseh, Austine Okocha, Finidi George regularly competed at the highest level for their respective clubs in Europe and were so popular amongst football lovers in Africa; the same can’t be said with the current crop of players that are a part of the senior national team.
1993 was Nigeria’s year of glory as Yekini became the first Nigerian player to be crowned CAF player of the year before Amuneke, after his two-goal heroic performance in the final of the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations, where the Super Eagles defeated Zambia 2 – 1.
Again, 1996 and 1999 was not an exemption for Nigerian football as Nwankwo Kanu stole the show with a superb display at the Atlanta Olympic Games in the US. He was part of the team that won the gold medal in Men’s football, beating the likes of Brazil and Argentina in the semi-final and final respectively.
He was also an instrumental figure for Arsenal as he scored 17 goals in 37 appearances for the Gunners in the Barclay’s Premier League.
It is not surprise that Nigerian players are just only shortlisted for the awards without winning it; the reason may not be far fetched, considering the fact that a few of them are benched players in the lower leagues in Europe.
Bizarrely enough, the poor developmental program by the Nigerian Football Federation has hindered the nation’s football in areas of unearthing new talent that would be a valuable asset to the senior national team.
In addition, most of the established Super Eagles stars have not shown strong attitude of commitment because they are often satisfied only by increasing their fat accounts.
Former CAF and FIFA instructor, Adegboye Onigbinde pointed out that for Nigeria to reach the pinnacle of the CAF award, serious developmental programs must be implemented.
“I think it’s because we have not been developing football. I’ve not seen the football developmental program for Nigeria. I’ve been talking about this for 50 years and nothing has been done about it. The problem with our football didn’t start in the 1990’s, it started earlier than that. In the 1960’s up to the 1980’s, leading clubs in Nigeria were getting players from secondary schools. But that is no longer the trend”.
Former Super Eagles striker, Victor Ikpeba, who was a recipient of the CAF Award insisted that Nigerian players must up their game before they can be recognized.
“I am not too surprised that Nigerian players have failed to dominate the Glo-CAF Award considering the fact that only a few of them play in the Champions League and command regular shirts in their respective clubs in Europe. Until we re-position our football, it will be difficult for our players to win the award.
Former Super Eagles midfielder, Garba Lawal pointed out that Nigeria lacks exceptional players which has eluded them from winning the CAF Award.
“It’s really disappointing that Nigeria has not won the CAF award in the past few years. I think our player s are not doing enough in Europe. In those days, when we were winning the award, we had players who were doing exceptionally well for their clubs in Europe. What is happening now is frustrating. Where is our football going?” Lawal said.
“From the look of things, no Nigerian player will win the award in the next few years, unless we have some surprises from the younger players. Good thing, Odion Ighalo is doing well for Watford and he could be considered for the award next year if he maintains this form” he noted.
According to President General of Nigerian football Supporters Club, Dr. Rafiu Ladipo, the Super Eagles players must display a level of hardwork to win the CAF Awards.
“It is only hard work and dedication that can make any Nigerian player to be a strong contender of the prestigious Glo-CAF Awards.
“Let’s regenerate the good old days when our players not only dominated the list of short-listed candidates, but went ahead to win the awards.