Again, Nigeria failed to excel at the just concluded 2018 CAF Awards which held in Dakar, Senegal. Apart from the country failing to win the coveted and topmost individual prize, none of our players made the African Best XI in the male category.
However, our fortunes have not been bleak in the female and age group categories. While we lost the top prize in the female category to the immensely talented South African, Chrestinah Thembi Kgatlana, two members of the Super Falcons, Francisca Ordega and Asisat Oshoala, finished second and third best players. The Super Falcons also won the Women’s National Team of the Year.
Our age group teams in both the male and female categories have also generally held their own on the continent and even on the global stage, with the Super Falcons qualifying again for the World Cup in France, coming up in a few months and with the great prospect of surpassing their previous best mark of a quarter final finish.
Our concern now is with the male national team and the declining fortunes of our players. As an indication of this slide, no Nigerian player has won the CAF African Footballer of the Year since Nwankwo Kanu won it in 1999. That is exactly 20 years ago. The exertions of our best players such as Victor Moses, Mikel Obi, Wilfred Ndidi, Ahmed Musa and Oghenekaro Etebo were not enough to get us on the African Best XI for 2018.
This is a great setback for the Giant of Africa. To regain our football glory, we must go back to the basics and reorganise the nation’s football. The local league must be rejuvenated and new talents discovered. We need a strong and very competitive league that can attract foreign players. Although the current administration has introduced some reforms in our football, perhaps they have not gone far enough or fully implemented them. The NFF must put its house in order.
We lack talented players at home and abroad. This can explain why our players no longer play in the top European leagues and the few that feature hardly play regularly for their clubs. Unfortunately, our local league cannot compare to the best on the continent, as countries like South Africa, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia are unarguably ahead of us. The administration of our football cannot be said to be among the best in the world. Above all, the local league suffers from inadequate funding. All these militate against the development of the nation’s football. Our football fortunes will continue to dwindle until we get our acts together. But it is not all woes. Our women’s national team has dominated the continent for the last couple of years. The exploits of the female team demonstrate that there is hope for our football. Interestingly, the female category of the CAF awards has been dominated by our women since its inception in 2001. Mercy Akide, Perpetua Nkwocha, Cynthia Uwak and Asisat Oshoala were past winners.
Our hope is that the glory of the country at the CAF Awards, especially in the male category would be quickly restored so that we can go back to our rightful place in African football. However, we commend the latest CAF Award winners. Mohamed Salah beat his Liverpool teammate, Sadio Mane of Senegal and Gabonese Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal to the second and third place respectively. Salah also won the 2018 BBC African Footballer of the Year prize. He won the CAF African Footballer of the Year award in 2017. It is a remarkable achievement for the promising Egyptian. The Youth Player of the Year went to Achraf Hakimi of Morocco. Mauritania won the Men’s National Team of the Year. We must refocus our football so that we make continental and global impacts.