Tears for Yaya, Okocha
So much has been written about Yaya Toure’s seeming harsh words at chieftains of the Confederation of Africa Football (CAF), following the loss of the Africa Footballer of the Year crown to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Gabon. Yaya has come under severe attacks from pundits here in Nigeria. Little attention is being paid to his message, which implies that CAF prefers those who excel in Europe than those who are exceptional in continental soccer competitions.
Yaya felt strongly that he deserved the award, having seen his national team Elephants of Cote d’ Ivoire and Coach Renard crowned the best. The law of averages would have been to make Yaya the best footballer, having been the pivot of the Elephants at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations.
Commonsense would allow Yaya’s assumptions, if for anything else but to justify the rankings of the team and its coach. Besides, one is forced to ask how the voters were so unanimous in picking the team and the coach, even as they ignored the major character in the Elephants. It reminded me of the famous newspaper awards where one paper cleared majority of the awards at stake, yet wasn’t declared the newspaper of the year. Only in Africa, especially Nigeria can that happen.
It is important to look at what both players achieved in the year under review. Expectedly, Aubameyang scored goals for Borrussia Dortmund in the German side’s worst year. Not many are talking about Aubameyang’s records with Gabon nor are they looking at how he fared with Gabon; at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, where the Elephants emerged as the champions.
Gabon was a disaster at the Africa Cup of Nations last year, winning only one match out of the mandatory three games. Aubameyang scored in the last game against Burkina Faso in the last group game. Gabon lost the first two games 2-0 to Equatorial Guinea and 1-0 against Congo. Is this what those who voted Aubameyang considered to be better than Yaya’s record? Those who voted must be told that the beauty of the game rests with scoring goals. If Aubameyang scored only one goal for Gabon in the group stage, it raises serious doubts about his proficiency and constituency in the art of scoring goals as a striker. This is the point Yaya made when he called CAF chiefs “indecent” and “pathetic.” Goals scored for European clubs shouldn’t take precedence over those scored here in Africa.
Yaya scored only one goal for the Elephants against DR Congo. Goal scoring isn’t Yaya’s duty. But he steps forward to be counted anytime his club’s or country’s strikers develop clay feet in front of the goalkeepers or are goal-shy. It is this extra responsibility beyond being the team’s captain that stands Yaya out of the African pack when players’ evaluations are made.
I had my doubts about Yaya’s chance of winning the diadem for the fifth consecutive time when social networks’ feeds came up with the laughable thought of picking another person for the simple fact that Yaya had won it for four consecutive times.
Such obsolete thinking can be so brazenly justified by CAF because we don’t know the parameters for voting beyond the fact that players, coaches and some other people cast their votes for the eventual winner. How does it sound that Cote d’ Ivoire and Renard are the best in Africa and Yaya is allowed to lampoon the organisers.
Anytime CAF President (or is it acting FIFA President) Issa Hayatou eulogises Austin Okocha, I take exception to it because he heads the body that didn’t crown Okocha as Africa’s best. At the France’98 World Cup, Okocha was easily Africa’s best player. Yet Hayatou and his clan ignored him. CAF chose Mustapha Hadji of Morocco. Hadji, the pony-tail player was with Deportivo La Coruna of Spain. Okocha was in Fenerbache in Turkey. Okocha’s sterling showing for Nigeria earned him the juicy contract at Paris Saint Germain (PSG) in France.
I’m glad that Yaya piloried CAF chieftains, because his utterances would form part of the discussions in planning for future awards. His rant, like the BBC described it, reminded me of how Austin Okocha was twice denied the Africa Footballer of the Year award, despite his outstanding talent.
Okocha won the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Africa Footballer of the Year award twice, yet he wasn’t considered the best in the continent. CAF must clearly define the parameters for voting, especially in the years where the body’s biggest tournament is played.
Ordinarily, star performers in years when the Africa Cup of Nations is held should be clear nominees of the CAF award, with the best going home with the Glo/CAF Africa Footballer of the Year gong. It is whimsical trying to equate the parameters used by FIFA in picking the World Footballer of the Year and those used by CAF. Most times, we are sentimental and emotional in our thoughts on such issues. Indeed, days before FIFA named its winner the social networks’ feeds raised the same voting pattern as ours’. I laughed it off because there wasn’t going to be any sentiments in picking the World Footballer of the Year.
There were two close contenders, Ronaldo and Messi, although Neymar was added to make the trio. Yet, based on the benchmarks set by FIFA, we didn’t need rocket science to know that Messi would nick this year’s award, irrespective of it being his fifth award, as it would have been for Yaya, if he had got the CAF award.
My pain is that Yaya wont honour any award organised by CAF, even if he merits it. He certainly wouldn’t want to swallow his vomit just as I don’t see how CAF will crown Yaya, even if all the voters pick him in the future. It would be a big shame.
I foresee a situation where Yaya will be challenged to give his best for Manchester City throughout 2016 to pour odium on the CAF award. Why? Yaya is hurt. And he looks set to take his pound of flesh from CAF.
What if Manchester City wins the Barclays English Premier League, the English FA Cup and play in the final of the 2015/16 UEFA Champions League with Yaya the usual star performer. Would CAF chiefs have the guts to name Yaya as the best player in 2016, if he truly earns it?
Yaya does more than the ordinary to propel both sides to victory. It is true that Yaya told his national team coaches that he would want to pick the games that he would play subsequently. Yaya’s reason was anchored on the fact that he wanted the coaches to scout for his replacement now that it has become apparent that his playing days are drawing to a close. Should that be the reason he should be rated third best in Africa? This is simply preposterous.
What stands out in Yaya’s rant is the need for CAF to review the parameters for voting. The change should include crediting players who excelled playing for their countries, not so much about their clubs, like we have seen this year.
I distance myself from the jibes thrown at Yaya that he benefited from his European club’s excellence against John Mikel Obi, when Nigeria won the Africa Cup of Nations in 2013. Will Nigerians say that Mikel was a better player than Yaya in 2013?
Otherwise, a time will come when African players would disregard the award. If we continue to give preference to European club performance over country, the Africa Cup of Nations would be less attractive, with the big stars opting to play for their clubs than their countries. This club-over-country rubbish should stop.
If we must compete with the best, we must do the things others do seamlessly. When I shouted over the need to truly select young boys for the country’s U-17 squads, many called me names. I was excited though that the last two NFF boards toed the paths suggested in this column. And the rewards are a bountiful harvest.
Today, revelations at the last two FIFA U-17 World Cups from the Golden Eaglets are in big European clubs’ academies. The implication of this development is that the Super Eagles will be the biggest revelation in Africa in the next decade.
Taiwo Awoniyi is with Liverpool FC of England but plays for German second division FSV Frankfurt in Germany. Kelechi Iheanacho plays for Manchester City. There are other Nigerian kids in the club’s academies, most products of the successful Eaglets’ squads in the last two editions.
Victor Osimhen is almost through with a German deal, playing for Wolfsburg. English Premier League side Watford and Serie A outfit Udinese along with La Liga side Granada are tracking David Enogela and Joel Osikel, who featured for Nigeria at last year’s U-17 World Cup in Chile.
It simply means that we have a large pool of young lads eager to win laurels for Nigeria, only if our coaches shed their mercantile tendencies and allow these boys graduate through the national teams, like Lionel Messi et al did.
With our pool of talents being absorbed in the European clubs, we don’t need any over-aged player at the Brazil 2016 Olympic Games. Instead of looking for over-aged players because they have experience, I would rather we go for those Nigerian-born lads who are grounded in the basics of the game to fight for shirts with those we have discovered.
We have taken the pains to get the names of Nigerians who can compete for shirt with those who earned us the Olympic Games ticket without looking for over-aged players to strengthen the squad. These are talented young boys who can deliver the goods if challenged and told what to do on match days.