Right, let’s get this straight.
There are two notable individual awards for African players.
The BBC’s African Footballer of the Year and the Confederation of African Football’s African Footballer of the Year.
I have an issue with the latter, as they have curiously omitted Kalidou Koulibaly from their ten-man shortlist of nominees.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that a serious oversight?
The 27-year-old Senegalese centre-back has been one of the best defenders in European football in the last year.
A colossal presence, Koulibaly was the bodyguard of Maurizio Sarri’s entertaining Napoli team last season who missed out on the Serie A title despite accumulating 91 points over the course of the season.
However, his merits stretch far beyond his imposing physicality and aerial dominance.
Koulibaly is a typically modern centre-back; comfortable in possession and prone to fearless charges up the pitch.
Sarri’s Napoli (and Carlo Ancelotti’s to a less extent) were committed to playing out from the back and even those who only followed the team’s captivating 2017/18 campaign via viral clips would have noticed Koulibaly’s influence in implementing such tactics on the pitch.
A threat from set-pieces, he contributed five league goals last season, including a towering 90th-minute header against Juventus in Turin.
He has continued his good form this season, most recently impressing against Liverpool at Anfield in the Champions League.
Basically, he’s class — possibly one of the top five centre-backs in the world.
So why the snub?
Here’s the list of nominees for CAF’s award:
- Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
- Riyad Mahrez (Man City)
- Alex Iwobi (Arsenal)
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal)
- Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
- Medhi Benatia (Juventus)
- Denis Onyango (Mamelodi Sundowns)
- Andre Onana (Ajax)
- Anice Badri (ES Tunis)
- Walid Soliman (Al-Ahly)
There is a concerted effort to include players who play in Africa’s domestic leagues (Onyango, Badri, Soliman) but it’s difficult to justify the inclusions of Iwobi and Onana and maybe even Mahrez over Koulibaly.
Perhaps Koulibaly is a victim of forward-bias?
Benatia is the only defender included in the shortlist, though two keepers (Onana & Onyango) have made the cut.
Many believe Ballon d’Or voters fail to properly acknowledge the contribution of defenders.
Raphael Varane had to win the Champions League and the World Cup to finish 7th this year.
Perhaps those at CAF are similarly inclined to overlook the importance of the game’s spoilers?
Still, at least the BBC on my level.
Salah retained his crown (deservedly so) to be named BBC African Footballer of the Year for 2018, but Koulibaly made the five-man shortlist, alongside Mane, Benatia and Atletico Madrid’s Thomas Partey.