Africans left out in the cold

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been one of the best players. (Stuart Franklin / Bongarts / Getty Images).
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been one of the best players. (Stuart Franklin / Bongarts / Getty Images).

Johannesburg - When football’s controlling body Fifa and French magazine France Football released the names of the players who had made the short list for the world footballer of the year and the Ballon d’Or awards, respectively, African players were conspicuous by their absence.

Although the Ballon d’Or list comprised 30 names and the Fifa list 23, only two of them were Africans: Riyad Mahrez and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, with the Algerian star making both lists, while Aubameyang was deemed good enough to be included on the Ballon d’Or short list.

Those individual awards are generally slanted in favour of attacking players who score goals - a generally accepted fact - and there has been criticism that players from big clubs such as Real Madrid and Barcelona have an advantage.

But why Africans struggle to make a short list of 23 or 30 players is beyond comprehension.

As an example, look at take Dimitri Payet, the French international who plays for West Ham.

His statistics read: played 30 Premier League games and scored nine goals; played five FA Cup games and scored three goals. West Ham finished 12th.

Compare those with Aubameyang’s statistics: played 31 Bundesliga games and scored 25 goals; played 12 Europa League matches and scored 12 goals; and played four German Cup games in which he scored three goals.

Dortmund finished runners-up in both the league and the cup to Bayern Munich, and made it to the quarter-finals of the Europa League.

Even though statistics – and not only goals, which would be unfair as Payet is a playmaker and most of his goals were spectacular – favour the Gabonese international, he did not make the Fifa list.

And Aubameyang is not the only African star who can feel hard done by, having been left out in the cold.

No place for Slimani and Salah

Egyptian striker Mohamed Salah had a standout season for Roma in the Serie A, contributing 15 goals in 35 games as Roma qualified for the Champions League. Yet Salah, a skilful and pacey winger who has put in sterling appearances for the Pharaohs, is not deemed good enough for either list even if Payet was included after an impressive Euro 2016 with France.

Salah was equally impressive with Egypt, who not only knocked out Nigeria from the Africa Cup of Nations, but are well positioned to make their first World Cup appearance since 1990.

Another player who should have found his name on the short lists is Leicester City’s Islam Slimani, who did so well for Sporting Lisbon that the Premier League champions put in a £29 million (R511 million) offer for the Algerian marksman, who scored 33 goals for the Portuguese club last season.

Yaya Touré, who made the short list last year (when there was just one award held jointly by Fifa and France Football) said at the time that the reason Africans struggled to get on to the list was that they failed to get enough media attention during the season.

“To be honest, I think that some Africans deserve more light [to be shed on them] and, why not, to feature in this list.

"I know it’s hard to find successors to Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto’o, who set the bar very, very high. But we should definitely pay more attention to Africans in these circumstances.”

Having failed to make either the world player or the Ballon d’Or short list this year, the sidelined Manchester City player can at least look forward to the BBC African footballer of the year award, where African players are among themselves.

However, that list in itself is not without controversy, as Touré’s inclusion – alongside the other finalists Aubameyang, André Ayew, Mahrez and Sadio Mané – has been questioned.

Slimani and Salah should have been on the list before the Ivorian international, several African newspapers have written.

But then, presumably as Fifa and France Football have realised (and Ricky Nelson sang about): You can’t always please everybody, so you’ve got to please yourself.

Some consolation for South Africans, though, would be that Bafana Bafana midfielder Hlompho Kekana, who plays for Mamelodi Sundowns, has been nominated for the Fifa Puskas award for his goal against Cameroon.

He is in a list of 10 with the likes of Barcelona duo Neymar and Lionel Messi for the best goal scored between September 30 last year and September 30 this year.

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