Ballon d’Or, the plight of African footballers

By Charles Lotara

The Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) has released shortlisted names of Ballon d’Or nominees with faces of key African footballers on the card.

With the precious global football award ceremony set for December 2nd 2019, soccer legends, and commentators ponder whether an African footballer will win the accolade, which was last brought to the continent in 1995 by former AC Millan player George Weah, now Liberian President.

Like the World Cup that flickered once in Africa in 2010, the fate of the Ballon d’Or coming back to Africa seems bleak and uncertain despite outstanding achievements being made by Africans in the world of football.

Earlier this year, Cameroonian legend Samuel Eto’o who himself supposed to win the Ballon d’Or during his football career according to analysts, lamented that former Manchester City and Ivory Coast midfielder Yaya Toure would have been crowned the winner of the top football award if he was white.

Eto’o and Toure played together at Spanish side Barcelona under Pep Guardiola, whom Eto’o astonishingly revealed did not hug any black player despite winning three trophies with three black players he found at the club.

Guardiola spent four years at Barcelona as a coach and during his time there were three African players at the team he inherited. They were Malian Seydou Keita, Cameroonian Samuel Eto’o and Yaya Toure. Neither of these players was noticed during the colorful ceremony of the Ballon d’Or despite winning the UEFA Champions League, Spanish La Liga, and the Copa del Rey in 2009.

Jose Mourinho, the reputable Portuguese manager who worked as a manager for European clubs Chelsea, Real Madrid, and Manchester United acknowledged the achievement made by the Cameroonian saying he deserved the award prior to his retirement.

Eto’o retired from football aged 38 after trophy-laden career with Barcelona, Inter Milan and Chelsea.

But let’s place aside Guardiola’s racist saga and flip over to the real question as to why African players’ achievements go unnoticed at the global football scale.

The stunning display of African footballers is usually attributed to their physicality other than their mental tactics and capability, especially by Western media commentators.

During the 2018 World Cup in Russia, British businessman and reality TV star Alan Sugar came up with a bitter and racisttweet about the Senegalese team.

Sugar’s colonial mindset saw the Senegalese team as people selling sunglasses on beaches, not as world-class players who deserve praise for their success.

Sugar’s statement demonstrates the implicit prejudice that often surfaces in Western media discussions about African players. That Sugar and many of his supporters initially did not see the racism in his tweet and tried to play it down as a “joke” confirms the latent bigotry that haunts football and how the media cover it.

But despite Sugar’s racial and bigotry remark against the Senegalese national team, there are intense discourses dragging on in the football fraternity on whether this year’s Ballon d’Or be given to an African player, with Sadio Mane from Senegal emerging as top favourite among the African nominees.

Former Chelsea striker Didier Drogba told Metro that Mane who plays for English side Liverpool has achieved so much to deserve the special accolade.

“For the AFCON, the Champions League, and the league championship. What he (Mane) does in the Premier League, very few players are able to do it. It is possible, but it would have been possible

[for others to win]

well before. There are many players who have represented well the African continent, like Samuel Eto’o,” Drogba told the UK paper.

Speaking earlier in the month to the same paper, Arsenal legend Wenger was asked who should win the Ballon d’Or award and said: “Mane was the outstanding character. I would say – because he is a fighter… and efficient. He’s not scared of anybody. At the moment, he deserves huge credit.”

Despite the praise poured on the Senegal international, the presence of usual suspects in the name of Christiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who won the Ballon d’Or five times each remains a huge stink at the brink for other contenders, including those from Africa.

The European duo have won the Ballon d’Or more than any other player in history. The two shared the accolade ten times with each of them winning five even in moments that seemed undeserving.

This year’s Ballon d’Or nominees are Sadio Mane (Liverpool), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Dusan Tadic (Ajax), Frenkie De Jong (Barcelona), Sergio Aguero (Man City) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal), Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Barcelona), Kylian Mbappe (PSG), Donny van de Beek (Ajax) Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool), Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus), Alisson (Liverpool), Matthijs de Ligt (Juventus) Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool), Bernardo Silva (Man City), Heung-Min Son (Tottenham), Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), Roberto Firmino (Liverpool)

Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Riyad Mahrez (Man City), Kevin De Bruyne (Man City), Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli), Antoine Griezmann (Atlético Madrid).

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