The evening was turning out nicely. The atmosphere was engaging; assorted drinks flowed freely and the food was good. The waiters and waitresses did their job professionally. They didn’t miss out any tables even though there was a huge turnout at the Eko Hotel and Suites venue of the Glo-Caf Awards 2013.
Nigerians were picking most of the awards on offer; it couldn’t get better, everyone was happy. Super Eagles won National Team award, Golden Eaglets picked Youth National Team crown, Nigerian Supporters Club won the Fair play award, Stephen Keshi was named coach of the year, Kelechi Iheanacho won the most promising talent gong; but all this faded the instant Yaya Toure was named yet again as the Player of the Year. It was a shocker. It was like reaching for the stars one moment and crashing the next.
This was the big one, it was the one Nigerians were waiting for and desired the most. Yet it eluded them. Indeed when Sunday Oliseh, who by the way did Nigeria proud as co-host of the event, said no heartbreak please before making the announcement, it was obvious to all in the hall that Mikel Obi had not won after all.
Everything from then on took on a life of its own. There was a collective sigh of disappointment; nobody was interested in whatever else was supposed to follow. Glasses already half raised didn’t make the complete trip, stopping tremulously near the lips. Meals were left unfinished. P Square the music group expected to perform afterwards couldn’t as people trudged dejectedly out of the hall. It was a bad day in the office with one commentator comparing the evening to a football match with Nigeria leading for 90 minutes only to concede two quick goals in added time.
That Nigeria had a near clean sweep of the 2013 Awards was no consolation. Nobody was interested in the other categories. Nobody remembers them just days after anyway. Mikel had lost the big one and that was it!
There were loud protests by those who felt Mikel was hard done by, who felt Nigeria had been robbed.
“I think they came here to rob us; I don’t know where they got the effrontery from, not now when Mikel has everything going for him, not even in our country,” fumed veteran broadcaster Bisi Olatilo.
“I don’t think this is fair. I think NFF (Nigeria Football Federation) should wake up and stop the infighting and bickering, put its house in order. It is time we had our own people in CAF (Confederation of African Football).”
Another fan Chris Imoke was equally devastated.
“It has happened; everybody is disappointed. I think Mikel should have won it, that is what everybody is saying,” Imoke flung out as he walked away.
NFF was not left out in the general mood of disappointment verging on anger that pervaded the air after the announcement of Toure as winner last Thursday.
The football house reveling in its recent good fortunes and expecting the African Player Award to be a sort of icing on the cake for a successful 2013 was bitter to say the least going by Chris Green’s comments.
“Let us see the criteria they used; I think we need to know how they arrived at Toure. He is a good player no doubt about that, but my problem is how did they arrive at this? We need to know, we need to see the criteria they used.
“If they picked Super Eagles as the best team it follows that MIkel should have been named the top player. The whole thing doesn’t add up,” said a livid Green who is Chairman of the Technical Committee of NFF.
Howbeit, in the midst of the sentiments, there were those in the audience, Nigerians no less, who felt justice was done and that Toure deserved the award.
“Let us forget about sentiment. Can you really compare Toure and Mikel? They are not in the same level. So let us hope that we get it next time,” said a fan who refused to mention his name.
Given the controversy that the award has generated, and this is not the first time, CAF needs to make the criteria for winning the award clearer. There has to be a streamlining of the parameters in such a way as not to give room for complaints and theories of gang ups, whether Francophone, Anglophone or whatever.
The dichotomy between individual performance and contribution to team success should be a thing of the past. Mikel in the review period won the Nations Cup and also the Europa Cup with his club on which basis many expected him to be crowned the African king. But on the other hand many argue that Yaya is a superior player whose individual performances far outweigh those of Mikel. Where then is the place of the team, after all football is ultimately a team sport? Clear-cut and well defined criteria will sort out this dilemma.
Again the voters (national team coaches) must be acquainted with the parameters and they should be broad minded enough to understand that they don’t have to vote for their own player or make it something of regional solidarity.
The Algerian Coach Vahid Halilhodzic for instance voted for Egyptian Mohammed Aboutreika as his number one choice. This may not be that terrible, after all Aboutrika is a good player, but the real scandal was in placing Toure on number nine when the list had to be pruned from 10 to the final three. For a football person that was scandalous.
Overall Toure had 373 votes to Mikel’s 265. 20 coaches voted for the Ivorian as their first choice with only four picking Mikel, Stephen Keshi inclusive. Clearly the overall tally wasn’t close at all, but what will give future awards a stamp of authority beyond reproach is how well Caf defines and clarifies the criteria.