Lesser Lights Among the Giants of Africa

10 Nov

With the 34 nominees for the 2012 African Footballer of the Year named, Ed Dove runs the rule over some of the players that might not be familiar to Lovely Left Footreaders. As well as the famous names, the Drogbas and the Songs of the field, the initial collection of nominees contain some players that represent the continent’s minnows, as well as those who ply their trade at teams outside the big European leagues. At least until the field is cut down in late October, these players can be heralded to the same degree as some of their more exalted colleagues, recognition for a year of fantastic African achievement.
Naturally, the 2012 Afcon winners Zambia are well represented among the 34, despite their victory in February fading into the football memory. Four of that squad are honoured, as new Southampton striker Emmanuel Mayuka is joined by national captain Christopher Katongo, as well as Mazembe pair Stoppila Sunzu and Rainford Kalaba. As captain, and player of the tournament, Katongo may well fancy his chances, whilst Sunzu’s final-winning penalty in the shoot-out against Cote d’Ivoire, and Mayuka’s late winner against Ghana in the semi final hint at the influence and the temperament of these two men. Despite these players not having profiles as premiere as some of their fellow nominees, it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see one of them receive the award – Zambia’s emotional victory was a magnificent episode in African football history, and was due in no small part to these four individuals.
The number of nominees playing for clubs on the continent is, as is traditionally the case, limited, with Mazembe pair Sunzu and Kalaba being joined by Esperance forward Youssef Msakni. The Tunisian attacker was impressive in his nation’s run to the quarter finals of the Afcon, finishing with two goals, and being named among the substitutes for the official team of the tournament. Msakni also scored in Tunisia’s recent 2-2 draw with Sierra Leone, a match that came as part of the abridged qualifying campaign for next year’s African Nations competition. Another impressive performance in the following leg, and qualification for the tournament would surely augment his growing number of admirers, although the player has already agreed a move to Qatari side Lekhwiya in January 2013 – a significant fee of $15 million being negotiated for his services.
A second Tunisian to have won a whole host of plaudits over the last 12 months has been Aymen Abdennour, also among CAF’s nominees. Like Msakni, Arsenal were also linked to the young left-sided player, although it was Toulouse who eventually put pen to paper to acquire his services in the summer of 2011. A hugely popular figure at his former club Etoile du Sahel, Abdennour has continued to excel in the South of France. Le TFC have traditionally struggled to hold onto their top talents, the departure of Daniel Congré this summer a classic example, Abdennour’s performances have attracted the attention of Spartak Moscow among others, and it remains to be seen just how long he sticks around in the pink city.
Observers of French football may also be aware of young striker Hilaire Momi. Beyond Francophiles however, and those who take a keen interest in Central African football, his name is unlikely to be familiar. Despite an unspectacular scoring record down in Ligue 2 with Le Mans, Momi is a striker to be feared, just ask the Egyptians. Faced with an Afcon 2013 qualifying match against the Central African Republic in Alexandria in June, the Pharaohs were expecting to prosper comfortably, and put their failure to book a place at the 2012 edition of the competition behind them. They didn’t bank on Momi, however, the young forward scoring twice on the day, two goals that went a long way to eventually overcoming the North African giants over two legs.
In the changing dynamic of African football, Les Fauves of the Central African Republic may well be one of the coming nations. A victory in Bangui against Burkina Faso in their latest qualifier puts them in pole position to claim a place at South Africa 2013, an appearance which would be their first on the continental stage. Whilst Momi may well be dreaming of making a name for himself at the tournament, he will need the support of his strike partner Foxi Kéthévoama, another who finds himself honoured among the CAF nominees.
I first came across Foxi back in 2006, as he signed for Diósgyőr in the Hungarian league and introduced himself to European football with a respectable scoring return. He played for two other Hungarian sides, Újpest and Kecskemét, before completing a loan move to FC Astana in the Kazakhstani Premier League this year. As with his compatriot Momi, Foxi’s nomination comes on the back of that memorable double header against Egypt, the Bangui-born frontman decisively opening the scoring in the second leg at the Barthelemy Boganda Stadium. This year’s award will surely come too soon for the pair, but avoid defeat against Burkina Faso on the 14th of October, and the two of them will get the chance to strut their stuff in Soccer City.
Ultimately though, the award is likely to end up with one of the African heavyweights based in Europe. Yaya Toure’s masterful performances in England guided Manchester City to their first championship in 44 years, whilst then-Chelsea duo Didier Drogba and John Obi Mikel excelled as the Pensioners won their first European Cup, the former scoring the decisive penalty against Bayern Munich in the final, whilst the latter put on a midfield masterclass against Barcelona in the semis. Elsewhere, Demba Ba and Papiss Demba Cisse have set the Premier League alight with their attacking displays, Cisse in particular with two stunning strikes against Chelsea and a magnificent return from his first six months in England. 
While the ‘lesser lights’ identified in this article are unlikely to win the award when it is announced in Accra on the 20th of December, their efforts this year have been appropriately acknowledged by CAF through their nominations. With another African Nations Cup imminently upon us, many of these men will hope to make names for themselves, and become giants in their own right, on the fields of the Rainbow Nation in 2013.
This article was written by Ed Dove. Ed is a freelance journalist who writes for Goal Nigeria and Goal Ghana, as well as being African Editor of Kingfut.com. You can find more of his work on his blog eddydove.blogspot.com or by following him on twitter @EddyDove.
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