The African Footballer of the Year award has been conferred by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) since 1992. Now that the list of nominees for 2016 has been announced (see below for the full list), a few comments on this year’s biggest favourite are in order.
In 2016, the story of the footballing year has been Leicester City, and Algeria international midfielder Riyad Mahrez’s role as one of the central characters in their unlikely accession to the Premier League title must make him an almost certain winner. Should Mahrez indeed win, he will also become the first player from Algeria to win the award and the third Europe-born player to take the award after Frederic Kanoute (2007) and Aubameyang last year.
Mahrez also won the PFA Player of the Year award in April. After signing from the French second-tier side Le Havre in January 2014 Mahrez made a steady start to life in England and began 2015-16 with two goals in the 4-2 victory of Leicester against Sunderland. Neither player nor club has looked back since.
Mahrez also delivered some spectacular goals for Algeria in the African Nations Cup, including a free kick in early September against Lesotho as they completed their successful qualifying campaign for the 2017 finals in Gabon. In addition, with 30% of the votes, voters on Francefootball portal placed Mahrez closely behind Messi (32%) and significantly ahead of Christiano Ronaldo (24%) for this year’s Ballon D’Or (Golden Ball).
Given all this, it is safe to say that Mahrez has no true rivals in the competition. Yaya Touré, last year’s runner-up, is not a nominee this year. He has been frozen out of the Manchester City starting line-up by the new City boss Pep Guardiola following a row with Touré’s agent. As we recall, Touré described the decision not to award him Africa’s Player of the Year in 2015 as “pathetic” and “indecent” after the Manchester City and Ivory Coast midfielder finished second to the Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Aubameyang is among nominees again, and is likely to take the second place. Another former winner on the list is Samuel Eto’o. Mahrez’s compatriot and Leicester City teammate Islam Slimani has also been nominated. Ahmed Musa, a recent recruit to Leicester City, is one of three Nigerians in the list.
The winner, decided by a vote of coaches or technical directors of all African teams, will be announced in January.
Below is the full list of nominees for the African Player of the Year award:
1. Riyad Mahrez (Algeria & Leicester City)
2. El Arabi Hillel Soudani (Algeria & Dinamo Zagreb)
3. Islam Slimani (Algeria & Leicester City)
4. Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon & Antalyaspor)
5. Benjamin Mounkandjo (Cameroon & Lorient)
6. Serge Aurier (Cote d’Ivoire & Paris St-Germain)
7. Eric Bailly (Cote d’Ivoire & Manchester United)
8. Yao Kouasi Gervais ‘Gervinho’ (Cote d’Ivoire & Hebei Fortune)
9. Mohamed Salah (Egypt & Roma)
10. Mohamed El Neny (Egypt & Arsenal)
11. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon & Dortmund)
12. Andre Ayew (Ghana & West Ham)
13. Victor Wanyama (Kenya & Tottenham)
14. William Jebor (Liberia & Wydad Athletic Club)
15. Mehdi Benatia (Morocco & Juventus)
16. Hakim Ziyech (Morocco & Ajax)
17. John Mikel Obi (Nigeria & Chelsea)
18. Kelechi Iheanacho (Nigeria & Manchester City)
19. Ahmed Musa (Nigeria & Leicester City)
20. Cedric Bakambu (DR Congo & Villareal)
21. Yannick Bolasie (DR Congo & Everton)
22. Sadio Mane (Senegal & Liverpool)
23. Kalidou Koulibaly (Senegal & Napoli)
24. Keagan Dolly (South Africa & Mamelodi Sundowns)
25. Itumeleng Khune (South Africa & Kaizer Chiefs)
26. Mbwana Samatta (Tanzania & Genk)
27. Aymen Abdennour Tunisia & Valencia)
28. Wahbi Khazri (Tunisia & Sunderland)
29. Denis Onyango (Uganda & Mamelodi Sundowns)
30. Khama Billiat (Zimbabwe & Mamelodi Sundowns)