The city of Accra, Ghana’s sedate but attractive capital is the venue for another watershed in the history of the African Football Awards as the event begins another quarter –century life under a new headline sponsor.
AITEO Group, Nigeria’s leading energy solution company and Official Optimum Partner of the Nigeria Football Federation, signed a contract with the Confederation of African Football in Lagos in October 2017 and is bankrolling the event for the first time.
Nigeria’s specific interests in Thursday’s event can be found in the Women African Player of the Year award (with Asisat Oshoala again in contention), Men’s National Team of the Year (where the Super Eagles, first African team to qualify for Russia 2018 and also with a match to spare from a so –called ‘group of death,’ is involved) and the Women’s National Team of the Year (featuring the Nigeria U20 girls). Super Eagles’ Technical Adviser, Gernot Rohr, is in the race for Coach of the Year award and flew into Accra on Wednesday afternoon.
Also on Wednesday afternoon, CAF President Ahmad, in company with FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura, CAF 1st Vice President Kwesi Nyantakyi and Nigeria’s CAF Executive Committee member Amaju Pinnick, paid a courtesy call on President Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo-Addo at the Flagstaff House. They were accompanied by CAF Secretary General Amr Fahmy and Deputy Secretary General Anthony Baffoe.
From the inaugural Awards in 1992, there have been 16 winners including four Nigerians (one of them, Rashidi Yekini, now of blessed memory), while John Mikel Obi (now Super Eagles’ captain) was runner –up in 2013 and goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama came third in 2014.
For many Nigerian football fans and aficionados, one of the biggest mysteries of the Awards is that former Super Eagles’ captain Jay Jay Okocha is not among the 16 previous winners. Many still feel he was good enough for it in 2004, when he was the Most Valuable Player of the AFCON and had a year to treasure with Bolton Wanderers in the English Premiership.
However, it is a new day and another event in Accra on Thursday night, with all the living 15 previous winners, including Nigeria’s Kanu (the first man to win the African Player of the Year award twice), Emmanuel Amuneke and Victor Ikpeba to turn up at the Accra International Conference Centre.
Liberia’s President-elect George Oppong Weah (who is the only African to have won the World Player of the Year title, and did a treble by also winning the European Player of the Year award in the same 1995) will be represented by his wife, with former former Black Stars’ captain Abedi ‘Pele’ Ayew (winner of the maiden award in 1992), four –time winners Yaya Toure and Samuel Eto’o Fils, two –time winners Didier Drogba and El-Hadji Diouf, and Frederic Kanoute, Patrick Mboma, Mustapha Hadji, Emmanuel Adebayor, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Riyad Mahrez, who won in 2016 but is not in contention for the 2017 gong, also expected.