It was fourth time lucky for Sadio Mané. As expected, the Senegalese and Liverpool star was declared winner of the African Player of the Year award for his outstanding achievements the past season. The women's player is Asisat Oshoala of Nigeria and Barcelona.
Algeria was named the African men’s team of the year while Cameroon claimed the best women’s team.
Morocco’s Achraf Hakimi was chosen the African Youth Player and Algeria’s Youcef Belaili African interclubs player of the year.
The African goal of the year went to Algeria’s Riyad Mahrez. The women’s coach of the year was won by Desiree Ellis of South Africa and the men’s coach of the year went to Djamel Belmadi of Algeria, while the federation of the year is the Egyptian Football Association.
CAF also announced the 2019 African best 11 team: Andry Onana, Kalido Koulibaly, Achraf Hakimi, Joel Matip, Serge Aurier, Riyad Mahrez, Isdrissa Gana Gueye, Hakim Ziyech, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The Liverpool forward had been a finalist in the previous three editions of the vote, but in all those instances, he never went back home with the coveted piece of silverware. His Liverpool teammate Mohamed Salah of Egypt and Algeria’s 2019 Total Africa Cup of Nations winning captain Riyad Mahrez stood in the way of his dream.
But on Tuesday, Mané managed to win the continent’s most prestigious sports title, at the 28th edition of the annual CAF awards gala which took place in the Egyptian resort of Hurghada, at the Albatros Citadel in Sahl Hashish city. It was the first time since 2010 that the event was held in a North African country.
Mahrez won the accolade in 2016 and Salah won it the last two years in a row.
Mané received his trophy in the absence of Salah and Mahrez who sent apologies for not attending the awards ceremony. Mahrez was to play a game in the English Premier League the following day of the awards.
But for Salah, his apology was met with surprise and some disappointment from the organisers and the Egyptian public. It is believed that after leaks days before the event that Mané would be the winner, Salah decided not to show up.
Salah’s agent emailed the organisers with the news of his no-show. His absence was confirmed when he did not join Mané on the private plane which was sent to pick up the three players from England to Hurghada.
Salah’s decision to abandon the ceremony went viral, with many criticising the player for making wrong decisions recently, which they said had affected his popularity at home. Most agreed that Salah should have been present and to present the trophy to Mané, just as the Senegalese did last year when the event was held in Dakar.
Interestingly, in the seven of the last eight awards, the winner of the best player trophy has come from the English Premier League and that tradition continued with all three of the 2019 finalists plying their trade in England.
The 27-year-old Mané was Senegal’s main man at the 2019 AFCON where he netted three goals on the Teranga Lions’ path to the final where they lost by a solitary goal to Algeria. He netted a brace in the 3-0 group phase victory over Kenya and added one more in the round of 16, a 1-0 win over Uganda.
He was also a vital part of the team as they beat Benin and Tunisia in the quarters and semis respectively, his influence playing a big role in Senegal’s run to the final.
For his club Liverpool, Mané was just as sensational, aiding them to the UEFA Champions League title for the first time since 2005. The forward scored crucial goals, key among them a double over Bayern Munich in a 3-1 victory in the round of 16 and once in the aggregate 6-1 win over Porto in the quarter finals as the Reds steamrolled into the final and ultimately bag the Champions League title.
In the English Premier League, Mané shared the Golden Boot crown with Salah and Arsenal’s Gabonese front-man Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, all three having netted 22 times for their respective clubs. On top of that, Mané scored 39 goals across all competitions for Liverpool in the 2018-2019 season.
The forward kept his form into the new campaign. In the season opening UEFA Super Cup, Mané scored twice in a 2-2 draw with Chelsea, a game they ultimately won 5-4 on penalties to pick up yet another trophy.
At the FIFA Club World Cup in Doha, Qatar, Mané laid up the assist for Roberto Firmino’s winning goal in the final against Flamengo.
The Senegalese hitman was also in the top five for the Ballon d’Or, a crown ultimately won by Argentine wizard Lionel Messi.
A day before the awards ceremony, over 20 legends of African and international football gathered at the globally renowned Pyramids of Giza for a legends match on. The players defied the desert winds and falling temperatures on a sand pitch at the feet of one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Pyramids of Giza.
As far as is known, this is one of the first times a football match has been played at the iconic venue which has existed since 2560 BC and measures a height of 146.7 metres.
The World Legends captained by Brazil legend Cafu had notable players such as FIFA President Gianni Infantino, Julio Cesar, Juan Sebastian Veron, Portia Modise, Gaelle Enganamouit, Ahmed ‘Mido’ Hossam, Kalusaha Bwalya, Jacqueline Shipanga, Veronica Boquete and Elodie Thomis.
CAF President Ahmad Ahmad led the African Legends consisting of Pascal Zuberbuhler, Khalilou Fadiga, Daniel Amokachi, Nwankwo Kanu, Perpetua Nkwocha, Rabah Madjer, Flavio Amado, Ahmed Hassan, Clementine Toure, Diomansy Kamara, El Hdaji Diouf, Hidetoshi Nakata, Laura Georges, Weal Gomaa and Jean Ssenide.
The five-a-side match provided a platform for the renowned footballers to reminisce about their golden days, as the crowd including Egyptian Minister of Youth and Sports Ashraf Sobhy, FIFA General Secretary and General Delegate for Africa Fatma Samoura, and famed Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass amongst others watched in awe.
In the end, the World side emerged victors with a 4-3 win with Mido, Gomes, Boquete and Enganamouit finding the back of the net with Flavio and two-goal hero Diouf, for the African select team.
The legends were amongst the invited guests for Tuesday’s CAF Awards.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 January, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.