Photograph — Okay Africa

The BBC African Footballer of the Year award, formerly BBC African Star Prize, is an annual award held to recognise and celebrate exceptional African football stars for their performances for club and country during a football year. The award was first given in 1992 to Ghana’s Abedi Pele. It has since produced over 19 different winners from more than nine African countries.

The intriguing fact about the award is the choice of the winners which is almost always in contrast with the GLO Confederation of African Football (CAF) Awards.  This has undoubtedly carved a special place for BBC in the heart of football lovers and allowed them to create a legacy of truth and fairness in their choice of winners. They have, over time, given fans and analysts of the beautiful game reasons to doubt the sincerity and fairness in the process that goes into the selection of winners of the CAF awards.

Top African players who have surprisingly missed out on the CAF awards have been recognised by BBC through the awards as indeed one of the very best on the continent. And of the notable players who have missed out on CAF awards, Nigeria’s Austin Jay Jay Okocha, who remains one of the best ever African footballers, stands out.

Organisers of the award released a five-man shortlist of nominees every year for fans of African football to vote via the BBC African football website. At the end of the voting which usually spans 2-3 weeks, the winner is announced on a special football show on BBC.

The shortlist for the 2016 BBC African footballer of the year was released on Saturday, November 12 to an uproar from African fans upon the surprise inclusion of Ivorian International Yaya Toure. The list had Leicester City’s midfielder and Algerian international, Riyad Mahrez who unarguably was the standout performer in Leicester’s fairy tale title winning season. The Algerian talisman racked in 19 goals and over 15 assists in 49 appearances last term to win the PFA Footballer of the Year award. He has however only found the back of the net once in 11 appearances this season.

Borussia Dortmund’s Gabon International, Pierre Aubameyang who recorded an impressive 36 goals in 47 appearances for Dortmund last season is on the list for the fourth time. The striker scored 25 Bundesliga goals to finish in second place behind Lewandowski for the German Golden shoe He has scored 14 goals in 14 appearances so far this season. In all, he has scored 87 goals in 111 appearances for Dortmund since making his debut in July 2013.

Ghana’s Andre Ayew also made the list for the third time after an impressive first season in England where he recorded 12 goals in 35 appearances for Swansea. He is however yet to register his name on the score sheet this season after managing only four appearances after picking an injury on the first day of the season following his £20million move to West Ham United.

Completing the list is the energetic and skilful Liverpool forward and Senegal international, Sadio Mane who has so far scored 6 goals and recorded 2 assists in 11 appearances for the impressive Liverpool team. He recorded 15 goals in 45 appearances for Southampton last season including breaking Robbie Fowler’s 25-year old record the fastest hat trick in the history of the premier league.

Toure’s inclusion comes up on the back of a long drawn feud with Manchester City manager, Pep Guardiola, which has seen the powerful midfielder make only one appearance all season. Given that the eligibility of players to receive the award is solely based on outstandingly recognised and not expected or perceived performances during a football year, there appears to be no statistical justification for the inclusion of Yaya Toure. The stats shows just as much.

For the current 2016/17 football season, Yaya Toure has only managed an unrated appearance for Manchester City in a champions league match against Steaua Bucharest, a game which City won 1-nil. He has since not made any appearance for City all season. Where then did the organisers of the BBC award found the supposed stats upon which his inclusion is based?

The 2015/16 season was not a trademark or benchmark season for Toure either: the 33-year-old midfielder only managed 8 goals in 47 appearances all season. The reason for the inclusion of Toure then remains to be seen.

If not Toure then who?

There are a number of African players–Yannick Bolasie, Yacine Brahimi, Victor Moses, Victor Wanyama, Alex Iwobi, Iheanacho  et al–who had an outstanding 2015/16 season and have been in top form this term.

However, two players, of which at least one above all, are worthy of inclusion are Egypt and Roma forward, Mohamed Salah, and Leicester City’s Algerian forward Islam Slimani. Sallah has been in top form since leaving Chelsea for Roma through Fiorentina in August 2015. The pacey and skilful winger scored an impressive 15 goals in 35 appearances for Roma last season. The Egyptian forward has also scored 9 goals and assisted four in 13 appearances this term. He recently scored his first career hat trick in a 3-0 win against Bologna.

Islam Slimani, on the other hand, had an impressive 2015/16 season at Sporting CP where he recorded 33 goals in 44 appearances for club and country. His breathtaking performance led to a £29 million summer move to English Premier League Champions, Leicester City. The 28-year-old forward has so far recorded four goals and 2 assists in 8 appearances this season. If players with such an impressive records this season could not make the list, how then did one who has no record, whether impressive or not, this term made the list?

If BBC thinks Toure deserves an award for being a legend—for that was the only comment below his name on when he was nominated–then a separate award for legends should be created. This is simple: awards should be given to players that deserve and work for them, not just those who merely deserve, let alone those who do not deserve at all. As much as this is an award of their–BBC’s–creation, for the love and spirit of the game, fairness and integrity must be the core of the selection process.

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