Mane beat Salah, Mahrez for continental award at CAF gala last night
Liverpool sharpshooter Sadio Mane was expected to become the first African football headline-maker of 2020 by winning the Player of the Year award at the Albatros Citadel Sahl Hasheesh in Egypt by the time we went to press last night.
Last night’s ceremony set in motion a year sure to be full of drama on and off the field with 2022 World Cup and 2021 Cup of Nations qualifiers in the mix.
Consistent Liverpool scorer and Senegal talisman Mane is now the second star from his country after El Hadji Diouf to be named Player of the Year.
His rivals for the prize were Liverpool teammate Mohamed Salah, the Egyptian who won the last two editions, and Algerian Riyad Mahrez of Manchester City.
The duo failed to honour their invite to the gala, a clear indication that they had already known who will be declared the winner.
A needlessly bloated initial long list had been whittled down to a very manageable three, all of whom had a strong enough claim under any consideration.
Although it was widely expected that Mane will be crowned for the first time, since Mahrez and Salah have shared the last three gongs, and came into this year’s edition on the back of pretty strong years in their own right.
Salah of course shared almost all of the highs that have so elevated Mane; Liverpool’s sixth Champions League title owed much to the combined offensive firepower of that duo plus Roberto Firmino, even as, for the first time, the concept of a sibling rivalry entered into the conversation.
Both moved quickly to quell the insinuations, and if the well was in any way poisoned, it has not been to the detriment of the Reds, who have continued to accrue wins by the week.
So far ahead are they in the title race at the turn of the year that it is now considered only a matter of time before the championship they came within one point of winning last season is handed over to them.
It will no doubt have greater significance than their somewhat symbolic wins in the Uefa Super Cup and the Fifa Club World Cup, but it is the winning culture that those lesser trophies have helped foster that is the greater legacy.
The sheer weight of the silverware does not hurt though, especially when, like Salah and Mane, there is a prestigious award in the offing.
Mahrez made it to the last three after a historic and frankly unexpected triumph at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, naturally has quite a bit of heft. It is, after all, Caf’s flagship competition. That ought to count for something.
Some might even say that, given the continent’s long history of deferring to European club football (a perception that, for political reasons, is expedient for the Ahmad Ahmad presidency to not only shun, but actively shed), it should have count for everything. -AFP