Did Yaya Toure deserve to beat Enyeama to African Player of the Year?

COMMENT: The Manchester City man made history in Lagos on Thursday, and contrary to what most Nigerians think, he is fully deserving

By Solace Chukwu

What followed the energetic performance of twin Afro-Hip Hop act P-Square at the 2014 Glo CAF Awards was crushing in its inevitability.

Once again, it was the Ivorian colossus Yaya Toure whose name was read out in front of a silent Eko Convention Centre, ahead of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and home favourite Vincent Enyeama. Named Africa’s best player four times, a record shared with Samuel Eto’o, but Yaya stands alone in winning his gongs consecutively.

For the many gathered in their finery amid the glamour of the event, there had flickered the faint hope that it would be Nigeria’s captain Enyeama smiling to the podium. The Lille shot-stopper was immense in 2014 between the sticks for the Super Eagles, leading with a calm head while his compatriots lost theirs.

While there can be no denying Yaya is without peer on the continent, the contention of many is that Enyeama had a better year. The Manchester City man equalled Frank Lampard’s record as the highest-scoring central midfielder in a Premier League season, notching 20 goals as the Citizens won the title in England.

However, he struggled to transplant that form to the international stage. Cote d’Ivoire were dour at the World Cup, and their captain lolloped around with little idea on how to lift them. It was painfully ironic that it was Didier Drogba’s introduction in both games against Japan and Colombia at the World Cup that galvanised the Elephants, seeing as the Chelsea striker had ceded the captaincy to Yaya.

Yaya | Absent on the world’s grandest stage

Ultimately, their campaign ended in the disappointment of a Group Stage exit – at no point was Yaya’s Manchester City incarnation visible.

For his part, Enyeama was doing the opposite.

His bid to break Gaetan Huard’s clean-sheets record was ultimately foiled in 2013, but the former Enyimba goalkeeper continued his impressive form through to the second half of the season. He was instrumental to Lille’s third-place Ligue 1 finish, a position which got them into the Champions League preliminary rounds.

Enyeama then went on to have a brilliant World Cup campaign with Nigeria, who went toe-to-toe with eventual finalists Argentina without being disgraced. The score ended 3-2 to the South Americans suggesting an extremely close game. In truth, Enyeama’s brilliance was often the sole barrier. The African champions eventually bowed out to France at the Round of 16; it was a disappointing end, but it was one better than Cote d’Ivoire managed.

One of Africa’s star performers at the World Cup

Viewed this way, you can understand the grievances with the choice of Yaya. It then comes down to the question of how to measure the relevance of performances with the club against those with the national team. Should the latter get priority over the former, bearing in mind that international football is only played a handful of times in a year (barring international competitions)?

I think not.

One of the factors that truly hurt Enyeama in my mind is the timing of these awards. Considering the football season runs from August to May, perhaps it would make more sense to have player awards at the end of the season, or just before the next, in order to have a truly representative performance to choose from.

Lille have looked a completely different side this term, struggling to score goals while leaking them at the other end. This has impacted negatively on Enyeama, naturally, a disadvantage other players may not have. Yaya, playing in a star-studded Manchester City line-up, certainly does not have that worry.

The result is that there is a safety net to cushion the loss of form which Toure suffered at the beginning of the season. Moving from one season into the next, Enyeama does not have that luxury. Had this award been handed out in, say, June, the Super Eagles captain would have been a shoo-in to win.

Yaya | The Record-Breaker

Form, they say, is temporal, and a player of Toure’s quality was never going to be stuck in a rut forever. To his credit, the Elephants’ captain has picked up his swagger again and is now back to his unplayable best at the Etihad, while Enyeama has discovered the limitations of a goalkeeper at a modest club who have punched above their weight too long.

The verdict may not be to everyone’s liking, and there would have been a feel-good element to a goalkeeper finally getting the recognition their contributions deserve, but it is just about the correct one. Congratulations Yaya Toure.

Enjoy him now, Africa. He is one of those whose legend will be feted and handed down many generations.

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