2012 African Player of the Year Award...we have the answer
By Surya Solanki
While a large majority of the footballing contingent had its eyes glued on the 23-man Ballon d'or list released by FIFA last month, the CAF published its annual catalogue for the 2012 African Player of the Year award, an accolade perhaps largely anonymous amongst the common European fans, only more than a fortnight ago.
Former Chelsea striker and European Cup winner Didier Drogba and current holder Yaya Toure, are joined by eight other nominees as Africa prepares to present the continent’s most coveted individual award in the field of football.
Hence, Football.com previews the three dark horses for 2012 African Player of the Year Award.
Alexandre Song (Cameroon)
While Robin van Persie’s rich streak of scoring form proved out to be the saviour of Arsenal’s relatively disappointing and lacklustre 2011/12 campaign, Alex Song was the vital cog in the team’s midfield who supplied the string of ammunition to the Flying Dutchman.
Equipped with exquisite passing skills and phenomenal vision, Song laid down the foundation for van Persie’s attacking impetus, often assisting the now-Manchester United striker with clever long balls and magical plays that usually resulted in the striker chalking up his name on the scorecard.
It wasn’t time before Spanish giants FC Barcelona came calling and Arsene Wenger shockingly allowed Song to leave the Emirates for a ‘modest’ sum of £15million this summer, with reports suggesting that "Le Professeur" had grown tired of the Cameroon international’s unprofessional attitude.
At the Nou Camp, Song might not have been deployed in his preferred or most comfortable position due to the backline injury crisis that hit Tito Vilanova’s troops at the start of the term, the 25-year-old has remained in top form when it comes to setting up plays and his passing skills have ensured that the lad bodes well with the unique world of ‘tiki-taka’.
However, in all honesty, the Player of the Year award looks like a gamble of long odds for the sparkling midfielder as his displays have often lacked consistency and the inability to win any silverware with Arsenal will only adversely affect Song’s chances, considering most of the other nominees have won major honours with their respective clubs or national teams.
John Obi Mikel (Nigeria)
He might be currently embroiled in an infamous racial saga that almost acrimoniously ruined the career of referee Mark Clattenburg, the last ten months can be described as John Obi Mikel’s best ever ten months with regards to the on-field matters.
Bought as an heir to the ageing Makelele in 2006, Mikel never really lived up to his billing, lacking the positioning awareness, defensive touch and the anticipation of his predecessor.
Worse, the start of the 2011/12 season saw then-Chelsea manager Andre-Villa Boas dropping the Nigerian in favour of former Barcelona starlet, Oriol Romeu and there were also various transfer stations reporting that Mikel was apparently seeking a transfer away from the Stamford Bridge.
However, as the season panned out, Mikel regained his first-team spot once Roberto Di Matteo replaced ‘AVB’ and the player’s high-octane defensive performance in the Champions League tie against FC Barcelona this year virtually dazzled his name in the Chelsea folklore.
Over the course of the two legs, Mikel produced a stunning display of utmost resilience and patience that helped the Blues shut out the nemesis’ midfield trio of Sergio Busquets, Xavi Herandez and Andres Iniesta and consequently registering their name in the final of Europe’s most elite club competition.
Many might feel that Mikel’s performances this term have taken a spiral downward and the 25-year-old has largely been an ‘anonymous figure’ in many of Chelsea’s games, but the statistics seem to suggest otherwise.
Mikel has a passing range of more than 90% and makes more than two interceptions (2.5) and tackles (2.1) in every game- clearly highlighting the massive influence that the Nigeria international exerts on the pitch and his importance to
Roberto Di Matteo’s Rafa Benitez’s side.
Younes Belhanda (Morocco)
While Olivier Giroud stole the limelight for Montpellier historic Ligue 1 campaign, 22-year-old sensation Younes Belhanda had an equally impressive season during which he won the League’s Young Player of the Year award.
Blessed with lightning-fast pace, peerless dribbling finesse and exemplary ball control, Belhanda has transformed into one of the most sough-after attackers in world football over the past 12 months, with both Bayern Munich and Real Madrid apparently keeping tabs on the youngster.
This season, Belhanda has already found the back of the net six times and although he is yet to pick up any assists, the Morocco international is a decent-pro at finding space and opportunities for his fellow colleagues.
Belhanda can be surely counted as a strong dark horse for the 2012 African Player of the Year award. Leading a relatively weak club to the France league title is not a small accomplishment and his impressive performances at the club level surely deserve some recognition.