Aftermath the #GloCafAwards2016, what does the future hold for Nigeria and Nigerian players

The GLO CAF wards came through with little or no surprises as the winners had long been determined with and by their outstanding performances for club and country during the 2016 calendar year. The relative comparative analysis of the performance of each of the contenders had helped us give a near perfect prediction. Thus the awards, for us, was no surprise.

Riyad Mahrez, as predicted, added another medal to his personal trophy haul in what has thus been described a fairy tale season for him. Having helped Leicester to the English premier league title in what would go down as one of the biggest shock of the year with 17 assists and 12 goals; Mahrez was bound for harvest of accolades. It was not long before he won the PFA Player of the year, the first African to win the award. He also won PFA fans player of the year, as well as Leicester player of the year, before adding the BBC African footballer of the year award in December 2016. The CAF African footballer of the year award thus caps an impressive year for the Algerian playmaker.

Gabon’s skipper and Borussia Dortmund striker, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, who had an equally impressive season, could only finish behind Mahrez as he failed to retain the title he took off Yaya Toure in 2015. To be fair, “Auba” did everything he had to do to win the prize, but for the trophyless campaign of Dortmund and the unbeatable brilliance of Riyad Mahrez; he can forgive himself for finishing runner up to such a worthy winner. Followers of the game would have preferred a major upset, methinks.

The Nigerian flag was flown high, higher than the year before, as the trio of Assisat Oshoala, Kelechi Iheanacho, and Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi won their categories as predicted, much to the delight of football fans in Africa’s most populous country. Oshoala set herself up nicely for the award with strings of breath-taking performances as Nigeria stomp to her 10th African title in 12 attempts. Alex iwobi and Iheanacho have both enjoyed their share of praises from pundits as they forced themselves into the starting eleven of their respective teams. Iheanacho surprisingly has kept his place despite the managerial changes at Manchester City. Alex Iwobi, African best Youth player of the year, won the trust of Arsene Wenger during the 2015/16 season with strings of impressive performances. The super falcons of Nigerian ensured Nigeria doubled her tally gathered at the last awards as they won the female team of the year as predicted. I doubt anyone was expecting them to miss doubt after defeating Cameroon on their own soil to win the African Women Championship.

Now that the award is over, and winners decided what next for our players? Where do we go from here? How to we build on this? How do we ensure Nigeria returns to her glory days? How do we ensure our players move from “most promising” to “most valuable”? What does the future hold for Nigerian winners?

It is high time our players left the place of age grade winners to become top professionals by turning out for big clubs, and staking big claims in winning top awards. Our players need to start delivering for their respective clubs. Kelechi iheanacho won the most promising in 2013, and he won the award again three years later, while a player within his age bracket, Renato Sanchez, secured a big money move to Bayern Munich and won European golden boy. Marcos Rashford, 19, is turning out to be the next big thing for Manchester United after his stand out season. Where are our players? To be fair, there are not so many people that expected Iheanacho to make it thus far at Manchester City. A lot of people believed he would do better at a relatively smaller league like the Portuguese league where he would have a better chance of getting enough playing time. While that might still have been true, Iheanacho has done himself a whole lot of good by coming through and proving his abilities at Man. City. Getting top suitors (not Chinese clubs please) when he decides to move on from Man city would not be a problem.

Osimhen who won the most promising player in 2015 in currently at Wolfsburg trying to find his feet a year after bring the world to its knees at Saudi Arabia. Wilfred Ndidi, Ahmed Musa, and Isaac Success have thrown themselves into the midst of the discussion by moving to the premier league. That, for me, is more than a welcome development. It is the real deal!

To be the best, you must test yourself against the best. Making the move is not enough, fighting and competing regularly will stand them out. Riyad Mahrez has shown us what hard work and focus on your game could fetch you. The point is if our players will compete for top awards, they must first compete against the best. I am not sure Oshoala will find it this easy to win awards, and have improved this much if she hadn’t turned up for Liverpool first, then Arsenal ladies.

Nigerian players must move away from their comfort zones, the periphery of the balling world, in Norway, Turkey, China, Romania, and move to the Bundesliga, the Spanish Liga BBVA and the Premier League, the epicentre, where they will be seen and they will get proper reward. I reckon there is a place for gradual development, hence, the players must see their stay at the smaller clubs as a step to a higher ground.

If Nigeria as a country will return to her glory days, our players must first get it right at their clubs. Get enough playing time, and desist from sacrificing their careers for money. Mikel moved to China after ten years at Chelsea, he could have moved to China couple of years earlier but he chose to stay at Chelsea, to remain relevant (anyways because he had no other thing to prove). But our youngsters have enough to move, hence they must know the right time to move. There is always a time to move on. Look at Kante. Look at Sanchez. Look at Ozil. Look at Fabregas. It does not matter how comfortable you are, when you know longer see through, make the move! For iheanacho specifically, at age 20, he has gone beyond the stage of promising, and when chances become few and far between at City ( that’s most likely with the imminent arrival of Gabriel Jesus), he must not be afraid to make the make move.

The absence of Nigeria from 2017 would no doubt affect the chances of the country or its players in the next edition of the awards. A continental competition of such goes a long way in determining who the contenders of top continental awards are. After all, for CAF, continent comes before clubs. However, I am more than certain if Victor Moses and the likes continue their turning up for their teams, they will challenge for top prizes at the next edition of the award. Our time to produce the African footballer of the year, might be sooner than thought.