Salah, Osimhen or Hakimi… Who deserves CAF 2023 best player award?

 Salah, Osimhen or Hakimi… Who deserves CAF 2023 best player award?

Every African footballer hopes to one day win the Confederation of African Football (CAF) best player of the Year award because it is the most prestigious individual honour in african football.

Former Liverpool player and Senegal international Sadio Mané won the CAF best player award in 2022. The award first debuted in 1992, with Ghana legend Abedi Pele emerging as the first winner.

The date for this year’s CAF award ceremony has been scheduled on Monday, 11 December 2023 at Palais des Congrès, Movenpick, Marrakech, Morocco at 7pm.

As the ceremony closes in, we take a look at the top three contenders and their chances.

Victor Osimhen (Nigeria and Napoli) 

Osimhen, who scored 31 goals in 39 games for the Gli Azzurri across all competitions in 2022–23, is regarded as the overwhelming favourite to win the award, and for good reason.

With 26 goals, the 24-year-old goal machine made history as the first African and Nigerian player to win the Italian top division Golden Boot. He also helped Napoli win their first Serie A title in more than thirty years.

And as such, Many believe Osimhen will be the first Nigerian to win the African Football player of the Year Award since Kanu Nwankwo in 1999 because of his recent rise to prominence as one of the best strikers in world football and his strong case for the title. Although Mohamed Salah and Achraf Hakimi make a compelling case, Osimhen would have definitely deserved the prize if he had won.

His dominance was evident to all last season; he was too strong mentally and too powerful to stop, shattering every record in Italy and leading his Napoli team to their first league title in more than three decades.

The former Lille striker was named the Italian Footballers Association Player of the Year for the 2022–2023 Serie A season a few days ago. He now joins the esteemed group of past winners of the award, which includes Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Cristiano Ronaldo, Andrea Pirlo, and Rafael Leao.

Osimhen celebrates his goal for super goal

He finished as the top goal scorer in the AFCON 2023 qualifiers, and his ten goals enabled the Super Eagles to advance to the Nation’s Cup, which will take place in January 2024.

Despite suffering injuries this season, Osimhen, 24, has scored six goals in ten league games and was the highest-ranked African player in the FIFA men’s player of the year competition.

Achraf Hakimi (Morocco and Paris Saint-Germain) 

Like Osimhen, Hakimi made 39 appearances for Paris Saint-Germain in all competitions last season, tallying five goals and dishing out six assists as PSG went ahead to win their fifth French league 1 title in six years.

Nevertheless, Napoli’s league title might be significant to some because it was their first in thirty-three years, while it was PSG’s ninth in eleven seasons.

In addition, Hakimi only started 23 league games for the Paris club, while Osimhen contributed significantly more to his team’s league win. However, even with the important background added, both players each won only one league title in 2023, which could mean that Hakimi might win the tiebreaker because of Morocco’s World Cup exploits.

Hakimi at the world cup

Osimhen’s absence from the World Cup in Qatar due to the fact that Nigeria did not qualify for the competition should be a cause for concern, as it goes against the unwritten rule of annual football awards that the Mundial takes precedence in a World Cup year.

Hakimi was not only present at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, but he was also a standout player in what was a historic tournament for Morocco and Africa. He assisted Morocco to become the first African county to reach the World Cup semi-finals as they ultimately finished fourth in the competition. The 25-year-old was unquestionably the best right fullback in the competition, having played all but 27 minutes.

Though it is a strong tiebreaker, it is also crucial to remember that Hakimi’s victory over Osimhen and Salah for CAF Player of the Year (if he wins) cannot be solely attributed to the World Cup. It would be hard to ignore Africa’s historic global performance, especially with a strong club season to support it.

Not that Osimhen or Salah don’t deserve it, but if Hakimi won for the reasons mentioned above, it wouldn’t be considered a robbery.

Mohamed Salah (Egypt and Liverpool) 

Salah is another name on the three-man shortlist for the CAF 2023 player of the year award. He will be seeking to win the honour for the third time in his career, having won it in 2017 and 2018.

The Egyptian’s 2022–2023 campaign was largely successful; he scored 30 goals across all competitions and 31 goals involvement in the Premier League alone (G19 A12). Salah is once again proving to be unstoppable this season, with 10 goals and six assists in 15 games played so far. And with his 50th goal for Egypt in March 2023, Egypt became the only African team with more than one player with at least 50 goals for their country.

Salah with his hatrick ball

In November 2023, Salah scored four goals in Egypt’s 6-0 victory over Dijbouti, surpassing Mohamed Aboutrika to become Egypt’s all-time leading scorer in World Cup qualifying matches. In addition, he assisted The Pharaohs in earning a spot in the 2024 African Cup of Nations by leading their group with 15 points from six games.

Because of those efforts, he has made it to the final three-man shortlist for the CAF Men’s Player of the Year award, but he will have to contend with strong competition from Achraf Hakimi of Paris Saint-Germain and Victor Osimhen of Napoli.

A panel of judges, including members of the CAF Technical Committee, media experts from Member Associations, head coaches and captains of Member Associations, and clubs participating in the Interclub competitions’ group stages, will select the overall winner of each category.

The Awards Gala is scheduled for Monday, December 11, 2023, at 7 p.m. (Nigeria time) at the Palais des Congrès, Movenpick, Marrakech, Morocco.

Also see: Man City’s first UCL, Messi’s 8th Ballon D’or… Unforgettable football moments of 2023

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