Current nominee Yaya Toure and past winner Michael Essien do battle
After another stunning year of achievement for African players both on their own continent and in Europe, the shortlist of nominees is once again of the highest calibre, but who will win the award when announced on December 17?
After an ill-fated, if prolific spell at West Ham and a dodgy medical report from Stoke City, Demba Ba has emerged—almost magically—as one of the Premier League’s leading strikers. Having found his niche at current club Newcastle, Ba has been, at times, almost unplayable.
Forming a delicious strike pairing with countryman Papiss Cissé for both club and country, the pair prospered as Newcastle climbed into the higher reaches of the Premier League.
Whilst this season has started less promisingly for the Magpies, with Ba himself visibly disgruntled at being deployed on the left side of the field, defences are still menaced by the Senegalese duo. Such an impact has been made, and such a sense of devastation has been produced, that Newcastle go into almost every game confident of scoring.
While Senegal flopped at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations and failed to even qualify for next year’s edition, Demba Ba’s eight goals to date in the EPL will ensure that many voters opt for the Newcastle man.
While Belhanda and club side Montpellier are currently struggling in the Champions League, where Arsenal and Schalke appear to have secured easy passage from their group, it is his domestic performance that has supported his nomination.
Indeed, few in France will ever forget the magical performances of unfancied Montpellier last season and their triumph in Ligue 1.
Regulars at La Mosson, however, weren’t surprised to see the impact that Belhanda and his talented teammates could have on the rest of France’s top division. Indeed, the Moroccan was one of the key figures in the side that wrested the title from league favourites PSG, earning many plaudits in the process.
With flawless technique, measured decision-making and a creative vision that belies his young years, Belhanda has taken the league by storm since his debut in 2009. However, Montpellier’s side have begun to disintegrate, and the vultures are circling for Belhanda. Expect this young and talented midfielder to be shacking up with one of Europe’s giants some time soon.
Watch out for Belhanda and his talented Morocco team at the 2013 Afcon in South Africa. Flanked by talents such as QPR’s Adel Taarabt, the team has the creativity and flair to put on a show.
Katongo with Samuel Eto'o
Christopher Katongo’s ecstatic celebrations as Zambia defeated Cote d’Ivoire in Libreville have proved to be among the enduring images of a wonderful year for African sport. The captain was at the heart of his team’s victory, and stood up to take—and score—the first penalty in that famous shootout.
Concern had been expressed before the tournament that this Zambia team would be too young and naïve to prosper among the big dogs at the Afcon. For this reason, Katongo’s cajoling and leading by example deserves even more credit. More than just a skipper in name, Katongo was a genuine leader, and his experience was one of the key factors in Zambia’s run to the final.
He also contributed very tangibly as well, with important goals against Libya and Equatorial Guinea.
It took another thrilling shootout for Zambia to overcome Uganda and qualify for next year’s competition. Whilst Katongo failed to find the net this time around, he will once more be at the core of a Zambian team that head to South Africa to defend their title in January.
This experienced campaigner can look back on 2012 with great pride and enormous contentment, and despite his lower profile, can expect some great support from African voters.
What a year it’s been in the storied career of the Cote d’Ivoire demi-deity.
Things began badly, however, as the Drog headed to the Africa Cup of Nations in January keen to finally triumph on the continental stage with the Ivory Coast’s golden generation. A wonderful crop of players were heading into the twilight of their careers having won nothing as a unit.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be, and Drogba’s penalty miss in the final against Zambia was a killer blow to the Elephants’ hopes of claiming the trophy.
As the season progressed, things improved for Drogba. With the now-departed Roberto Di Matteo replacing André Villas-Boas, Drogba returned to being a central component of Chelsea’s attacking trident and his league form improved.
It was the Champions League that has surely earned him this nomination, however, as Drogba was the key player in Chelsea’s victory over Bayern Munich in the final. Drogba’s performance against Bayern was among his finest in a Chelsea shirt. He not only scored an equaliser in the 88th minute, a tremendous header from a rare set piece, he also had the courage and confidence to step up and seal the victory with the final, match-winning penalty.
The performance prompted Sir Alex Ferguson to suggest that Drogba won the cup almost single-handedly.
It was a year that began with a missed penalty, but was characterised best by that emphatic penalty against Bayern. Redemption tastes best when it is earned in the final of the European Cup.
Whilst the likes of Drogba and Katongo have inspired their sides to cup wins, and whilst Belhanda decorated Montpellier’s Ligue 1 winning team, it’s hard to argue that any of these men have made as much of an impact in the last 12 months as Gnégnéri Yaya Touré.
After leaving Barcelona in 2010, Touré has become a major player in the EPL, as well as the dynamic heartbeat of a Manchester City side that won England’s top division so breathtakingly last season—finally securing England’s premier honour after a 44-year wait.
Touré was imperious as City strode, and sometimes stuttered, their way to victory. A man once nicknamed "the New Patrick Vieira" has surely transcended that moniker, and is arguably a more powerful and dominant figure in the middle of the park.
Few can forget his majestic display in the victory against Manchester United that thrust City towards the title, whilst his brace against Newcastle in the spring will also live long in the memory.