The release of the shortlist for the 2011 Fifa Ballon D'Or this week made for interesting reading if you're a follower of African football. Out of 22 nominees, Samuel Eto'o is the only player from the continent to be in contention for the sport's biggest individual award—an indication of what a poor year it has been for some of Africa's traditional superstars.
Of course, with Lionel Messi around, Eto'o stands little chance of following in the footsteps of George Weah, who back in 1995 actually won the coveted title. That was the first year non-Europeans were eligible, and the former AC Milan striker from Liberia remains the only African player to have even finished in the top three of voting.
Nonetheless, the continent has provided a consistently high number of nominees over the past decade, with the likes Didier Drogba, Michael Essien and Yaya Toure all having been regularly included. This year's total is actually the lowest since Eto'o was again Africa's only representative back in 2003, and the Cameroonian has been ever-present since then.
The same had been true of Drogba since 2004, but the Ivorian's frustrations at Stamford Bridge that culminated with the reckless red card against QPR last week hint that age is finally catching up with him. A series of injuries have also denied Ghana's Michael Essien—a four-time nominee but not since 2009—his place on the list, while other previous nominees like Kolo Toure and Freddie Kanoute have dropped out of the limelight.
Only Yaya Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor may feel hard done by to have been omitted from this year's selection given their performances this year, with the latter playing a major role in Manchester City's FA Cup triumph. Otherwise there's not been much to get excited about, although the performances of some of Africa's emerging generation of stars promise much for the future.
Players like Demba Ba of Newcastle United, Lille striker Moussa Sow and Freiburg's Papiss Dembe Cisse look the most likely candidates to make the ascent to superstardom in the next few years. A second hat trick of the season took Senegal marksman Ba to 10 goals in his last 11 Premier League appearances and fourth spot in the top scorers' list.
Compatriot Sow hasn't enjoyed such a prolific season in Ligue 1, but the pair will form a lethal partnership for their country at January's African Nations Cup Finals, while Congo's Cisse is destined for bigger and better things with his current club struggling in the Bundesliga.
Andre Ayew, Gervinho and Kevin Prince-Boateng may also have a chance of making the list one day. But after the heady days of 2006 and 2007 that saw five Africans among the Ballon D'Or nominees, there certainly seems to have been a decline in their prominence.
And with 2010 nominee Asamoah Gyan having followed Eto'o's example by taking the money on offer away from the game's traditional power bases, it may be some time until Africa is truly represented at football's highest table.
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