Sunday, September 16, 2018
African player of the year. Just like the clubs, individual players are difficult to evaluate – were they really good? European-based players were almost out of consideration – there was only one in the 1983 listing: Rabah Majer, playing for Racing (Paris) was 8th with 7 points. The exciting Cameroonians were also out of the picture – only Theophile Abega (Canon Yaounde) and Jean-Antoine Bell appeared among the best, but Bell was mostly there because he played for Al-Mokaoulun. And these three names were the only vaguely familiar names on the list... Typically, the best were considered players among the finalists in the international tournaments – were they consistently good the whole year, were they better than European-based professionals, is hard to judge and also purely academic. Even today individual winners are those with the highest contemporary profile, mostly depending on momentary victory of their team. And that around the world, not just in Africa. So, this year the battle was between two players, representing the finalists in the African Champions' Cup. No wonder – most journalists saw them in action in only one or two games, still more than vast number of other players, not seen even once. Opoku N'ti (Asante Kotoko, Ghana) lost the battle – he ended with 89 points, 70 more than 3rd placed Rafiou Moutairou ( Agaza Lomé, Togo). But 9 points less the top player...
The forward Mahmoud El-Khatib was voted African Player of the Year with 98 points. The Egyptian remains confusingly anonymous today – other African players eventually became familiar after moving to Europe, but El-Khatib never went to play in Europe. 'Bibo', as he nicknamed by the fans, was already 29 years old – no longer a prospect for European clubs, if he ever wanted to play in Europe. He was already a legend of his club Al-Ahly – he never played for any other club – and although he lost the Champions' Cup final, his status commanded bigger recognition (well, he was much better known in Africa than N'ti). So, it could have been more of a tribute to a long standing star than a recognition of great season. There was unfortunate problem – Bibo was often injured. His skills made him a target of rough defenders so much so that at least once his usual number 10 was given to another player to confuse the vicious hunters. Frequent injures may have contributed to his international anonymity and may have been the prime reason why he never played in Europe.
How well he was known in Africa and was he better than others is highly speculative matter, but one thing is sure – Bibo was truly outstanding player: he is voted the best Egyptian player ever, the Arab Sportsman of the 20th Century, the second-best African footballer in the last 50 years. So, 1983 may be or may not be his greatest season, but at least his great contribution to the game was recognized. And some times recognition is more important than momentary form and success.