Going Wide: Africa’s Wingers Take Over

Tuesday 19th December , 2017 8:51 am
Sadio Mane (left) and Mohammed Salah (right) (Image credit: PA)
Sadio Mane (left) and Mohammed Salah (right) (Image credit: PA)

Freelance football writer, Sammie Frimpong, believes that wingers are the new kings of football on the continent looking at the nominations of Sadio Mane and Mohammed Salah in both the BBC African Footballer of the Year and the CAF AITEO Player of the Year.

Over the years, African football has produced a good number of world-class players who fit stereotypes all over the pitch.

There have been sturdy defenders, midfielders brimming with industry and artistry, strikers prolific and powerful and, once in a while, a truly outstanding goalkeeper.

There’s really no point giving names when there are probably more examples of each than I could enumerate here — surely, you know them.

What you might struggle to come up with, though, are examples of quality wingers to have emerged from the continent. Don’t get me wrong, mate. There have been some but they are just not enough to make any exhaustive list. Not when the Brazils, Portugals and Argentinas have not run out of stock.

You see, while African football in general has always been spoken of as abounding in -among other things – flair and pace, that belief has not been illustrated well enough by our biggest exports; power and strength have done much more to define the African game, judging by the calibre of players that have done us proudest out there.

There is reason, though, to believe all that is set to change considerably. Actually, the process may have already begun, if happenings in the African football ecosystem are anything to go by.

At a time when there is a concerning dearth of top African talent at Europe’s elite clubs, it appears wingers are positioning themselves as frontrunners and are set to matter like never before.

Recent trends in the BBC African Footballer of the Year prize (widely regarded as the more credible and popular of the two major awards handed to the continent’s best players annually) provides a fairly solid basis for drawing such a conclusion.

Each of the last three editions of the award have had three wingers among the five shortlisted nominees, with six men – Sadio Mane (3), Andre Ayew (2), Riyad Mahrez (1), Victor Moses (1), Yacine Brahimi (1) and Mohamed Salah (1) – claiming those spots.

And for three of the last four awards, wingers — Brahimi (2014), Mahrez (2016) and Salah (2017) – have run away with the gong seriously denting a streak that had seen mostly midfielders and strikers hog the limelight.

This year’s winner, Salah, is in the form of his life, playing arguably his best football for club and country.

For English giants Liverpool, whom he joined in summer of 2017, Salah has been majestic, scoring and assisting goals for fun in his first few games for the Merseysiders.

Come next year, he will lead his country, Egypt, in their first FIFA World Cup appearance in nearly three decades.

The Pharaohs getting to Russia itself is primarily credited to Salah, and if said qualification is to count for anything, the 25-year-old would be expected to play a lead role, too. And, boy, is he in the mood!

Sharing a dressing room with Salah at Liverpool and hopefully a platform at the next World Cup is Senegal star Mane.

If Salah is the signing that represents a bargain for Liverpool this season, Mane was last’s.

Crowned the Reds’ Player of the Year, he arrived at Anfield a little over a year ago on the back of a successful stint at another English Premier League club, Southampton.

And while Salah is the player whose chants ring loudest from the Kop this term, Mane — a vital string in Liverpool’s four-man attacking instrument — is a certified match-winner in his own right any day.

Elsewhere in England – in the capital, London – is Moses, another brilliant wide-man who, some years after joining Chelsea, has finally established himself as a regular and is reaping the recognition that comes with it.

Like Salah and Mane, Moses – bar any unforeseen glitch – will turn up for Russia 2018 and seek to prove as instrumental in Nigeria’s campaign as the former two will in their respective countries. Still only 27, Moses is only peaking even if it seems he’s been around forever.

And then there are the others, including some of those mentioned earlier: Brahimi, Mahrez and Ayew.

All three may have fallen some way short of the form that saw them win African football’s most coveted individual honour in the not-too-distant past, with things not going as well as they could at club and/or international level but it would be silly to write off any among that trio given their undoubted quality. They are not quite done yet and the next few years should confirm that.

So there you have it: proof that the balance of power among Africa’s elite footballers has taken quite a shift, one that should last for a considerable while.

How long that would be remains to be seen, but enjoy it while it lasts.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang may be reaching new goal scoring milestones for Germany’s Borussia Dortmund and the irrepressible Naby Keita is consistently oozing class in the centre of the park for RB Leipzig in the same country, but there is absolutely no doubt who runs the show now.

And as long as the worth of those new kings continues to rise on the pitch and in cash little will change.

It is no coincidence that the two most expensive African footballers at present, Salah followed by Mane, are both wingers but who is complaining?