Last year the pendulum swung between Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Gabon and Yaya Toure of Manchester City and Ivory Coast. This time Algeria forward Riyad Mahrez is favourite ahead of Aubameyang and Sadio Mane to be crowned African Footballer of the Year for 2016. Mahrez became a household name on the continent following his great run for Leicester City as they grabbed the English Premier League title against every prediction.
The Glo/CAF award gala is billed for Thursday in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city.
The 25-year-old Algerian has already been named PFA players’ Player of the Year and BBC African player of the year and the Glo/Confederation of African Football title would be final confirmation of his successful outing last year. He played in all but one of the Foxes’ games in 2015-16 and scored 17 goals.
Also in the running for the CAF title are reigning footballer of the year, Aubameyang and the Liverpool and Senegal star Sadio Mane. Yaya was the favourite last year but Aubemeyang got the needed votes and nobody can be sure until late Thursday.
Should Mahrez win, he will end a 19-year absence on the podium for a player from North Africa since Morocco’s Mustapha Hadji in 1998.
Other Algerians to have won are Rabah Madjer in 1987 and Lakhdar Belloumi in 1981.
Elsewhere in the Maghreb, the title has gone to Morocco’s Badou Zaki (1986) and Mohamed Timoumi (1985); Mahmoud Al Khatib (Egypt, 1983), Tarek Dhiab (Tunisia, 1977); and Ahmed Faras (Morocco, 1975) when the awards were organised by France Football magazine.
This year’s winner will be picked by CAF member associations’ national team coaches, a panel of journalists and television consultants.
Aubameyang’s goals at Dortmund handed him the African crown and this past year he remained prolific in front of goal, netting 25 goals in 31 appearances in the Bundesliga.
Mane became the most expensive African player when he moved to Liverpool for a transfer fee of £34m last year. The 24-year-old winger has since justified his high price tag, scoring nine goals in 19 matches for Liverpool this season.
English Premier League-based Nigeria youngsters Kelechi Iheanacho (Manchester City) and Alex Iwobi (Arsenal) are top contenders in the various younger players categories , while the country’s team who won Olympic bronze are gunning for Team of the Year
African champions Mamelodi Sundowns have two players –- Khama Billiat of Zimbabwe and Denis Onyango from Uganda –- in the running for the best African-based player.
Zambia skipper Rainford Kalaba is the other contender for this award after his exploits with TP Mazembe in last year’s CAF Confederation Cup.