As Sadio Mane climbed the stage to take his crown, there was a real feeling of excitement not only in the beautifully decorated hall of the Albatros Citadel Sahl Hasheesh Resort in Egypt but in his home country of Senegal and his village Bambali where thousands gathered to watch their own.
This feeling of exhilaration was recognized by Mane in his acceptance speech with glowing tributes to teammates, Senegal and of course the famous Bambali village.
“I’m really happy and really proud at the same time. I would like to thank my family, especially my uncle who is here today. It is a big day for me and I would love to thank all the Senegalese people who have been voting for me. I’m from a very small village called Bambali and I’m sure they are all watching me tonight.”
The award was Mane’s first and the countries third but first, since El Hadji Diouf won his second in 2002, the first which came at the expense of Ghana’s very own Samuel Osei Kuffour.
Mane’s glory which came as a result of a Champions League gold medal, an AFCON silver medal and a personal record of gobsmacking 35 goals and 11 assists in the year just gone by is seen as an acknowledgement of the progress made by a country whose football has been on the ascendancy for some time now.
Somewhere in another West African country, thousands of football lovers who watched the event via the sports channel of the state broadcaster and followed on social media were gnashing their teeth in rage and disappointment over how none of its over thousand footballers was called upon for recognition.
The rage was not because CAF unfairly removed their players from the list of winners nor was it because their players performed above themselves to earn consideration, it was simply because none, absolutely none of its footballers or teams deserved to win any of the 13 awards.
To them, watching players and clubs of other nationals sweep the continental award was a harsh reminder of how deep their football has sunk in recent years and need quick fixes to revive it.
It feels like it’s been ages since any Ghanaian player or club was called up for an award for excelling at both club and national team level.
In the last four years, the only points of pride for Ghanaians when it comes to the CAF Award have been a legend award to Ibrahim Sunday and Thomas Partey’s inclusion in the 2018 CAF Team of the Year.
People who hoped that Partey was going to repeat this feat were left disappointed as the only position he could occupy in the team was given to Idrissa Gana Gueye of Senegal and PSG.
For the flagship award, it’s some distant past since a Ghanaian made it to the final three of the CAF Men’s Best Player Award.
Since Andre Ayew finished behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Yaya Toure in 2015, no Ghanaian player has gotten close to the coveted prize.
Thomas Partey and Jordan Ayew did enough to make the preliminary 30-man list but their performance for Atletico Madrid and Crystal Palace respectively and for Ghana were considered not good enough for the final ten.
Abedi Pele made a hat-trick of wins with his last award in 1992 and since then no Ghanaian has walked to the podium like Mane did last night.
GFA President, Kurt Okraku says his plan is to see the various national team conquer the continent and the world, which if achieved could enhance the chances of a Ghanaian player winning the top award but just like Mane, they would have to stay grounded, apply themselves and dominate the big tournaments in European and African football.