By Akyereko Frimpong Manson
Follow Akyereko on Twitter: @ AkyerekOfficial
Austin Ockocha, Abedi Ayew ‘Pele’ & Co. remind us of the fact that impact counts more than mounting the podium and filling your trophy cabinet with individual laurels like the CAF award.
Yaya Toure’s latest African crown puts him among pantheons of the greats but he is certainly not the continent’s all-time greatest footballer.
The Ivory Caost midfield talisman equalled Samuel Eto’o Fils’ four-time CAF African Player of the Year award, when he beat Nigerian Vincent Enyeama and African Neymar – Pierre-Emerick Emiliani Francois Aubameyang to the coveted award on Thursday.
Though Yaya is now at par with Eto’o the Manchester City star is getting mentions as Africa’s all-time greatest player due to consistency in winning the award – he won crown straight from 2011.
While, Eto’o was dislodged at some point before he made his comeback to win it again in 2010 (his fourth and last time).
But should Yaya’s heights on the podium put him above other brilliant African players who could not achieve this feat?
After the event in Lagos, Ghanaian journalist Gary Al-Smith approached Zambian legend Kalusha Bawlya and asked him whether Yaya’s latest feat would rank him above all African players before and during his era.
The Zambian FA President was in full praise of the Ivory Coast but he was also in denial.
“No, you can’t just conclude on that but Yaya is a good player. He has achieved a lot with Manchester City.”
Then the argument open. It is difficult to compare players across different eras due to football’s evolution across the years but during a circus with colleagues last week, I was asked to pick my all-time African XI.
In that list was Nigerian pair Austin Ockocha, Nwanko Kanu, Ghana’s Abedi Ayew, Samuel Osei Kuffour, George Weah, Kalusha Bwalya, Thomas N’kono, Hossam Hassan, Rabah Madjer, Samuel Eto’o.
Abedi Pele Ayew
Obviously there was no place for Yaya in this pick as he was rated in the class of Michael Essien who could all qualify for places in a second best African XI.
Of course the 1.88 m giant is a midfield colossus and his presence put real fear in opposition. Though the ex-Barcelona Sc star has failed to lead his national team to title success but he has never suffered trophy droughts at club level.
From ASEC Mimosas in the Ivory Coast to Olympiacos to Barcelona to Manchester City Yaya has won both individual and team honours establishing himself in himself in every space.
Austin Ockocha never got to win the CAF Player of the Year Award but to argue that Ockocha had less impact on the game than Yaya could be laughable. Ockocha’s countryman Nwanko Kanu, Rabah Madjer, George Weah, Hossam Hassan and Ghana’s Abedi Pele might not have won the CAF Award four times but their impact on the game far surpasses that of Yaya Toure.
Austin Jay-Jay Okocha
But Yaya’s individual laurels and club titles cannot rank him above other African players who came before him. Most of the players named in the all-time African bext XI played before Yaya’s era but football’s evolution and passage of time has not downgraded their qualities and their redemptive acts in sometimes craven games were dream-like, reaching levels Yaya might never get in his entire career.
Re-examine Abedi Pele’s show in the Senegal 92 AFCON finals and rewind his Olympique Marseille days and you will see defenders and opposition players reduced to helplessness and awe. Nigeria’s Austin Ockocha was a kind of Ronaldinho who’s kind might never been seen on the African continent. His nimble-footed abilities and vision on the ball was demonic. The real measure of Ockocha’s brilliance, then, was witnessed in the English Premier League when he reduced defenders into comical elements. His game was not the run so much as the discombobulation, psychological and physical, of those employed to stop him but the ease and magic with which he dazzled his markers.
Kalusha Bwalya obviously did not play at the Etihad but he rose to heroics on the African soil and his name has fast been streaked into world football’s history.
Austin Jay-Jay Okocha
Roger Milla did something Yaya Toure might never get to do in the annals of football’s history. Yaya is winning his crowns with basically no stiffer competition. His competitors on Wednesday night included Lille goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama and Borussia Dortmund attacker Aubameyang – players who would easily get dwarfed if placed in Abedi Pele and Ockocha’s era.
Yaya is yet to achieve any significant success Ivory Coast’s Elephants and he is set to lead them to yet another AFCON campaign he could use the tournament for reprieve.
But the truth is; every top notch modern manager would pick Michael Essien at his peak ahead of Yaya Toure in top shape at Manchester City and we are at a point where the debate should be true – Africa has seen flock of players better than him.
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