Lionel Messi, on Thursday, edged past the challenge of Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and the Netherlands’ Virgil van Dijk to win the FIFA Best Player award for a record sixth time.
Messi and his arch-rival Ronaldo had claimed 11 of the last 13 FIFA Best Player awards and are beginning to slow down as their respective careers enter the twilight stage. While the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Eden Hazard and Neymar Junior are shaping up to take over from the two iconic stars, no Nigerian appears anywhere near that horizon.
Will a Nigeria born footballer ever win the FIFA Best Player award?
Nigerians have an equal chance of picking up that individual prize as any other African, and even anyone all over the world. But it is not likely that such a dream could be realised with this generation of Super Eagles stars.
Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah both made the shortlist of the final ten candidates for the FIFA Best after both helped Liverpool to claim the 2019 UEFA Champions League title. The duo will, later in the year, compete with Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez for the CAF Africa Best Player award. Yet again, no Nigeria star will be near the podium when that award is handed out.
Not since Nwankwo Kanu in 1999 has a Super Eagles player won Africa’s Best Player award. In fact, no Nigerian has made the final three shortlist since Mikel Obi in 2013 when the country lifted the CAF Africa Cup of Nations.
So, if players in the green and white are not in the running for honours on the continent, how could anyone expect them to be considered for individual awards on the global scene?
It is not an impossible mission, though. Nwankwo Kanu came sixth in the world player of the year shortlist in 1996, the year Nigeria’s Dream Team shocked the world by winning the Olympics football Gold medal, against huge odds.
That incredible success also projected the former Ajax forward to the 11th position on the 1996 Ballon d’Or shortlist, an award eventually claimed by Germany’s Matthias Sammer.
Five other Nigeria internationals have, at different times, been nominated for the Ballon d’Or but none of Finidi George, Daniel Amokachi, Austin Okocha, Victor Ikpeba and Sunday Oliseh ever made the top ten. None of the country’s past heroes has enjoyed better luck with the FIFA version of the world awards.
It is going to be even more difficult for the current crop of Nigeria players to do better than their predecessors. And the reasons are not so far fetched.
No Super Eagles star presently feature for any of Europe’s big sides capable of winning the UEFA Champions League, a tournament that plays a crucial role in who gets what when the individual honours begin to roll in.
That is even taking it a bit too far. With all due respect to Alex Iwobi in Everton, Victor Osimhen in Lille and Samuel Chukwueze in Villarreal, no Nigerian currently star for a side favourite to win any of the big six European leagues. Where then will the high ratings needed to win the votes of the global jury come from?
It really is a dream far out of reach for fans of the Super Eagles.
Ronaldo and Messi will likely battle for the top prizes for a few more years before they leave the scene for others to be cast into the limelight. There just may not be any Nigerian international anywhere that stage when that eventually happens.