In 1995, George Weah became the first African footballer to win the Ballon d’Or with AC Milan with no other African attaining that feat ever since.
Fast forward 24 years later and once again hope that the continent will produce another winner has been rekindled.
In the 30 man shortlist which was announced for the recently concluded award, there were five African players in the top 30. Mohamed Salah, Kalidou Koulibaly, Sadio Mane, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Riyad Mahrez were all nominated to become the best player in the world and three of them made the top 10 while two made the top five.
For the first time ever, three African players were included in the top 10 of the Men's #BallondOr
🇸🇳 Sadio Mané
🇪🇬 Mohamed Salah
🇩🇿 Riyad Mahrez
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 2, 2019
In-form Liverpool star Sadio Mane ranked highest among the African players as he finished fourth in the standings behind Cristiano Ronaldo, teammate Virgil Van Dijk and eventual winner Lionel Messi. The Senegal international was vital in his team’s road to Champions League triumph and an improbable second-place finish in the Premier League last season.
Already this campaign, he is showing his class yet again, proving that last season was no one-season wonder or a one-off with his performances. He has been arguably been the best player for Liverpool and looks primed to be a candidate for the Ballon d’Or at the end of the season if he keeps playing at this level. The 27-year-old already has 15 goal contributions in as many games in the English top-flight (nine goals and six assists as per Transfermarkt).
He is also proving everyone who might claim that he did enough to be top three and had a higher placement in the rankings last year right. His performances in the biggest games alongside his important goals this season make him such a strong contender but you could say that winning such an award is more than just playing well.
Even Lionel Messi had to make a comment on Mane’s exploits this year.
‘It’s a shame to see Mane finish in fourth place,’ Messi told Canal+ h/t by Daily Mail.
‘But I think there have been a lot of great players this year. That’s why it was difficult to choose a particular player. But I chose Sadio Mane (for The Best award) because he’s a player that I like.
‘Mane achieved a great year that was exceptional for the entire Liverpool team. That’s why I chose him.
‘I repeat, there were a lot of very great players this year, so the choice was difficult.’
An award of that magnitude means that you are the most important facet of the sport and as such, you must have a certain profile and quite frankly, Mane does not really fit it and that might be a hindrance for him in getting his hands on the prize.
The Liverpool man is known for his humble background which has followed him into adulthood. He lives a simple life and is rarely seen in front of the cameras. He just wants to play football. As a person, he really isn’t a very marketable person.
At the same time neither is Lionel Messi nor Luka Modric, the last two winners of the award but what makes them so different is the size of the clubs they play for. Obviously a team like Real Madrid love their players to be in the spotlight as they themselves are a glamorous club. Such a team can easily help out with PR and put Modric in the position to be seen and be remembered. It is the same thing with Barcelona and Lionel Messi.
Liverpool are by no means a small team. They have one of the world’s biggest fan bases and one of the richest histories of any team around but they won’t be able to compete with the two Spanish giants.
Playing well can only get you so far especially when Ronaldo and Messi are still playing. They are two of the games foremost faces and even at their ages might become Ballon d’Or nominees again and for Mane to get close to that award, something needs to change for him behind the scenes.