From Keita to the unknown: Aiteo prepares to unveil Africa’s next soccer legend

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L-R: A U Mustapha (SAN); Aiteo Senior. Vice President Gas & Commercial, Victor Okoronkwo; Aiteo Group Executive Director, Andrew Onyearu; Aiteo Group Managing Director, Chike Onyejekwe; and CAF President, Ahmad Ahmad after signing the AITEO/CAF partnership deal in Lagos State recently.

 

The signing of a sponsorship deal between the Aiteo Group and CAF promises to redefine how football is perceived in Africa writes Amos Dafenone.

Its official now. The Aiteo Group, an energy company from Nigeria, is partnering the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to stage the 2017 edition of the CAF Awards.

Because of change in sponsorship, the CAF-Awards which is held annually is now to be officially known as the Aiteo-CAF Awards. The next edition will be staged in Accra, Ghana on January 4, 2018.

Already, there are indications that the event, which is always anticipated by soccer enthusiast is set to metamorphoses into something more rewarding, especially for host countries.

According to Benedict Peters, the Executive Vice President of the Aiteo Group, “through the unity of our people we have created a shared identity, and nowhere is that shared identity more apparent, more celebrated and more unifying than in football.” This is already playing out with the anticipated awards.

On January 4, at least 12 winners will emerge. As of now, there are already a number of names associated with some of the categories, with players from all corners of the continent representing their countries and hoping to be the chosen ones.

The list of potential winners has created a form of holy tension and anticipation in the air as different nationals wish that their country men and women would clinch the converted prizes.

Therefore, when the event will eventually hold in Ghana, the whole of Africa will be there. Whether listening on radio, watching on television or reading about the outcomes on the internet or newspapers he next day, everyone will be focused on not, Ghana, Aiteo or CAF, but on the star who is to wear the crown that depicts our football excellence in the next 12 months. But we do not forget those who put the event together.

In 1970, when the first African footballer of the year was crowned by France Football magazine, these options which bring the continent into one hall were not available.

The event was held in the evening in a small Bamako hall. Most of the coverage was French and most of English speaking Africa was not carried along as such. But, Keita, the player that was crowned on that day deserved it.

Salif Keïta Traoré, popularly known as Keita was a Malian striker. At age 20 in 1967, he left for France to join AS Saint-Étienne, where he won three consecutive Ligue 1 titles, including the double in 1968 and 1970. In his last two seasons with Les Verts combined, he scored an astonishing 71 league goals – 42 alone in the 1970–71 campaign – but the club failed to win any silverware; in 1970, he was voted African Footballer of the Year.

Keita joined fellow league side Olympique de Marseille in the 1972 summer. After the club tried to force him to assume French nationality, he opposed, leaving in the ensuing off-season for Valencia CF in Spain.

In the years that have followed, there have been 47 successive Africa footballers of the year (some players won more than once). Players from Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria have aced the top players’ awards position the most.

Cameroonian players have won 11 times, Ivory Coast 8 times while Ghanaian and Nigerian players have won the converted position 6 and five times respectively. Altogether, players from 18 out of Africa’s 54 countries have won the awards at one time of the other.

Come January, there will be new winners and an interesting feature of the winners is that most of them have turned out to become very influential individuals in their countries. For instance, Keita acted as delegated minister of the Prime Minister of Mali while George Weah is almost at the verge of ascendency to the position of President of Liberia. And already, Asamoah Gyan of Ghana is starting a new business venture as he launches own airline. Definitely, those who have been crowned by CAF as the faces of African football are making a difference.

Mr. Peters says, “Go to any African country and you will find people watching it [football] in bars, markets with friends, barbershops, playing it in schools and writing about it in newspapers. Football is one of the only places in which competition does not become an unhealthy competition, in which difference does not become a division, in which tension and fear, passion and promise are channelled into something that brings people together, not renders them apart.”

There is no doubt that Football brings Africans together. What Aiteo is however trying to achieve as it unveils the next African football superstar, is greater interest in football. The desire is to spark an interest in the next generation of starts which will be drawn from places as far away as Loto, deep in the Democratice Republic of Congo, or deep in the sandy beaches of Faun el-Qued in Western Sahara or even on the Streets of Kano in northern Nigeria.

Dafenone writes from Warri, Nigeria

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