3 September 2018

Africa: Do the FIFA Best Nominees Hint At a New Era?

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The national team captains, coaches, fans and selected journalists casted their votes and they have been tallied. After a decade of dominance by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo with each claiming five individual honors for the world's best football player, we are witnessing some new trends across most of the categories. Indeed, I cannot deny the Messi and Ronaldo are among the unique breed of footballers that this world will ever know but it was becoming a little too boring. Here are top three new features of the "new age" I am most excited about.

Timely reminder that football ingenuity can't be reduced to a simple goal statistic

One of the reasons why Ronaldo and Messi had not left the podium since 2008 is that they are goal scoring machines and they are surrounded by other great players in the biggest of clubs which almost always win trophies. For almost all the years these two won the FIFA Ballon d'Or Award now known as FIFA Best Award, it was given to the one whose club had claimed the UEFA Champions League trophy or scored the most goals.The likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Andres Iniesta, Antoine Griezmann, Xavi, Manuel Neuer and Franck Ribery were well in their right victims of the Ronaldo-Messi era. Great football talents who happen to have been born at the wrong time as many people would say.

The good news for the first time, we see a player like Luka Modric making the top three list, a complete midfielder who is hardly on the scoresheet but almost inspired his country Croatia, to their first ever FIFA World Cup triumph, losing to France in the 2018 final in Russia. The 32-year-old did win the UEFA Champions League with Real Madrid in May, bagged the Golden Ball for the best player at the 2018 World Cup finals but quite remarkably and unusually pipped Ronaldo to the 2018 UEFA Men's Player of the Year Award. A sign that the Ronaldo and Messi era could very soon be behind us.

Egyptian king, Mohamed Salah deservedly made it to this year's top three with Ronaldo completing that list and Messi missing out. Salah broke the scoring records in England, banging in 32 goals in a 38 match season and helped Liverpool reach the Champions League final. He also won all the individual awards in England but making the list without winning any major team trophy emphasises this change I am trying so hard to describe.

Unfamiliar but familiar faces in goal

If I were to ask for the names of the three top goalkeepers in the world, most certainly, the likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Manuel Neuer and David De Gea would frequent on most people's list. They are really goalkeepers of some of the elite and acclaimed football clubs in the world. Quite honestly, they are great and probably deserve the naming. But this year, the voters decided on some talented individuals between the sticks who have not received the deserved praise over the years. Kasper Schmeichel of Leicester City in the Premier League and Denmark, Hugo Lloris who captained France to the 2018 World Cup title and Thibaut Courtois, the best goalkeeper in Russia 2018 make up the three men shortlist. Does this signal an element of enhanced objectivity in choosing players for these awards, without necessarily looking at the crest of their clubs or their national colors?

We just love that Senegalese fans are nominated for one of the words

You cannot really blame us for singling out exceptional contributors to the game from the beloved continent of Africa. That's what FirstTouch Africa aims to bring the global stage anyway, telling the untold stories of invaluable significance, steering communities forward.

The Lions of Teranga football fans are part of the nominees for the FIFA Fan Award after their resounding efforts to keep Russia clean at the world cup finals. These guys literally picked up all litter after each and every game they cheered their heroes on, even after the bitterest of games that saw Senegal exit the tournament in the group stages because they had more yellow cards than the second placed Japan in Group H. Even the Japanese fans also headlined Russia for the tidy civility acts and are nominated together with Senegal as a unit.

Below, is a full list for all the nominees.The winners will be announced on 24 September at Royal Festival Hall in London.

Men's player

Cristiano Ronaldo - Juventus & Portugal

Luka Modric - Real Madrid & Croatia

Mohamed Salah - Liverpool & Egypt

Women's player

Ada Hegerberg - Lyon & Norway

Dzsenifer Marozsan - Lyon & Germany

Marta - Orlando Pride & Brazil

Men's coach

Zlatko Dalic - Croatia

Didier Deschamps - France

Zinedine Zidane - former Real Madrid

Women's coach

Reynald Pedros - Lyon

Asako Takakura - Japan

Sarina Wiegman - Netherlands

Goalkeeper

Thibaut Courtois - Real Madrid & Belgium

Hugo Lloris - Tottenham & France

Kasper Schmeichel - Leicester & Denmark

Puskas Award

Gareth Bale (Real Madrid) v Liverpool

Denis Cheryshev (Russia) v Croatia

Lazaros Christodoulopoulos (AEK) v Olympiacos

Giorgian De Arrascaeta (Cruzeiro) -v America MG

Riley McGree (Newcastle Jets) v Melbourne City

Lionel Messi (Argentina) v Nigeria

Benjamin Pavard (France) v Argentina

Ricardo Quaresma (Portugal) v Iran

Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid ) v Juventus

Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) v Everton

Fan Award

Sebastian Carrera (Deportes Puerto Montt, Chile)

Peru fans

Japan and Senegal fans

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