Among many things that went awfully wrong at this year’s CAF Awards, none was more appalling than the CAF XI – a list of eleven players voted as the best on the continent in the year in review.
Whilst the final outcome of this category in awards, and perhaps many others, should be taken lightly largely because winners are determined by votes, and votes are won by popularity amongst voters.
In this case, the players themselves. And because most footballers don’t actually watch football, they will only vote the more popular names amongst themselves.
Anyway, our team has put together a different XI that should fix the mess of a list published by CAF.
Goalkeeper: Andre Onana
The former FC Barcelona youth star has seen his stock rise so high lately and 2018 was a particularly big year for the Cameroonian.
Onana, 22, made his international debut in September 2016, while still playing for the youth team at club level but has since seen his market value rise to $35 million.
Onana has been a key figure at Ajax this season and has put in an incredible showing deserving on a place in CAF XI.
Right-back: Serge Aurier
Aurier hasn’t pinned down his place at Tottenham Hotspur and Ivory Coast didn’t enjoy a graceful year but he is undoubtedly the best right-back on the continent.
Aurier’s inability to pinned down the starting berth at Spurs isn’t because he is lacking in character, rather, he is in competition with Kevin Trippier, another solid right-back who works hard enough to deny the Ivorian an easy ride.
Center-back: Kalidou Koulibaly
A towering Centre back whose commanding performances caught the eye of many in the past year and was the subject of a $76 million summer move from Napoli.
Rightly included in the list by CAF, and we equally agree with the choice.
Center-back: William Troost-Ekong
Mehdi Benatia? Eric Baily? These two made the list ahead of the Nigerian and it caused outrage, notably and publicly by his international teammate John Ogu, who thought Ekong deserved a place on the list following a stellar year.
Troost-Ekong began the year at Turkish side Bursaspor and ended it at Udinese. Ekong equally put in a decent performance at the World Cup and subsequent international games, whereas Mehdi Benatia and Eric Baily have barely gotten enough game-time for assessment at Juventus and Manchester United respectively.
Left-back: Achraf Hakimi
A right-footed left-back; at least that is what he is widely known for. Hakimi endured a tough time in his breakout season at Real Madrid; replacing Dani Carvajal, arguably the best right-back in the game at the moment, the young Moroccan international couldn’t reach the heights of the Spaniard.
And to avoid stalling his career, he opted for a loan move to Borussia Dortmund, where, just like at the national team, he has made the left-back his position.
Lately, there has been a decline in the sheer volume of quality left-backs in the game, but Hakimi’s rise in 2018 is an exception.
Midfield: Thomas Partey
Arguably one of the best in his position on the continent and there is little reason to question his inclusion in any list he makes.
Midfield: Hakim Ziyech
Riyad Mahrez may have completed a $77 million move to Manchester City in the summer, but Hakim Ziyech must be the best creative midfielder in Africa in the year in review.
It is not just his goals and assists, but the sheer volume of chances he creates. Yes, the quality of opposition in the Eredivisie matters, but he disproved that by the sort of impact he had at the World Cup playing against Iran, Portugal, and Spain.
Perhaps a move to the top five European leagues will put the spotlight on the ridiculously talented playmaker.
Midfield: Wilfred Ndidi
Another surprise omission. Perhaps, an in-form Naby Keita would have made it difficult for Wilfred Ndidi, but his omission and the inclusion of the struggling Guinean is a joke.
Ndidi clearly had a better year. Yes, it did not result in a mega-sum move away from Leicester City, but he had a much better season both for club and country and should be in the list ahead of the Guinean.
Forwards: Salah, Mane, and Aubameyang
These are the best three forwards on the continent at the moment and when in their elements, they are unplayable.
CAF rightly rewarded them with a place in the XI this time having omitted both Sadio Mane and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from the 2017 CAF XI despite making the final three-man shortlist for Africa Player of the Year, this time they fixed the gaffe.