Two Nigerian Footballers are among nominees on the Ballon d’Or lists of the best male & female footballers in 2023, as published last week.
Asisat Oshoala (Nigeria and Barcelona) is the only African on the women list and this is the second time she will be nominated, having also being on the list last year. The men’s list has 4 Africans – Goalkeeper Andre Onana (Manchester United, Cameroon), Forward Mohamed Salah (Liverpool, Egypt), Goalkeeper Yassine Bounou (Al Hilal, Morocco), and of course Victor Osimhen (Napoli, Nigeria).
Osimhen becomes the 7th Nigerian to be nominated for the Men’s Ballon d’Or.
Other Nigerian players to be ever nominated for the Ballon d’Or are Finidi George (1995); Austin Jay-Jay Okocha (1995); Daniel Amokachi (1995); Nwankwo Kanu (1996 and 1999); Victor Ikpeba (1997); and Sunday Oliseh (1998).
Ballon d’Or which means ’Golden Ball’ is an annual football award presented by French news magazine, France Football since 1956. Between 2010 and 2015, in an agreement with FIFA, the award was temporarily merged with the FIFA World Player of the Year which was founded in 1991 and known as the FIFA Ballon d’Or. That partnership ended in 2016, and the award reverted to the Ballon d’Or, while FIFA also reverted to its own separate annual award, ‘The Best FIFA Men’s Player’. The recipients of the joint FIFA Ballon d’Or are considered as winners by both award organisations. The Ballon d’Or is generally regarded as football’s most prestigious and valuable individual award.
Current holder of the men’s award is Karim Benzema of France (currently of Al-Ittihad Club in Saudi Arabian, but won it with Real Madrid), while Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain is the current holder of the women’s award. Argentina and Inter Miami’s Lionel Messi has won the most Ballon d’Or with 7 but Christiano Ronaldo has the most nominations – 18 times, but has won it 5 times.
As usual, for this year, Europe dominates the list, with players from female and male clubs in Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, PSG and others.
Many of the nominees on the two lists featured in either the recent female World Cup or last year’s male event, especially from winners Spain for the women and Argentina for the men.
The full 30-women list of nominees include Aitana Bonmati (Spain and Barcelona); Millie Bright (England and Chelsea); Linda Caicedo (Colombia and Real Madrid); Olga Carmona (Spain and Real Madrid); Rachel Daly (England and Aston Villa); Debinha (Brazil and North Carolina Courage/Kansas City); Kadidiatou Diani (France and Lyon); Mary Earps (England and Manchester United); Patricia Guijarro (Spain and Barcelona), and Yui Hasegawa (Japan and Manchester City).
Others are Amanda Ilestedt (Sweden and Paris St-Germain/Arsenal); Sam Kerr (Australia and Chelsea); Mapi Leon (Spain and Barcelona); Katie McCabe (Republic of Ireland and Arsenal); Hinata Miyazawa (Japan and MyNavi Sendai/Manchester United); Lena Oberdorf (Germany and Wolfsburg); Asisat Oshoala (Nigeria and Barcelona); Ewa Pajor (Poland and Wolfsburg); Salma Paralluelo (Spain and Barcelona); Alexandra Popp (Germany and Wolsburg); and Hayley Raso (Australia and Man City/Real Madrid).
Making up the female list are Alba Redondo (Spain and Levante); Guro Reiten (Norway and Chelsea); Wendie Renard (France and Lyon); Fridolina Rolfo (Sweden and Barcelona); Jill Roord (Netherlands and Wolfsburg/Manchester City); Khadija Shaw (Jamaica and Manchester City); Sophia Smith (United States and Portland Thorns); Georgia Stanway (England and Bayern Munich) and Daphne van Domselaar (Netherlands and Twente/Aston Villa).
Ballon d’Or nominees for men are Josko Gvardiol (Manchester City, Croatia); Jamal Musiala (Bayern Munich, Germany); Andre Onana (Manchester United, Cameroon); Karim Benzema (Al-Ittihad, France); Mohamed Salah (Liverpool, Egypt); Bukayo Saka (Arsenal, England); Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City, Belgium); Jude Bellingham (Real Madrid, England); Randal Kolo Muani (Paris St-Germain, France); Bernardo Silva (Manchester City, Portugal); and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia (Napoli, Georgia).
Also on the list are Nicolo Barella (Inter Milan, Italy); Emiliano Martinez (Aston Villa, Argentina); Ruben Dias (Manchester City, Portugal); Erling Haaland (Manchester City, Norway); Martin Odegaard (Arsenal, Norway); Ilkay Gundogan (Barcelona, Germany); Yassine Bounou (Al Hilal, Morocco); Julian Alvarez (Manchester City, Argentina); Vinicius Jr (Real Madrid, Brazil); and Rodri (Manchester City, Spain).
The final names are Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid, France); Lionel Messi (Inter Miami, Argentina); Lautaro Martinez (Inter Milan, Argentina); Robert Lewandowski (Barcelona, Poland); Kim Min-jae (Bayern Munich, South Korea); Luka Modric (Real Madrid, Croatia); Kylian Mbappe (Paris St-Germain, France); Harry Kane (Bayern Munich, England); as well as Victor Osimhen (Napoli, Nigeria).
Many sports analysts do not give Nigeria’s Victor Osimhen a chance to win the award – at least not this year with other top nominees like serial winner Leo Messi, Kylian Mbappe of France and Harry Kane of England. The other African nominees are also considered outsiders.
George Weah, the current President of Liberia, who was playing for AC Milan at the time, is the only African to have won the Ballon d’Or in 1995. Even though the continent has produced celebrated soccer artists like Abedi Pele Ayew of Ghana, Kanu Nwankwo and Jay Jay Okocha of Nigeria, Samuel Eto’o of Cameroon and Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure of Cote d’Ivoire, none of them lifted the award.
So the question of when a Nigerian will ever win the Ballon d’Or or even the FIFA Player of the Year award continues to blow in the wind. Many of us will be expecting the question to point only at the men. However, Nigerian sportswomen have always come up good with marvelous and surprising performances on the world stage. Check out Tobi Amusan. Check out the wrestlers Odunayo Adekuoroye and Blessing Oborodudu. What of the female Paralympians who always make powerlifting Nigeria’s very own?
Asisat Oshoala has won the African female player of the year a record five times, overtaking countrywoman Perpetua Nkwocha who won the prestigious award four times. Can she bring the first Ballon d’Or to Nigeria? She is in the right club. She is visible enough. Who knows, barring any politics!