It has been 22 years since an African player was last recognised as the world’s greatest, with Liberia’s George Weah picking up the FIFA World Player of the Year award in 1995. While Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o came in third in 2005 and Côte d’Ivoire’s Didier Drogba was fourth two years later, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have proved untouchable in the last decade, winning the award five times apiece.
Africa’s one and only contender last year was the Algeria and Leicester City winger Riyad Mahrez, who finished seventh in the voting. This time out Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the continent’s single representative on the 24-man shortlist. A devoted African who has the support of an entire continent, ‘PEA’ will be crossing his fingers that he can bring the award back with him.
Learning from a Lion and an Elephant
Aubameyang has always said that his inspirations came from Africa, namely from Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire. “Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto’o are two big brothers who have made their mark on African history,” he told radio station RMC in 2016. “I try to follow in their footsteps and take inspiration from them.
“Drogba sent me a message not so long ago, and I told him I was still watching his DVDs a couple of years back. It inspires you and I’m following in the same footsteps. They are two great strikers who have had a big influence on me and who I’ve learned from. I know Eto’o well. We see each other a lot, we text each other and we call each other. It does me good. It makes me want to be like them.”
The respect is mutual. “Africa has its new ‘goalscorer’,” said a delighted Eto’o when Aubameyang was named African Footballer of the Year in 2015. And judging by this Instagram post, Drogba seems to admire both the player and his look:
Stats worthy of his heroes
Having set many a goalscoring record, Drogba and Eto’o are continuing to ply their trade, one in the USA with Phoenix Rising and the other in Turkey with Antalyaspor. In 2016/17, however, it was Aubameyang who was compiling the finest stats by an African player, among them the following:
31 goals in 32 appearances for his club, Borussia Dortmund. In the process, Aubameyang became the first player in 40 years to exceed the 30-goal barrier in a single Bundesliga season. He is the second African player to end a German league season as leading goalscorer after Ghana’s Anthony Yeboah, who was playing for Eintracht Frankfurt when he shared the distinction in 1993/94.
3 – In scoring a hat-trick against Benfica in the last 16 of last season’s UEFA Champions League, Aubameyang became the first African player to achieve the feat in a knockout match in the competition.
What they say in Africa
“He’s the best African player there is today. If he pushes on, he could become the best player in the world. Messi and Ronaldo are dominant, so the next African player who comes along has to do twice as much to win.” Former Liberia striker George Weah(Africanews)
“Your consistency has been outstanding and you have reached the pinnacle of African football. But remember what I said to you: ‘The hardest part is yet to come. So don’t let up. You’re leading the way now!” Cameroonian forward Samuel Eto’o, addressing Aubameyang at the 2015 African Footballer of the Year Awards
“An example of commitment and success at the highest level, this outstanding Gabonese player is the quickest of thinkers and the fastest of attackers.” Ali Bongo Ondimba,President of Gabon