Football Features

What happened next? CAF Youth Player of the Year award winners

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 15:48, 24 July 2022

Tottenham midfielder Pape Matar Sarr was in a celebratory mood after being named the latest CAF Youth Player of the Year recipient.

The 19-year-old Senegal international, who only played 12 minutes during the Lions of Teranga’s successful Africa Cup of Nations campaign this past winter, finished ahead of RB Salzburg forward Karim Konaté (Ivory Coast) and Manchester United midfielder Hannibal Mejbri (Tunisia).

He subsequently becomes the sixth different winner since the prize was inaugurated in 2014, with one claiming it on more than one occasion, which got us thinking about how Sarr’s predecessors have fared since.

1. Asisat Oshoala (Nigeria)

  • Year(s) won: 2014
  • Current club? Barcelona

The genesis of this prize came on the back of Nigerian striker Asisat Oshoala guiding the Falconets to a runners-up finish at the 2014 Fifa U-20 Women’s World Cup, where she finished as the competition’s leading markswoman on seven goals which also secured her the Golden Ball. This led to European clubs vying for Oshoala’s signature and she opted to represent Liverpool but that stay was brief.

After one season, the native of Ikorodu moved to Arsenal where she’d lift the FA Women’s Cup, but Oshoala would be on the move again with Chinese outfit Dalian Quanjian becoming her latest club. Oshoala ultimately joined Barcelona in 2019, where she currently plies her trade, and hasn’t looked back since. A three-time league winner, Oshoala, who to date has netted 38 goals across 45 league appearances, has also lifted the Uefa Women’s Champions League title.

2. Victor Osimhen (Nigeria)

  • Year(s) won: 2015
  • Current club? Napoli

Oshoala’s compatriot Victor Osimhen would be the next to be honoured. Just like his predecessor Osimhen — who helped the Golden Eaglets win a fifth Fifa U-17 World Cup crown (finishing as top scorer on 10 goals) — was also playing domestic football before a European team came knocking. Wolfsburg became his new home but the Lagos-born striker would represent the Bundesliga side infrequently before relocating to Charleroi initially on loan.

It was from there Lille snapped him up before Napoli broke the bank for his signature. Napoli spent a club-record fee of €70m which made Osimhen the most expensive African footballer until Arsenal signed Ivory Coast winger Nicolas Pepe. Since becoming a Neapolitan, he’s bagged 28 goals across 62 matches in all competitions.

3. Alex Iwobi (Nigeria)

  • Year(s) won: 2016
  • Current club? Everton

Completing the Nigerian hat-trick is Alex Iwobi, the nephew of Super Eagles legend Jay-Jay Okocha, whom so much was promised. A graduate of Arsenal’s esteemed youth academy, Iwobi looked destined for a promising career after but competition for places in the Gunners’ attacking third forced him to leave the Emirates unfulfilled. At international level, he’s netted 10 times across 58 appearances for Nigeria, whom Iwobi chose to represent in 2015 over England, whose youth teams he previously represented with distinction. Now an Evertonian, the 26-year-old has already played under four different managers but has grown in stature under Frank Lampard.

4. Patson Daka (Zambia)

  • Year(s) won: 2017
  • Current club? Leicester City

Our first non-Nigerian winner comes in the guise of Zambian striker Patson Daka, who earned this accolade after inspiring Red Bull Salzburg Youth to 2017 Uefa Youth League success. The former Kafue Celtic academy graduate travelled a similar path to fellow African footballers Sadio Mané and Naby Keïta by representing the Austrian giants before ending up in England’s top division. His decent scoring record attracted Leicester City’s attention, who felt they had unearthed another hidden gem (see Riyad Mahrez and N’golo Kante). However, since becoming a Fox, the striker has more often than not shadowed Jamie Vardy, but whenever he’s featured there have been glimpses of his true potential. It was none more so evident when he bagged four goals in a stunning 3-4 win at Spartak Moscow during the 2021/22 Europa League group phase.

5. Achraf Hakimi (Morocco)

  • Year(s) won: 2018 and 2019
  • Current club? Paris Saint-Germain

So far the only double winner, doing so in back-to-back years, Achraf Hakimi is today widely considered a supremely gifted right-back. In another universe, Real Madrid, where he was educated, would be the ones benefiting from his prowess but alas, those in charge felt Dani Carvajal was undroppable. Hakimi would enjoy two star-making years on loan at Borussia Dortmund before Inter Milan became his permanent home. After winning Serie A under Antonio Conte, the Madrileño-born Morocco international chose to continue his professional career at French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain and despite international disappointment (with both club and country), he remains operating at world-class levels.

CAF Most Promising Talent of the Year (2001-2016)

Following the conclusion of the 2016 CAF Awards, the organisers decided to retire the CAF Most Promising Talent of the Year award which had been the designated prize given to Africa’s up-and-coming prospects. Introduced in 2001, there’s been a who’s who of previous winners.

Mantorras (2001)

  • National team: Angola

The first prize winner enjoyed a decade-long stay at Benfica where he managed to rack up 29 goals across 101 league appearances. Pedro Manuel Torres — better known as Mantorras which means “toasted brother” from the Angolan expression “Mano Torras” due to suffering slight accidental burns as a child — represented Palancas Negras at the 2006 World Cup finals but he never managed to find the net.

His whirlwind start to professional football saw many observers anoint him as the best player to come out of Portuguese Africa since Eusébio joined Benfica from Mozambique in the early 1960s; in fact, the Black Pearl later said of Mantorras: “He has special qualities and is set for a great future”. That great future never transpired with the Huambo-born striker retiring before his 30th birthday.

Mido (2002)

  • National team: Egypt

Ajax has always been a gateway for African players to shine in Europe, see Nigerian pair Finidi George and Nwankwo Kanu. Hoping to follow in their footsteps was Ahmed Mido, who shared an Amsterdam locker room with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, though one of them truly became a footballing megastar. Mido, who bagged 20 goals across 51 games for Egypt, at one point looked to be Tottenham’s next great striking hope but he couldn’t remain consistent and would embark on a journeyman career which took him to Wigan, boyhood club Zamalek, West Ham, Ajax again and Barnsley.

Obafemi Martins (2003 and 2004)

  • National team: Nigeria

Another who started like a house on fire before tailing off. Obafemi Martins really announced himself when he netted past Arsenal for Inter in the 2003/04 Champions League group phase at Highbury, before enjoying a far more successful campaign the following year with five goals across eight appearances. Once his Inter spell came to an end, Martins inherited Alan Shearer’s No.9 jersey at Newcastle United but he couldn’t fill the Geordie marksman’s shoes. Since leaving Tyneside, the 42-time capped Nigeria international would represent no fewer than seven clubs spanning six nations.

His most notable moment post-Newcastle from a British football perspective was scoring the winning goal in the 2011 Football League Cup final for Birmingham City against Arsenal. Martins also won a Supporters’ Shield and US Open Cup double with the Seattle Sounders in 2014 as part of a deadly duo alongside Clint Dempsey.

Mikel John Obi (2005)

  • National team: Nigeria

For a hot minute, Manchester United celebrated signing Africa’s most promising talent Mikel John Obi but at the 12th hour, Chelsea prized him away leaving Sir Alex Ferguson flummoxed. Mikel would go on to enjoy an illustrious stay at Stamford Bridge, culminating with Champions League glory. United’s pursuit of him was on the back of his stellar performances at the 2005 Fifa World Youth Championship, where he played as a No.10 for Nigeria, subsequently earning him the Silver Ball with Lionel Messi — who led Argentina to a 2-1 final win over the Flying Eagles — taking Gold.

Taye Taiwo (2006)

  • National team: Nigeria

Finishing behind Messi and Mikel was Taye Taiwo, who soon began a prominent career at Marseille where he ultimately made over 250 league appearances. A brief spell at Milan would be followed by numerous pit stops with the Nigerian left-back representing QPR and Dynamo Kyiv on loan before permanent stays at eight different clubs, including Finnish outfits HJK Helsinki and RoPS.

Clifford Mulenga (2007)

  • National team: Zambia

Clifford Mulenga has spent the bulk of his playing career in South Africa, where he registered his first international goal for Zambia against Gabon during a 2005 friendly. Mulenga, who early on caught the eye of Real Madrid and PSV Eindhoven, temporarily left the African continent for Swedish club Örgryte IS before returning to the rainbow nation. Today you can find him in his native Zambia representing Forest Rangers.

Salomon Kalou (2008)

  • National team: Ivory Coast

Salomon Kalou actually applied for Dutch citizenship in order to represent the Netherlands but was unsuccessful. He eventually debuted for the Ivory Coast in 2007 aged 21 and was in the squad a year later for Afcon, where he kept pace with Didier Drogba by scoring three goals as the Elephants finished fourth.

Kalou is most commonly associated among followers of English football with Chelsea, where he won the Premier League, Champions League and four FA Cups. He is also one of only three Blues to score a perfect hat-trick in the Premier League and replaced Eden Hazard at Lille, where he scored 30 Ligue 1 goals in 63 appearances.

Dominic Adiyiah (2009)

  • National team: Ghana

After being named as the Most Exciting Player in Ghana’s Premier League (2007/08), a journey to Europe beckoned for Dominic Adiyiah with Fredrikstad snapping up the outstanding Accra-born striker. He would soon end up on Milan’s books though never played a single league minute with the Italian giants sending him out on loan to several clubs before he joined Arsenal Kyiv permanently. Adiyiah’s best spell to date came at Nakhon Ratchasima where he made 96 league appearances between 2015 and 2018, scoring 19 times.

Kwadwo Asamoah (2010)

  • National team: Ghana

It was back-to-back success for Ghana as Kwadwo Asamoah succeeded Adiyiah after the midfielder-cum-defender broke through at Udinese and for his national team. Juventus were impressed and would soon bring Asamoah to Turin, with his time at the Old Lady yielding six Serie A titles as well as reaching two Champions League finals. Still playing in Italy, these days Asamoah is currently representing Cagliari following two seasons at Inter Milan.

Souleymane Coulibaly (2011)

  • National team: Ivory Coast

A graduate of Tottenham’s academy, Souleymane Coulibaly never broke into Spurs’ first team and instead returned home to Italy where he emigrated as a 13-year-old. Grosseto, Bari and Pistoiese enjoyed his services before Peterborough United employed him for a single year. Now playing for Tunisian outfit Étoile Sahel, the Ivorian marksman previously turned out for Kilmarnock, Al Ahly and Partick Thistle. Despite a promising youth career, Coulibaly has yet to win a full senior international cap.

Mohamed Salah (2012)

  • National team: Egypt

Arguably the most illustrious name to win this now defunct award. Mohamed Salah showed enough promise at Basel for Chelsea to bring him over, though his spell at Stamford Bridge was nothing short of disappointing. After getting back on track in the Italian top division — firstly with Fiorentina, then Roma — Liverpool gave him a second crack at Premier League football and to say he took it with both hands would be an understatement. Salah is arguably the league’s most outstanding player and is 18 goals away from becoming the Reds’ fifth-most prolific league goalscorer.

Kelechi Iheanacho (2013 and 2016)

  • National team: Nigeria

Manchester City supporters thought Kelechi Iheanacho would be the one from their academy to become a mainstay under Pep Guardiola and for a while, it seemed probable. But strength of competition in City’s attacking third forced him to leave the Premier League’s top club. Iheanacho, who has so far bagged 12 goals across 43 appearances for Nigeria, would only play two seasons in sky blue prior to establishing himself at Leicester City where he’s often been utilised as Jamie Vardy’s understudy.

Yacine Brahimi (2014)

  • National team: Algeria

Yacine Brahimi enjoyed a promising international youth career with France, playing at every level from U16 to U21, but would represent Algeria at senior level. He’s been a success having played a role in their 2019 Africa Cup of Nations win. On the club side, Brahimi would enjoy one Ligue 1 season with Rennes before experiencing La Liga at Granada and it was from there Porto snapped him up and during five years, he’d lift one Primeira Liga title. Now in Qatar, representing Al-Rayyan, he’s so far managed 24 goals across 54 appearances in the Qatar Stars League.

Etebo Oghenekaro (2015)

  • National team: Nigeria

The last new winner, Peter Etebo is currently with Stoke City, whom he joined from Feirense in 2018. He’s not a regular in the Potters’ midfield having been sent out on loan to Getafe, Galatasaray and Watford in recent years. To date, he’s made 44 appearances for Nigeria managing three goals in the process.