Senegalese superstar Sadio Mane on Tuesday, January 7, 2020, was named the African Player of the Year, the award which continues to elude Nigerian players.

It’s now been 20 years since a Nigerian won the prestigious award. Then Arsenal player Kanu Nwankwo beat Ghanaian and Bayern Munich defender Samuel Kuffour and Ivorian and Marseille striker Ibrahima Bakayoko to win the award in 1999.

King Kanu

Nwankwo Kanu won the award after a good year with Arsenal in the Premier League
Nwankwo Kanu won the award after a good year with Arsenal in the Premier League

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It was a victorious comeback for Kanu who returned to the game after surviving a heart defect to rule Africa again after his first win in 1996.

The striker won the award in 1999 thanks to his exploits in his debut year for Arsenal after joining the Premier League giants in February of that year.

The Nigerian striker was fantastic, scoring lots of goals as the Gunners challenged Manchester United in England.

It was that same year he scored a memorable hat-trick for Arsenal in their 3-2 comeback away at Chelsea.

He beat Kuffour who won the Bundesliga title with Bayern Munich in 1999 and got to the final of the Champions League where they lost to Manchester United.

Ivorian striker Bakayoko came third following his fantastic season with Marseille.

A dry spell for Nigeria

John Mikel Obi was the last Nigerian player to make the final shortlist for the African Player of the Year
John Mikel Obi was the last Nigerian player to make the final shortlist for the African Player of the Year

Since Kanu won the award in 1999, only two Nigerian players, Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha and John Mike Obi have made it to the final three.

Okocha finished runners-up in 1998 behind Morocco’s Mustapha Hadji and third in 2003 and 2004 behind Samuel Eto'o of Cameroon and Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba.

Mikel was runner-up when Ivory Coasts’ Yaya Toure won the award in 2003.

Only four Nigerian players have won the CAF African Player of the Year award. Rashidi Yekini in 1993, Emmanuel Amunike in 1994, Kanu in 1996, 1999 and Victor Ikpeba in 1997.