Surprise as Chelsea striker claims continent’s player of the year award

Didier Drogba was named the 2009 African footballer of the year. If the award – his second in four years – was a surprise, even more so was the margin of his triumph in the poll as he beat Samuel Eto’o by 23 points.

The pair have been embroiled in some tight contests in the past and it was expected to be fairly close again this time, albeit with Eto’o the seemingly logical winner.

Instead, coaches from more than 40 countries voted for the charisma of the Chelsea man rather than the more impressive achievements of Eto’o over a calendar year in which he became a UEFA Champions League winner for a second time and helped take Cameroon to the World Cup finals.

Michael Essien finished third – the fourth year in a row he has made the shortlist of three finalists but come up empty-handed.

The award was made at the Confederation of African Football’s annual soiree, at State House in Accra, Ghana, though no stars bothered to attend. Algeria were named team of the year, after eliminating Egypt in the World Cup qualifiers, and Sellas Tetteh, who led Ghana’s Under-20 side to the World Championship in Egypt, was coach of the year.

Drogba had the good grace to express his genuine surprise at winning the award and must be feeling somewhat sheepish, given the most memorable act of his footballing year was the histrionics that followed Chelsea’s elimination by Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League.

At international level, both he and Eto’o scored key goals as their countries completed successful World Cup qualification campaigns.

Drogba netted the goal that ensured Ivory Coast went through with games to spare and entrenched his leadership role, while Eto’o scored eight goals in the qualifiers and also wore the captain’s armband, though his appointment came in mid-year in a strategic move by new coach Paul Le Guen to breath some fire back into a stagnating Indomitable Lions.

Eto’o took on the mantle with fervour and rallied the side from bottom of their group to see them also qualify in the end with some ease.

At club level, Drogba was devastating at times for Chelsea and the fact he was regarded as the world’s best striker sat comfortably on his head – even if his collection of medals was on the sparse side.

His only success came in the FA Cup Final against Everton, where he scored at Wembley, but the league race saw Chelsea edged by Manchester United and in the Champions League – the trophy the Blues really wanted – there was a controversial semi-final elimination.

For Eto’o, there was much to savour, despite a summer swap from Spain to Serie A with Internazionale. The high point was the Champions League Final and a goal in Barcelona’s 2-0 win over Manchester United in Rome. Eto’o also won La Liga with Barca, passing the landmark of 100 goals for the club during the year.

Yet the African prize went in the other direction, adding another damaging blow to
the prestige of an award CAF have managed to tarnish in recent years.