10. Christopher Katongo (Henan FC/Zambia) – It was the elder Katongo’s club form that saw him slip to 10th in our list. Katongo notched a respectable 9 goals for Chinese side Henan FC, but his contribution was not sufficient in salvaging his club’s fortune as they teetered down relegation avenue. On the international stage, Christopher Katongo was the vanguard of a once-in-a-lifetime cinderella story. He skippered the Chipolopolo to their first continental championship in Libreville-the exact location of the air disaster which stole the lives of 30 of the Copper Bullets’ finest 20 years earlier. A feat which saw him collect the BBC African Player of the Year award- the first ever granted to a Zambian player.
9. Kwadwo Asamoah (Juventus/Ghana) – ‘Kojo’, the former African Young Player of the Year (2010), has found development strikingly smooth. After blessing Francesci Guidolin’s midfield with industry and heart in Udine, Asamoah took to Turin in a brilliant career move. Asamoah snuck right into Conte’s 3-5-2 as a wing-back and carnage ensued. Kojo’s pace and power constitutes an immediate mismatch for opposing full-backs. Some liken him to Gareth Bale as his athleticism permits similar mazy runs. What’s certain is Juventus will miss the threat of their wing-back as Ghana look to capitalize on what could well be a world class player.
8. Alain Traore (FC Lorient/Burkina Faso) – Watching Alain Traore ballad around the pitch is a bit like blowing up a balloon and letting go- it’ll be loud, slobbery and completely unpredictable. Traore is known for blasting goals from positions unseen. His venomous left foot inculcates fear in keepers trying to deflect the random flight of his knuckle-ball pingers. Like his shots, the Burkinabe’s form follows a random trajectory. Last September, he kicked off to a scorching campaign, scoring 6 goals in as many matches. After Gabon/Equatorial Guinea 2012, Traore struggled to find rhythm and Auxerre sputtered to a last placed finish. Lorient’s Christian Gourcuff wagered on Traore and decided to take a punt, purchasing his services for a hefty 7 million Euros. The investment has, so far, paid dividends as Traore managed 6 goals and 4 assists in 13 matches. 2013 will be a sort of litmus test for Traore. Will he be capable of continuing the form he’s found in the opening stages of the previous two seasons? Time will tell.
7. Rainford Kalaba (TP Mazembe/Zambia) – Whilst his captain Christopher Katongo was crowned the official Cup of Nations player of the tournament, all it did was signify how misinformed CAF were. For it was Rainford Kalaba who was consistent throughout the tournament whilst his captain faded, rendering to footballing insignificance after the group stages. The twinkle-toed TP Mazembe star was the hardcore performer and crowd warmer, always looking threatening even against the unflinching defences with his instant control and staggering flair on the ball. His form for TP Mazembe has been indifferent form due to the almost unfamiliar midfield position he is asked to play and, at times, looks too lightweight for, but when Mazembe break forward with their quick-quick-quicker football his quality is there for all to see.
6. Youssef Msakni (Lekhwiya/Tunisia) – 2012 was the year Youssef Msakni announced himself on the African stage. His mission began in Gabon as Msakni terrorized rival Moroccan defenders. Msakni scored the decisive goal in a crucial fixture which saw Tunisia advance at the expense of their West African kin. Msakni went on to play both central and laterally, amassing the most dribbles per game for the Carthage Eagles. He finished an honourable mention laureat for the African Cup of Nations Team of the Tournament. At club level, Msakni continued his rampage: showcasing his slaloming runs from the left as Esperance charged through to the final. Appendicitis saw Msakni miss a crucial first leg as Al Ahly managed an important draw. A determined defensive performance shackled Msakni as Al Ahly won their record 7th Champions League trophy. Nevertheless, Youssef Msakni attracted foreign interest and Qatari champions, Lekhwiya, landed him for an unprecedented 6 million Euros. Msakni will, then, join the Qatari galacticos following South Africa 2013- another chance to solidify his sparkling reputation in Africa.
5. Stoppila Sunzu (TP Mazembe/Zambia) – The year began gloriously for Sunzu as a flawless Cup of Nations final performance was wrapped with the winning spot-kick to seal Zambia’s poignant triumph. This achievement seemed to give the Zambian the belief that saw him proliferate in his development as a footballer. He became the defensive governor of the TP Mazembe side which struggled to find equilibrium between attack and defence, especially on the road, and was inevitably named the Player of the Year come the end of the season awards. Although primarily a centre-back, he had various stints a defensive midfielder where he has not only added some defensive dignity to TP Mazembe but showcased his range of passing. With such completeness, it’s no wonder that he was named the 3rd best player based in Africa and Arsenal and Reading have been sniffing around.
4. Younes Belhanda (Montpellier/Morocco) – In every drive to a title run, potholes jump out and scream at you- obstacles where you can either stumble and call a tow truck, or find the player who yanks the steering wheel and coasts you back on track. Luckily for Montpellier, Younes Belhanda was very present and headstrong. He turned in clutch performances in Paris, Montbeliard and Marseille, as Nicollin’s men marched to the club’s first ever championship. The latter cameo was especially impressive. Belhanda scored 2 goals, the second which he took on his chest, shuffled his eager feet and smashed a scissor kick along the underbelly of Mandanda’s crossbar. Eric Gerets will have wondered where the flash and resolve hid in national colours as Morocco hobbled out of the African Cup of Nations during the group stages. But Belhanda’s achievements at the club level place him in our top 5 Africans of 2012.
3. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (St Etienne/Gabon) – Even though he will be remembered for the tears he shed after his penalty-shootout miss that sent Gabon out in the quarter-finals, Aubameyang played a Herculean, mythical role in shouldering the host nation’s hopes. His exceptional pace and do-or-die drive brought fears into defenders and inspired his team-mates whether he was deployed as a lone striker or, when his team-mates couldn’t get the ball to him, on the right flank. His chef d’oeuvre combining all that was good about him undoubtedly came in the second half against Morocco as Gabon aimed to overturn a 1-0 lead. In what was the finest individual performance of the tournament, he made left-back Badr El Kaddouri exhale not only his breath but all the shisha smoke he had ever consumed as Gabon eventually recorded a dramatic 3-2 win. Major tournaments can transform workaday plays into good ones, of course, but it’s his consistency at club level that has been even more encouraging. Last season, he would finish with 16 goals in the league and he is halfway to matching that total at this year’s halfway stage.
2. Yaya Toure (Man City/Ivory Coast) – The newly crowned African Footballer of the Year has continued his consistent performances from last season which saw him voted in the PFA Team of the Year by his fellow professionals. In an age where diminutive, tiki-taka-esque playmakers reign supreme, the Ivorian is a threat to the status quo: in his role as playmaker he simply drives with the regal entitlement with impudence for lurking and the art of pitter-pattering. You and me, pals, I’ll dribble past you and then shrug you all off like feeble rugby backs. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have poise or elegance, he’s equally adept at posing questions with his passing which is, at times, unorthodoxly inquisitive for a big man – thanks to the footballing education he received at Barcelona no doubt. The risk-averse of the Ivory Coast under Francois Zahoui deprived tournament connoisseurs of the swashbuckling midfieder in excelsis, but with new coach Lamouchi reintroducing an attacking style, we saw the best of Yaya Toure at international level again as Ivory Coast elongated their unbeaten run.
1. Didier Drogba (Shanghai Shenhua/Ivory Coast) – “As far as I’m concerned, he [Didier Drogba] won the Champions League for Chelsea,” eulogised Sir Alex Ferguson. When we recall 2012 it will be Didier’s moments that will be eternally engraved into our retinas. Whether we deplore his histrionics or whether we abhor Chelsea won’t matter, for his cojones in the face of pressure elevated him from a very good striker to a legendary one. There’s a permanent home for a banner at Stamford Bridge that simply reads: “Drogba legend.” Chelsea’s very presence in the final was largely due to the Ivorian; he scored the opening goal in their 4-1 win over Napoli, a match that kick-started their season, and he scored the winning goal in their 1-0 win over Barcelona in the semi-final first leg. Not to mention another final goal at Wembley to win Chelsea the FA Cup. It was another near-miss in the phosphorescent colours of Cote d’Ivoire, but he finished as one of the Cup of Nations joint top scorers and scored some stunning goals. His three goals in a tricky Afcon 2013 play-off tie against Senegal showed his fitness hadn’t waned despite now playing in China. With the Cup of Nations the only palpable competition he hasn’t won yet and with this year’s edition set to be his swansong, 2013 could be Didier’s year. Again.