Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah: The Sad Tale of African Players Falling Consistently Short at Ballon d’Or Awards

Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah: The Sad Tale of African Players Falling Consistently Short at Ballon d’Or Awards

Martin Moses
  • The continued failure at Ballon d'Or by players of African heritage has always been a bone of contention, with unproven allegations of favouritism floated around
  • The impeccable dominance of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo over the last 10-plus years has also prevented any African from reaching the top
  • The strength of the Africa Cup of Nations title compared to its equivalents in Copa America and Euro 2022 could also be an issue

Sadio Mane recorded a contrasting set of fortunes in the 2021/2022 season. The then Liverpool forward led Senegal to their maiden African Cup of Nations title.

He then played a huge part as Liverpool beat Chelsea in both the FA and Carabao Cup finals to complete a domestic double. They were not as lucky in the Premier League and the Champions League finals however.

Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Karim Benzema, Lionel Messi, Ballon d'Or title
Sadio Mane receives the Socrates Award for the most involved player in societal and charitable projects at the Ballon d'Or ceremony. Photo by Aurelien Meunier.
Source: Getty Images

That notwithstanding, Mane was a strong contender for the 2022 Ballon d'Or award. One could argue that if Lionel Messi won the 2021 award after leading Argentina to the Copa America, then Mane surely deserved an equal chance.

Mane's only undoing was achieving all he had achieved simultaneously with Karim Benzema's meteoric rise. Not many, not even Mane himself, could argue that Benzema did not deserve the 2022 title.

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Africa has only one title

It begs the question: what more should Mane - and by extension African players - do to win the Ballon d'Or title in the near future? Liberian George Weah's win in 1995 remains the only win credited to the continent.

Not even Samuel Etoó and his superior striking skills won the most coveted individual award in football. More recently, Salah and Mane have had to share the burden of being the continent's most potent players.

AFCON compared to its equivalents

The issue of AFCON being disregarded by European media and even FIFA itself continues to be a hot topic. Winning the highest accolade in the continent does not seem to bear the same strength as winning the Euros or Copa America.

Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Karim Benzema, Lionel Messi, Ballon d'Or title, Anfield, October 16 2022
Mohamed Salah celebrates after scoring against Manchester City on October 16 at Anfield Stadium. Photo by John Powell.
Source: Getty Images

Salah and Mane might have proven themselves repeatedly but have continued to fall short due to a couple of factors that always seem to work against them.

Mane finished second behind Benzema, but questions about Salah's previous rankings have always generated widespread debate.

World Cup 'doom' for Africans

It is also almost certain that the 2023 title won't be won by an African player unless some serious piece of history takes place.

Given that it's a World Cup year, all the African representatives are starting on a back foot. Mane's Senegal carries the continent's best hope in Qatar but even so, a quarter-final berth will be overstretching it.

Even as unsubstantiated claims of favouritism among the choosing panel continue, African players seemingly need to put in almost triple the effort of their counterparts to be considered.

No clear line of succession

The other sad thing is as the rest of the world prepares to hand over the Lionel Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo baton to Kylian Mbappe, Erling Haaland and the like, Africa is yet to find the potential heirs to Mane and Salah.

There are fledgling talents like Victor Osimhen, but reaching the desired Ballon d'Or level will take a while. This technically means that Africa's hopes of a second title remain in murky waters.

Mane wins inaugural Socrates award

Sports Brief had earlier reported that Senegal and Bayern Munich forward Sadio Mané clinched the Socrates Award, the very first winner of the award at the 2022 edition of the Ballon d'Or ceremony.

The Socrates Prize, a novel award in the history of the awards, identifies the best social initiative by a committed champion.

Mané has carved a niche for himself as a champion both on and off the field. The Senegal international has been described by many as a man with a 'golden heart' owing to his humanitarian works.