Over the years, African football has had its fair share of unsavoury moments: from corruption at administrative levels to national teams threatening to boycott games over failure to receive bonuses.
Frankly, it’s a lengthy list of unpleasant events that could take ages trying to recollect due to the sheer excess of embarrassing head-scratching episodes on the continent.
Still, the comical nature in which the 2007 African Footballer of the Year awards panned out was truly astonishing, and not in a positive way.
The major front-runner for the honour, Didier Drogba alleged that the Confederation of African Football threatened to hand the honour to principal challenger Frederic Kanoute if he wasn’t present at the ceremony that held in Togo.
“A prominent Caf official told me that if I did not come to the ceremony, the rules would be changed and the award would be given to the second-placed player, meaning Kanoute,” Drogba revealed to L’Equipe in 2008 [via Reuters] “Without being disrespectful, I don’t think that the attitude of those people honours Africa.
"If I didn’t go to Lome, it was because it was two days before a quarter-final and we have only one goal, to win the Cup.”
Looking back, it seems awfully absurd that the occasion held while the Africa Cup of Nations was ongoing. Caf, expectedly, denied the Ivory Coast icon’s accession, but Kanoute’s disclosure that he received a similar phone call was pretty damning.
While many felt Drogba was robbed, was that perception truly in accordance with reality?
Events on the pitch showed Kanoute may have merited the honour, as he built on a really strong start in the first half of 2006/07 to play a prominent role in Sevilla’s amazing 2007.
The Malian had arrived in Seville having never scored above 11 league goals in the Premier League, a feat he reached in 2000/01 and 01/02 at West Ham United. After a five-goal finish in 05/06 for the club from Andalusia, it seemed like the ‘poor man’s Thierry Henry’ was continuing in a similar path he’d previously trodden.
However, a significant improvement in 06/07 saw the French-born frontman hit 15 La Liga goals by the mid-point of the campaign to propel Juande Ramos’ troops to the top of the table. Having dovetailed seamlessly with Brazilian Luis Fabiano, Los Nervionenses dreamed of winning the championship for the first time since their only success in 1946.
Ramos, perhaps surprisingly, seemed to prioritise the cup competitions given he rested his team’s top scorer in gameweeks 30-32 and in 34 at the tail-end of the title race. The fact Sevilla ended in third, only five points behind the pair of champions Real Madrid and Barcelona suggests it was an opportunity missed.
The Spanish boss had indeed given the Malian a breather due to upcoming cup commitments, and his gamble paid dividends too, with the West African netting against old side Tottenham Hotspur in the both Uefa Cup quarter-final games and the Copa Del Rey semi-final first-leg thrashing of Deportivo La Coruna, which ended 3-0.
Kanoute then came up trumps both tournaments’ deciders, scoring in the all-Spanish affair against Espanyol (ended 2-2 after extra time) and just about tucked away his penalty in the shootout success.
In the domestic cup final against Getafe, he kept his composure to score early on as Sevilla to win the club the trophy for the first time since the late 1940s.
Meanwhile, Drogba was also enjoying his first prolific campaign at Chelsea helping the Blues to domestic cup success against Arsenal in the League Cup and Manchester United in the FA Cup.
The latter was particularly predictive of a love story with the New Wembley, as he scored in two other deciders in 2010 and 2012 at the Home of Football.
The Ivorian scored 33 times in 60 games, a goal every 1.8 matches, while the Mali star’s tally of 28 came in 45 fixtures at a slightly better ratio of 1.6 while being equally decisive in the big games like his counterpart.
Kanoute picked up where he left off in the first half of 07/08, notably scoring a hat-trick in Sevilla’s 5-3 victory over reigning champions Real in the Spanish Super Cup, which the underdogs won 6-3 on aggregate. He hit the back of the net 12 more times to end the calendar year on 28 goals, six higher than Drogba’s return of 22.
In truth, the Blues’ man missed December through injury, still, it doesn’t take anything away from the prolific Mali star who not only scored a boatload of goals but netted weighty strikes in 2007.
Even though Caf made a hash of the ceremony several years ago, it’d be disingenuous to not acknowledge what was an extraordinary calendar year by Kanoute, who didn’t deserve his only Footballer of the Year award devolving into such a farce.
Many will argue Drogba merited the honour, but the two-time Uefa Cup winner probably warranted the win anyway and deserves more than the asterisk that’ll always follow the one time he was top-dog on the continent.