History of the BBC African Footballer of the Year award
Following the launch of the BBC African Footballer of the Year award, BBC Sport looks at all the previous winners.
The prize started life as the BBC African Sports Star of the Year award in 1992, when Ghanaian footballer Abedi Pele was the inaugural winner.
The format has evolved and now a shortlist of five players is announced following a poll of football journalists in Africa – after which a public vote decides the best for that year.
Names etched on the trophy include Didier Drogba, Jay-Jay Okocha, Yaya Toure and George Weah.
This year Medhi Benatia, Kalidou Koulibaly, Sadio Mane, Thomas Partey and 2017 winner Mohamed Salah are all in contention for the award.
2017 Mohamed Salah – Egypt and Liverpool (England)
Mohamed Salah became the third Egyptian to win the BBC African Footballer of the Year after a stellar 2017.
Following a record number of votes, the Liverpool star won ahead of Gabon’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Guinean Naby Keita, Sadio Mane of Senegal and Nigeria’s Victor Moses.
“I am very happy to win this award,” the 25-year-old told BBC Sport. “It’s always a special feeling when you win something. I feel like I had a great year, so I’m very happy.”
Salah took the title after starring for Roma, who he helped to finish second in Serie A, and Liverpool, where he was the Premier League’s top scorer, at club level.
Internationally, the forward drove Egypt to the Africa Cup of Nations final and had a hand in all seven of the goals that took the Pharaohs to their first World Cup in nearly three decades.
2016 Riyad Mahrez – Algeria and Leicester City (England)
Riyad Mahrez won the 2016 BBC African Footballer of the Year award following his prominent role in Leicester’s fairytale Premier League title.
Nominated for the first time, the Algerian wideman emerged triumphant above Gabon’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Ghanaian Andre Ayew, Senegal’s Sadio Mane and Ivorian Yaya Toure.
“It means a lot,” Mahrez told BBC Sport. “It’s something big for African players so I am very happy, I am very proud. I want to thank the Algeria fans and dedicate this to them as well as to my family.”
A bargain buy at £400,000 from Le Havre in 2014, the skilful Mahrez was key to Leicester’s shock success – scoring 17 goals and providing 11 assists as the Foxes pulled off what had been a 5,000-1 shot before the season.
His exploits made him the first African to win England’s prestigious PFA award – which is voted for by fellow professionals – while he was also the only African to make Fifa’s shortlist for Player of the Year in 2016.
2015 Yaya Toure – Ivory Coast and Manchester City (England)
Ivorian Toure won the BBC African Footballer of the Year award for a second time, following on from his triumph in 2013.
After a record seventh appearance on the shortlist, the midfielder beat a competitive field including Aubameyang, Ayew, Yacine Brahimi of Algeria and the Senegalese Mane.
“I would like to pay tribute to my fellow nominees and to this fantastic initiative, which celebrates African footballers – shining a light on our wonderful continent,” Toure told BBC Sport.
2015 was an unforgettable year for the powerful Manchester City midfielder as he captained Ivory Coast to their first Africa Cup of Nations win in 23 years – and only their second ever – as the Elephants defeated Ghana in the final.
Toure also made Fifa’s Ballon d’Or shortlist for the fourth straight year – and third in a row as the only African to be nominated.
2014 Yacine Brahimi – Algeria and Porto (Portugal)
Yacine Brahimi became the first Algerian to win the BBC African Footballer of the Year award – and he did it the hard way, too.
After a record number of votes were submitted from fans in 207 Fifa-registered countries, the 24-year-old saw off competition from Toure and Gervinho, Aubameyang and Nigerian Vincent Enyeama.
The lively midfielder received the plaudits after starring for Algeria at the World Cup in Brazil, as the North Africans reached the last 16 for the first time.
His club performances with Spanish side Granada earned him both the title of La Liga’s best African and a July move to Portuguese giants Porto, where he hit the ground running with goals in both the league and Champions League.
“It’s a big honour to receive this wonderful trophy,” he told the BBC. “I owe it to my country, Algeria, and all the people who voted for me.”
2013 Yaya Toure – Ivory Coast and Manchester City (England)
Toure finally won the award for the first time, having been nominated for five successive years – seeing off fellow nominees Aubameyang, Burkinabe Jonathan Pitroipa and Nigerians Victor Moses and John Mikel Obi.
It was reward for a season in which the Ivorian was outstanding for Manchester City, scoring some superb free-kicks and producing consistently high performances that utilised his power, drive and energy.
Although he did not win silverware with the Premier League club in 2013, one of the division’s standout players was the only African to be nominated for Fifa’s Ballon d’Or.
On the international scene, the powerhouse was instrumental in Ivory Coast’s successful qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
“Finally winning the award is amazing,” Toure told BBC Sport. “It’s something special because it’s not the vote of the manager, or the club, or the captain of the national team, it’s just the fans.”
2012 Christopher Katongo – Zambia and Henan Construction (China)
Attacking midfielder Christopher Katongo won the trophy after captaining Zambia to a fairytale Africa Cup of Nations title.
Little-fancied before the tournament, the Chipolopolo won the title in Libreville – 20 years after the national team’s air disaster off the coast of Gabon – beating favourites Ivory Coast on penalties in the final.
Katongo, a staff sergeant in the army, dispatched his spot-kick in the shootout, to add to the three goals he had scored earlier.
Named player of the tournament by the Confederation of African Football, the Zambian won the BBC prize ahead of Ivorian duo Toure and Didier Drogba, Senegal’s Demba Ba and Younes Belhanda of Morocco.
“This is the thing I will never forget in my life,” Katongo told BBC Sport. “As a footballer you want to achieve something and I have done it through the fans who have recognised my hard work. This is one of the best awards, to be named among the best ever African players.”
2011 Andre Ayew – Ghana and Marseille (France)
Then 21, Ayew became the first son of a former winner to claim the prize, two decades after his father Abedi ‘Pele’ Ayew picked up the original BBC award.
The fifth Ghanaian to win the trophy, the wideman beat competition from Toure and his Ivorian compatriot Gervinho, with Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon) and Seydou Keita (Mali) also missing out.
After making an impact at both the Nations Cup and World Cup in 2010, Ayew became a key figure for Marseille – finishing the 2010-11 season as a regular starter, with his 11 goals aiding his cause.
He began the following season with a hat-trick in the French Super League, while also playing a key role in ensuring that the Black Stars qualified unbeaten for the 2012 Nations Cup.
“I’m honoured and surprised to receive this prestigious award, especially considering the great players who have won it in the past,” said Ayew.
2010 Asamoah Gyan – Ghana and Sunderland (England)
Gyan earned the fans’ plaudits after an unforgettable year internationally as the Black Stars progressed to the latter stages of both the Nations Cup and World Cup.
In early 2010, he scored three of Ghana’s four goals as the four-time African champions reached their first Nations Cup final in 18 years, ultimately losing out to Egypt.
At the World Cup, the then 24-year-old grabbed global attention as another three goals took his side to a maiden quarter-finals, where he missed a last-minute penalty against Uruguay.
Despite spurning the chance to send an African nation to a first World Cup semi-final, Gyan clinched the BBC title with an overwhelming majority – receiving over half of the vote ahead of rivals Ayew, Toure, Drogba and Eto’o.
“I’m so happy, I can’t believe it,” said the man who left Rennes for Premier League side Sunderland after South Africa 2010. “I’m so thankful to all the fans who voted for me. It was really hard to win this award, especially because of all the other players I was up against.”
2009 Didier Drogba – Ivory Coast and Chelsea (England)
After a disappointing start to the year, in which he was struggling for both goals and a place in Felipe Scolari’s Chelsea side, Drogba saw his footballing fortunes vastly improve through 2009.
He would score 31 goals for the London club in the calendar year, with one of his most important strikes coming in the FA Cup final as the Blues rallied from a goal down to beat Everton 2-1.
On the international scene, he secured qualification for the Ivory Coast at the 2010 World Cup and Nations Cup finals.
He scored six times in five games in the Elephants’ campaign, including the goal which would take them to the World Cup – an equaliser against Malawi in Blantyre.
The striker beat Toure, Eto’o, Michael Essien and DR Congo’s Tresor Mputu Mabi to the BBC title.
2008 Mohamed Aboutrika – Egypt and Al Ahly (Egypt)
Aboutrika was an overwhelmingly popular winner, taking over half of the 155,000 votes cast as the talented playmaker beat compatriot Amr Zaki, Drogba, Eto’o and Emmanuel Adebayor to the prize.
Regarded as one of the finest footballers to ever grace the continent, Aboutrika had a 2008 to remember – scoring the only goal of the Nations Cup final against Cameroon and winning the African Champions League with Al Ahly.
Crucially for a man whose talents have seldom been seen outside the continent given the Pharaohs’ failure to qualify for a World Cup during his playing career, the quiet Egyptian was on the global stage at the Fifa Club World Cup with the Cairo team for a third time.
“2008 was a tremendous year,” Aboutrika told the BBC’s African sports programme Fast Track. “It was an opportunity for me and my team-mates to be a showcase for Egyptian football across the world.
“This prize is a wonderful present for me. It’s an honour both for Egyptian football and for my club Al Ahly – I am very happy to be this year’s winner of the BBC African Footballer of the Year award.”
2007 Emmanuel Adebayor – Togo and Arsenal (England)
The tall Togo striker was a popular winner, taking 42% of the vote ahead of an in-form Drogba, while also beating Essien, Freddie Kanoute of Mali and Eto’o.
In May 2007, shortly after ending his first full season with Arsenal, the Adebayor was rewarded for his bright performances – and goals against Manchester United at Old Trafford and AC Milan at the San Siro – with a new long-term deal.
He started the following season in fine style, helping to compensate for the departure of club legend Thierry Henry by scoring 13 times by the end of 2007 – and ultimately performing so well he would end up in the PFA Team of the Year.
One of his 18 strikes in the calendar year – the volley at the home of north London rivals Tottenham in September – would later be named as the best of the season.
“I’m greatly honour to be given this award in front of my people,” Adebayor said upon receiving his award in Lome. “It means a lot. All these years I have been working hard – and today I have been rewarded.”
2006 Michael Essien – Ghana and Chelsea (England)
Becoming what was then the most expensive African footballer when signing for Chelsea for £24.4m in August 2005, Essien began to repay the Stamford Bridge faithful in full the following year.
He quickly emerged as a complete midfielder, with strength in the tackle, an eye for goal and vast reserves of energy – qualities that enabled the Ghanaian to pip Aboutrika, Eto’o, Drogba and Angola international Flavio to the BBC prize.
Less than a year after joining the Blues, Essien had helped them win the Premier League – and his form was such that he ended up on the 30-man shortlist for Fifa World Footballer of the Year.
His immense performances as Ghana reached the knockout stages at the Black Stars’ first World Cup were a decisive factor in that recognition and the midfielder was conspicuous by his absence when missing the 3-0 second-round defeat by Brazil through suspension.
“I have been playing some good football and without the contribution of my team-mates at national team and club level, I couldn’t have achieved this feat,” Essien, who was handed the trophy by Abedi Pele in Accra, told BBC Sport. “I am very delighted to have won the award as it is total recognition from fans across Africa.”
2005 Mohamed Barakat – Egypt and Al Ahly (Egypt)
Barakat became the first North African to etch his name on the BBC African Footballer of the Year trophy after an unforgettable year with Cairo giants Al Ahly.
The Egyptian side won their domestic league before lifting the African Champions League, with Barakat top scoring in the competition with seven goals – scoring a hat-trick against city rivals Zamalek in the semi-finals, and one more in the final against Etoile du Sahel.
The midfielder was also key to Ahly’s world record run of 55 games without defeat, an achievement that surpassed the previous feats of South American duo Santos (Brazil) and Penarol (Uruguay).
Seeing off Eto’o, Essien and Nigerian duo Obafemi Martins and Jay-Jay Okocha, the slender Barakat received his award during the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations – which Egypt would go on to win.
“This award will certainly lift the spirit and morale of the whole Egyptian team,” he told the BBC. “I know this award was won because of my form for Ahly, but the star of that team is not one individual but the team itself.”
2004 Jay-Jay Okocha – Nigeria and Bolton Wanderers (England)
Okocha retained the trophy after a year in which he exceeded his exploits of 2003, captaining Nigeria to third place at the Nations Cup and helping Bolton to eighth in the Premiership, their then highest finish.
In only his second season with the club, he assumed the captaincy and promptly led the Trotters to the League Cup final, largely thanks to two stunning free-kicks in the semi-final win over Aston Villa.
He took that form to the Nations Cup, scoring four goals – including the 1,000th in the history of the competition – to finish joint top scorer while also being named player of the tournament.
Such displays enabled him to top a shortlist comprising Eto’o, Martins, Ghana’s Stephen Appiah and Drogba.
“I never thought I could win it again this year,” Okocha told BBC Sport. “I appreciate this one more because it’s been more difficult to retain the award and I’ve put in a lot of hard work to see that I retain it. I’m very happy I accomplished it and I appreciate all the people who voted for me.”
2003 Jay-Jay Okocha – Nigeria and Bolton Wanderers (England)
Okocha’s first full season in English football was good enough to earn him the BBC crown ahead of Eto’o (then playing for Real Mallorca) and Appiah.
The skilful playmaker’s excellent run in the second half of the 2002-03 season earned him rave reviews and he finished as the club’s joint top scorer.
None of his goals was more important than the 30-yard strike against Middlesbrough on the final day of the Premiership season, which helped his team win 2-1 and so stay in the division by just a point.
Bolton coach Sam Allardyce praised his “outstanding abilities” as the Nigerian quickly adapted to life in England after a disappointing spell with Paris St-Germain.
“I am delighted to receive this prestigious award and it has inspired me to do more,” Okocha said. “I want to thank those who voted for me. I have worked hard to be on the top and I’m going to continue working harder.”
2002 El Hadji Diouf – Senegal and Lens (France)/Liverpool (England)
After a troubled start to his career, with numerous off-field problems hindering his development, El Hadji Diouf finally showed the extent of his talents in 2002.
The forward was in sublime form at the start of the year as he spearheaded Senegal’s passage to their first Nations Cup final, where they were only beaten by Cameroon on penalties.
Fearing his profile and price would soar at the World Cup, Liverpool snapped up the then 21-year-old from Lens in the days before the tournament began – and the Reds were right to be worried.
He gave a masterclass in the opening game of the 2002 finals, as Senegal stunned France with a 1-0 victory before the Teranga Lions went on to reach the quarter-finals at their only World Cup to date.
“Some people may have negative things to say about me but I know that the fans believe in me and I will continue to play for them,” Diouf told the BBC upon receiving his award in Johannesburg.
2001 Samuel Kuffour – Ghana and Bayern Munich (Germany)
Sammy Kuffour achieved a rare feat by winning the trophy despite being a defender, a result of helping Germany’s Bayern Munich to a hat-trick of titles in 2001.
In May, just days after clinching their third straight Bundesliga on the final day of the season, Bayern beat Valencia on penalties to win the Champions League, their first European crown in 25 years.
This more than atoned for the club’s dramatic 2-1 defeat by Manchester United in the 1999 final, which famously featured Kuffour beating the ground in frustration at the final whistle.
At the end of the year, Bayern would win the Intercontinental Cup when beating South American champions Boca Juniors, with Kuffour scoring the winning goal in extra time.
“To be voted the BBC African Footballer of the Year is not an easy thing and it’s a great opportunity for me,” the Ghanaian, who beat Diouf and Sierra Leone’s Mohammed Kallon in the voting, told the BBC. “This award is for the whole African continent.”
2000 Patrick Mboma – Cameroon and Cagliari/Parma (Italy)
The turn of the century witnessed a change in the BBC’s award as Patrick Mboma won the last African Sports Personality of the Year – with the prize changing to African Footballer of the Year in 2001.
The Cameroon captain was rewarded after a hugely successful year in which his side not only won its first Nations Cup title in 12 years but also Olympic gold.
The Italy-based striker scored four times in the Nations Cup, including a goal in the final as the Indomitable Lions lifted the title after winning a penalty shootout to defeat co-hosts Nigeria on home soil.
In September, he hit another four goals as Cameroon won their first Olympic gold medal, beating Spain in a Sydney final which was also decided by spot-kicks.
Reflecting the nature of the BBC trophy at the time, Mboma finished above Ethiopian long-distance runner Haile Gebreselassie and Mozambique’s Olympic gold medallist Maria Mutola in the voting.
1999 Nwankwo Kanu – Nigeria and Arsenal (England)
Nwankwo Kanu won the BBC award for a second time in 1999, two years after his initial title, as he bounced back from a difficult period to play at the highest level once again – signed by English Premier League side Arsenal in February.
The tall striker had been diagnosed with a heart defect shortly after joining Inter Milan in 1996 and remained with the Italian giants for over two years after surgery, but playing just a handful of games during that time.
In his first full season with Arsenal, Kanu scored a legendary 17-minute hat-trick at Chelsea – clinching a famous comeback from two goals down to win 3-2 when he curled home a stunning winner in the final minute.
Six months earlier, he had already earned the adoration of Gunners fans when showcasing his ability with a tasty backflick against Middlesbrough.
The Nigerian would net six Premiership goals that term, before firing 17 in all competitions the following season – including a strike that earned a Champions League draw at Barcelona.
1998 Haile Gebrselassie
For only the second time in history, the BBC prize was won by an athlete – as legendary Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie won the title.
This came after the athlete broke the world records in both the 5,000m and 10,000m.
1997 Nwankwo Kanu – Nigeria and Inter Milan (Italy)
Kanu signed for Inter Milan from Dutch side Ajax in 1996 and went on to win a historic Olympic football gold medal with Nigeria weeks later, the first time an African nation had ever won the prize.
But he was diagnosed with a hole in his heart shortly after and following successful surgery in November, he would not play for Inter for the whole of the 1996-97 season.
In April 1997, he returned to his club and a bright young player who had won the 1995 European Cup with Ajax received a second chance.
His first match came the following season, but he made just 11 appearances – scoring only once – and he was given only one more game prior to his February 1999 departure for Arsenal.
His prize as BBC African Sports Personality of 1997 was all about the strength of character he showed and the goodwill he gained when returning to the game after such a scare.
1996 Emmanuel Amuneke – Nigeria and Sporting (Portugal)/Barcelona (Spain)
Emmanuel Amuneke earned the BBC prize after scoring the goal that sealed one of football’s most heart-warming victories, as a carefree Nigerian side won Africa’s first Olympic football gold medal.
Improving on Ghana’s bronze in 1992, Nigeria won the competition with some thrilling play that saw off none other than Mexico, Brazil – searching that elusive first title and boasting Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Roberto Carlos – and Argentina in the knockout stages.
In the final itself, Amuneke – who played every game for Nigeria during the tournament – slotted home in the 90th minute to seal a memorable fightback after the 1994 African champions had come from 2-1 down with 16 minutes left.
“We were the pride of the whole continent, since this was the first time that an African team had ever won a tournament this important,” he later told Fifa.com.
His exploits caught the eye of Spanish giants Barcelona, who signed him from Portugal’s Sporting Lisbon in December that year, but his career never fully recovered after suffering a bad knee injury in 1997.
1995 George Weah – Liberia and AC Milan (Italy)
The BBC award was just one of many that AC Milan’s George Weah won in 1995 along with the African, European and World Player titles, and the Liberian is still the only African to have won Fifa’s prestigious prize.
He beat Paolo Maldini and Jurgen Klinsmann in the voting, before earning further acclaim at the awards ceremony after spontaneously giving his Fifa medal to a moved Arsene Wenger, who had discovered and developed the striker’s talent at Monaco.
Weah was instrumental in Paris St-Germain’s historic march to the 1995 Champions League semi-finals, finishing as the tournament’s top scorer that year with seven goals – one of which came at the Nou Camp as the French side knocked Barcelona out in the quarters.
He also enjoyed great success with his nation in 1995 as Weah propelled the Lone Star to a maiden Nations Cup qualification, even if the following year’s tournament debut would herald a first-round exit.
After leaving Paris for Milan, Weah netted 11 goals as the league title arrived in his first year and he would surpass his tally the next season, when he scored his pitch-long wonder goal against Verona in 1996.
1994 Zambia national team
In April 1993, a plane carrying the Zambia squad to a World Cup qualifier in Senegal crashed off the coast of Gabon, killing all 30 passengers – including 18 of the country’s best footballers.
Yet the greatest player in the country’s history, Kalusha Bwalya, was not on the plane as he was making his own way to Dakar from Europe, where he played for PSV Eindhoven.
The 1988 African Footballer of the Year would lead an unlikely comeback as a young team went unbeaten in its remaining two Nations Cup qualifiers to reach the 1994 finals.
On Tunisian soil, a rebuilt side defied all the odds to reach Zambia’s first final but they came unstuck against a Nigerian side containing Rashidi Yekini, Sunday Oliseh, Amuneke, Okocha and Daniel Amokachi.
Yet the way in which such a spirited Zambia team overcame incredible adversity to make their country proud was not forgotten by those who voted for the BBC award – nor by a grateful nation.
1993 Frankie Fredericks
The ever-popular Frankie Fredericks became the first athlete to win the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award after becoming Namibia’s first world champion, three years after the country achieved independence.
Competing at that year’s World Championships in Stuttgart, Fredericks saw off Great Britain’s John Regis and Carl Lewis to win in a then tournament record time of 19.85 seconds.
1992 Abédi Pelé – Ghana and Marseille (France)
Abedi Pele won the first BBC African Sports Star of the Year award in 1992 while playing for French club Marseille.
He was the heartbeat of the Ghana side that reached the 1992 Nations Cup final in Senegal, where they lost on penalties to Ivory Coast – with the Marseille man missing the decider through suspension.
Nonetheless, he was named the best player of the tournament after impressing with his penetrating play and unsurpassed tally of three goals.
Later in the year, the Marseille star was celebrating once again as his French side recorded its fourth straight league title in succession.
Even better was to follow as Pele, Marcel Desailly and Basile Boli – all of whom had African roots – began a season that ended with Marseille’s solitary Champions League title as they beat Milan in the 1993 final.