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BBC calling
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 15 - 11 - 2018

The five-man shortlist for the 2018 BBC African Footballer of the Year has been announced. Mehdi Benatia, Kalidou Koulibaly, Sadio Mane, Thomas Partey and Mohamed Salah are all in contention with our Egyptian superstar the favourite to retain the title after winning it last year.
The winner will be announced on 14 December.
Let's take a closer look at the candidates and their chances. First is Moroccan Benatia. The 31-year-old Juventus star has developed into one of Europe's most reliable defenders in recent years, having played for some of the continent's biggest clubs. However, it has been his role at the heart of Juventus' famously secure defence in 2018 which has earned him a place on the BBC shortlist for the first time. A tough but assured centre back, Benatia helped Juventus win their seventh successive Serie A title last season in addition to winning the Coppa Italia.
Second is Napoli and Senegal's Koulibaly, who is considered Salah's main rival for the award. Koulibaly is another debutant on the list after enjoying a stellar season with Napoli where he helped the Italian side set a new club record for points in a Serie A season, finishing second behind Juventus. Dominant at the back and also a threat in the opposition box, the tall defender caught the eye at the World Cup and has maintained his form at the start of the domestic season. With the likes of Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester United all reportedly interested, a big-money move may not be too far away especially that he's having another outstanding season so far and drew massive praise for his performances against arguably the best two attacking lines in Europe: Liverpool and PSG.
Third is Salah's teammate Mane who's making his fourth appearance on the list after being included the past three seasons. Astonishingly, he never won it and might have to settle for yet another defeat since Salah and Koulibaly seem to have a better chance. Mane, 26, has scored 21 goals so far in 2018 for club and country, helping Liverpool become one of the most feared attacking sides in Europe. Reds manager Jurgen Klopp says Mane has proven he is among the world's elite. “He's much more secure that this is his level,” the German said in August.
Next on the list is Atletico Madrid's Partey. The Ghanaian star is another first-time nominee after cementing his place as an important figure for both club and country this year. The 25-year-old helped Diego Simeone's side to a second-place finish in La Liga last season and they won the Europa League. Although he has sometimes been overlooked by Simeone, Partey continues to be a leading light for his nation. He captained Ghana in friendlies against Japan and Iceland in the summer and has become the driving attacking force on the team.
Saving the best for last, Salah had never been nominated for the BBC award before he became the third Egyptian to win the prize last year. Now the Egyptian icon is aiming to be the first player to retain it since Nigeria's Jay-Jay Okocha in 2002. The 26-year-old Salah started 2018 as strong as he finished 2017, scoring another 21 goals to end his debut campaign at Anfield with an incredible haul of 44 in 52 appearances. That helped the Reds reach the Champions League final and led to a host of personal accolades, including the PFA Players' Player of the Year and the FWA Footballer of the Year.
The biggest compliment Salah received in his career so far was by former Liverpool and England legend Steven Gerrard in April, when he described Salah as the “best player on the planet right now”. Injury in the Champions League final against Real Madrid didn't give Salah a fair chance to shine at the World Cup although he still managed to score two goals in two games against Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Salah will be hoping to win the award for the second year running which will also see him the favourite to retain Africa's best player as he continues his unbelievable journey of getting nominated and winning awards seemingly for fun since joining Liverpool.
Salah started the season slightly off form but he's doing the right things at the moment, notching six league goals, only two goals off top scorer Sergio Aguero. Salah came third in both FIFA's The Best and European Player of the Year as Luka Modric and Cristiano Ronaldo finished first and second respectively in both awards.

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