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Sports Talk: Aboutrika deserves the best
Published in Daily News Egypt on 23 - 12 - 2006

They told him to stay a while longer on the field because he had been selected as one of the best footballers in the championship. He waited. and waited until he was told sorry, he hadn't won after all.
Deco, Luiz Adriano and Ronaldinho were chosen the three best players in the World Club Championship. Figuratively and literally, Mohamed Aboutrika was left standing in the Japanese cold.
The miscommunication between officials and Aboutrika has yet to be explained but what was communicated was loud and clear: the judges did not vote for Aboutrika.
As embarrassing as it was, the incident might serve as good practice for the Egyptian because it might happen again, this time for the more prestigious title, the African Player of the Year.
In the running for the award Aboutrika, 28, has had an extraordinary year.
At the start of 2006 he helped Egypt win the African Cup of Nations, scoring the last goal in the penalty shootout.
Towards the end of the year, he helped Ahly win their fifth African Champions League with his sensational strike deep into injury time against Tunisia's Sfaxien. In between, he led Ahly to the league title for the second consecutive year, the cup, Egyptian super cup and African super cup.
His brace against Club America gave Ahly a surprising third place in the World Club Championship, a position no African or Arab team has reached in the tournament before.
None of Aboutrika's challengers for the African award have had as super a year. Samuel Eto o was a key member of Spanish side Barcelona that won the Champions League in May. He scored 26 times to finish the top scorer in La Liga.
But Eto'o has been sidelined with injury since September and his Cameroon exited early from the ACN. Eto'o has also won the African award the past three years; it has never happened that somebody has won it four times.
Nwankwo Kanu is second in Premiership goals with nine. But he made no impact with Nigeria, and his club Portsmouth, third a few weeks ago, and currently sixth.
Michael Essien was instrumental in Ghana being the only African country to make it to the second round of the World Cup in Germany. But when it comes to who is more important to Chelsea, Didier Drogba's name is usually mentioned before Essien's.
Drogba's year wasn't exactly dull. He helped Chelsea win their second consecutive Premiership title and has been on fire, leading the English league with 10 goals after 18 games.
After a slow start, Chelsea are currently in second place, two points behind Manchester United, and are into the last eight in the Champions League. Drogba also steered Ivory Coast to the final of the ACN before bowing to Egypt.
Drogba has some advantages over Aboutrika. He went to the World Cup. Aboutrika did not (in fact the Ivory Coast qualified at the expense of Egypt and Cameroon). Though the Ivory Coast did not do as well as was expected, they nevertheless performed admirably, losing 2-1 to heavyweights Argentina and Holland before beating Serbia in consolation.
Drogba plays for a big club in Europe. Aboutrika does not. That difference could make all the difference. Since 1986, no player has won the award plying his trade in Africa. The winners have all been playing on Europe's greens.
Aboutrika is a true talent, a footballer who comes along once every decade. His outstanding year has led many to compare him favorably with Mahmoud El-Khatib who in 1983 became the only Egyptian to be African Player of the Year. Come Jan. 18 when the winner is announced in Nigeria, Aboutrika could be lucky Egyptian No 2.
Let's hope the officials in Abuja are not Japanese.


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