Theatre du Chatelet in Paris will be the location for the 2023 Ballon d’Or awards ceremony where Lionel Messi and Erling Haaland will be competing for the top honour. If Lionel Messi wins the prize, this would be his record eighth Ballon d’Or title, whereas Haaland is looking to win this achievement for the first time in his career.
Either way, the favourites for the 2023 Ballon d’Or awards happen to be European or South American.
This is nothing new, as one has to go back to 1995 to witness the last player from outside either continent crowned as the world’s best player. Even though there have been several great players to hit the headlines from Africa, the list of African Ballon d’Or winners is rather small and limited to the player alone – George Weah.
George Weah Ballon d’Or makes history in 1995
George Weah is widely considered to be one of the greatest footballers to have graced the game, and it certainly makes him one of the best African footballers ever. After starting with clubs in the African continent, the Liberian made his name playing for the likes of Monaco, PSG, and AC Milan.
Weah was a crucial factor in helping PSG reach the semifinals of the Champions League in that campaign. He came up with eight goals in 11 European games for the French outfit to become the top scorer in the competition in 1995. These incredible performances earned him a move to Italian football with AC Milan.
His exploits with PSG helped the club lift the Coupe de France and Coupe de la Ligue titles. Weah ended up with 18 goals in all competitions – a remarkable achievement back then.
Other African Ballon d’Or nominees
The Weah Ballon d’Or success has never been matched by another African since then. However, a small number of African footballers have come close.
Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast – 2006)
Didier Drogba was nominated for the 2006 title after picking up 20 Premier League goals while also adding six more in the Champions League. Throughout the season, Drogba had managed 33 goals from a staggering 60 matches in all competitions.
Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon – 2009)
The 2009 Ballon d’Or title almost saw Samuel Eto’o make it to the top three positions following a spectacular campaign with Barcelona. The striker had a staggering 30 goals in just 36 La Liga matches while also scoring six more goals in the Champions League to end the campaign with 36 goals from just 52 matches.
Mohammed Salah (Egypt – 2018 & 2019)
Mohamed Salah finished in the top 10 of the Ballon d’Or rankings in the 2018 and 2019 seasons following an incredible success with Liverpool. Even though he ultimately finished huge points behind Luka Modric and Lionel Messi, Salah almost came close to achieving history. He had managed 50 goals in these two seasons with Liverpool.
Sadio Mane (Senegal – 2022)
Sadio Mane had the closest finish in the Ballon d’Or ranking since George Weah after a second-place finish in 2022. The Liverpool winger had managed 23 goals in 51 appearances but he was instrumental in almost helping the club to Champions League success.
Victor Osimhen (Nigeria – 2023)
Victor Osimhen created history with Napoli by getting the club to the Italian Serie A title for the first time in more than three decades. The 26 league goals scored by the Nigerian were a decisive factor in overcoming the two Milan clubs and Juventus.
Could Victor Osimhen win the Ballon d’Or in 2024?
Victor Osimhen has made it to the 2023 Ballon d’Or nomination list. The Napoli forward has been one of the players with excellent potential to be considered as a future Ballon d’Or winner. Napoli picked up the Italian Serie A title last season with the striker incredibly influential through his 26 goals from 32 matches. His performances have not gone unnoticed as several clubs are queuing up for his signature in the summer.
Osimhen has the potential to be crowned as the Ballon d’Or winner in 2024. Such an eventuality is unlikely to take place if Napoli end up defending the Italian Serie A alone. The club have to win the Champions League – whilst never having been past the quarter-finals of the competition – to stand a chance.
African Ballon d'Or winners and nominees – Other future candidates
Bilal El Khannouss
Moroccan midfielder Bilal El Khannouss was instrumental in helping Morocco succeed at the U23 Africa Cup of Nations. The Genk midfielder was also crowned with the best Belgian young player title in 2022. El Khannouss has all the essential ingredients to bring his teammates into goal with great vision. So far in 2023, El Khannouss has also been adding goals to his game.
Manchester United spotted the young Ivory Coast international coming through the ranks at Atalanta and picked him up for a massive transfer fee in 2020. Since then, he has been out on loan at the likes of Rangers and Sunderland. Following an impressive season with the Black Cats in the Championship, it appears that the 21-year-old is ready to step up. He is adept at playing as a winger or midfielder.