Goalkeeper: Vincent Enyeama
Kossi Agassa has once again been in fine form over 2013, but the Togo shot-stopper is pipped to this honour by Nigeria’s Vincent Enyeama.
He was named in the Africa Cup of Nations Team of the Tournament after a series of influential displays which formed the backbone of Nigeria’s rise to the title. Having returned from a loan spell in Israel, he also took up a spot between the posts for French side Lille.
While Enyeama may have fallen just short of the Ligue 1 record for consecutive clean-sheets, his stunning performances in goal for Les Dogues have prompted a re-evaluation of his class. They have also pushed the Northern side firmly into the race for the French title.
Defender: Serge Aurier
Right-back Serge Aurier is the man who gives hope and credence to a post-Golden Generation Cote d’Ivoire. The youngster has already demonstrated his qualities as part of the Elephants’ backline and, in replacing Emmanuel Eboue, is the first of the new crop to nail down a starting berth.
Aurier has started five of the Ivorians’ last six games, while Eboue has not been called-up for the team’s last seven fixtures, since their Afcon elimination at the hands of Nigeria.
His showings in Ligue 1, for Toulouse, have even piqued the interest of Arsene Wenger, who is reportedly eyeing Aurier as the long-term replacement for Bakary Sagna.
Defender: Godfrey Oboabona
You may be wondering why you have not spotted Joseph Yobo playing for Nigeria for a while – well, here is your reason.
Oboabona was the only outfield player not to miss a minute of action at the Cup of Nations and was also one of the competition’s best performers. Particularly impressive was his performance against Didier Drogba in the quarter-final against the Cote d’Ivoire.
Oboabona’s showings for Nigeria also earned him a move to Europe. Caykur Rizespor may not have been the most illustrious name to be linked with the young defender, but great things are certainly in store.
Defender: Mehdi Benatia
Mehdi Benatia (or ‘Mehdi the Magificent’ according to Eurosport) has truly announced himself as one of Europe’s finest defenders over the last 12 months.
His performances for Roma saw him named in the Guardian’s top 50 players of 2013 list.
He has certainly been one of Africa’s outstanding players and a key figure in his club’s defensive unit. Roma’s excellent start to Serie A was built upon a watertight and fearsome defence. The likes of Leandro Castan, Federico Balzaretti and Vasilis Torosidis have all been in fine fettle, but I would argue that Benatia has been the outstanding individual.
Unfortunately, successes at club level have not been matched for his international side, Morocco. However, considering the talented individuals available for the Atlas Lions, I forecast a more promising time in 2014.
Midfielder: John Obi Mikel
2013 will be remembered as the year that John Obi Mikel finally realised his potential for the Nigerian national team.
Having previously been torn between operating as the effervescent playmaker of his youth and the lumbering holder of his Chelsea career, Mikel finally found the platform upon which he could flourish.
Not only did he begin to start driving the play for the Super Eagles and becoming the team’s creative force, he also started to underpin his performances with leadership. Mikel has become the inspirational figure at the heart of a very successful Super Eagles side.
Midfielder: Jonathan Pitroipa
In a Cup of Nations fairly devoid of quality and genius, Jonathan Pitroipa was a ray of light.
He was the tournament’s outstanding individual and was instrumental in guiding Burkina Faso to their unprecedented appearance in the Final.
The winger was in fine fettle as he helped his countrymen not only escape a group containing reigning champions Zambia and soon-to-be champions Nigeria, but also to overcome Togo and Ghana in the knockout rounds.
Unfortunately, the Stallions’ superb year ended in disappointment as World Cup qualification proved to be a step too far.
Midfielder: Ogenyi Onazi
In a year of revelations for Nigerian football, defensive midfielder Ogenyi Onazi may just be the pick of the bunch.
He showed his class at the end of 2012, with some assured performances for Lazio in the Europa League – particularly against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane.
For the national team, Onazi’s impact has been tremendous. At the beginning of the Afcon he was merely a squad member, but by the knockout rounds he was a central component of Stephen Keshi’s midfield.
Only injury, sustained in a World Cup Qualifier against Namibia in June, ended his unbroken minutes in the first team.
Onazi is incredibly mature and assured for his age and is an ideal foil for John Obi Mikel – the duo make a formidable pairing in the heart of the Super Eagles midfield.
Midfielder: Yaya Toure
Despite having an underwhelming year, by his own awesome standards, Yaya Toure remains Africa’s most accomplished midfield operator.
He missed out on honours with both Manchester City and the Cote d’Ivoire – for whom the Cup of the Nations passed him by – but still did enough to receive the BBC’s prestigious African Footballer of the Year award.
It will not be long before the midfield of Fernandinho and Toure begins to click consistently for City, when it does, the Manchester club might just be unstoppable.
The prospect of Barcelona, Yaya’s former club, looms large in the Champions League next season, but that should be a challenge that the Ivorian will relish. So too, the World Cup in Brazil next summer, where the Golden Generation have one last chance to leave an international legacy.
Forward: Pierre Emerick Aubameyang
At club level, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is already approaching the top of the sport. Having excelled consistently at Saint-Etienne, in the French top flight, he made the move to Champions League finalists Borussia Dortmund.
Over the last few months he has begun to announce himself as the continent’s pre-eminent forward. With explosive pace and excellent finishing, the Gabonese striker looks set to enjoy a decade at the top.
Forward: Emmanuel Emenike
At times over the last 12 months Nigeria have struggled to add the finishing touches to their improving approach. More often than not, Emmanuel Emenike has stepped forward to make the difference.
He scored in four of the six Cup of Nations fixtures, finding the net against Burkina Faso and Zambia in the group stage and then the Cote d’Ivoire and Mali in the knockout rounds. It was a great shame that injury ruled him out of the final, but the tournament’s Top Scorer Award proved to be some consolation.
Subsequently, it was Emenike’s brace against Ethiopia in Addis Ababa, turning around a 1-0 deficit, that pushed the Super Eagles towards Brazil. Having moved to Turkish giants Fenerbahce, Emenike now has the perfect stage, for club and country, upon which to blossom.
Forward: Mohamed Salah
Over the last year Mohamed Salah has continued on the trajectory that should one day culmulate with him being considered as Africa’s most exciting attacking player.
He starred for Egypt at the London Olympics, became a crucial part of the senior national side, thrived in the Europa League and won the Swiss title. Now he can add participation in the Champions League to his list of achievements.
Expect Salah to play a major role in the Pharaohs’ post-Aboutreika future.