JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – Liverpool sharpshooter Sadio Mane is expected to become the first African football headline-maker of 2020 by winning the Player of the Year award in Egypt next week.
The January 7 ceremony will set in motion a year sure to be full of drama on and off the field with 2022 World Cup and 2021 Cup of Nations qualifiers in the mix.
AFP Sport looks at some of the issues facing the most popular sport in a continent where good footballers and bad administrators often share the media stage.
Consistent Liverpool scorer and Senegal talisman Mane is favoured to become the second star from his country after El Hadji Diouf to be named Player of the Year.
His rivals are Liverpool teammate Mohamed Salah, the Egyptian who won the last two editions, and Algerian Riyad Mahrez of Manchester City.
The Player of the Year, and the winners of seven other male and female categories, will be announced at a ceremony in Egyptian Red Sea resort Hurghada.
A couple of weeks after the awards banquet, Egypt will host another eagerly anticipated event, the draw in Cairo for the group stage of World Cup qualifying.
The latest FIFA rankings are expected to determine the seedings, meaning Senegal, Tunisia, Nigeria, Algeria, Morocco, Ghana, Egypt, Cameroon, Mali and DR Congo will be in pot one.
All those nations except Mali have played at the World Cup, and an Ivory Coast team that can call on the dazzling footwork of Wilfried Zaha could be the most dangerous second seeds.
CUP OF NATIONS
Trouble lies ahead after a change from a January/February to June/July tournament this year to avoid tug of wars between clubs and countries over the services of Europe-based stars.
The first revamped Club World Cup, featuring 24 teams, is set for June 17 to July 4 2021 in China, effectively ruling out a mid-year Cup of Nations in Cameroon.
Senior CAF officials said off the record that a return to January/February dates is likely, and with it the possibility that an increasing number of players will put clubs first.
Tunisia have reportedly decided because of fixture congestion to withdraw from the 2020 edition in Cameroon of the tournament for footballers playing in their country of birth.
Traditionally a biennial January/February competition, it is slated for April 4 to 25 this year in three southern Cameroon cities, the capital, Yaounde, Douala and Limbe.
The 16-nation championship will test the readiness of Cameroon to stage the Cup of Nations next year after construction delays led to them being replaced by Egypt as 2019 hosts.
Tunisian club Esperance have been erratic as they seek an unprecedented third straight title, battling to overcome a Chadian club then defying the odds to defeat Raja in Casablanca.
They have lost several 2019 title-winning stars, including Algeria winger Youcef Belaili, and the starting line-up for a group match last weekend included only four Tunisians.
Record eight-time champions Al Ahly of Egypt, TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa and Casablanca clubs Raja and Wydad are potential threats.
A new name will be engraved on the trophy this year as recent winners Ahly, Etoile Sahel of Tunisia, Mazembe, Raja and Zamalek of Egypt are all competing in the Champions League.
Judged by group form up to the halfway mark, Cairo outfit Pyramids could become the third Egyptian winners of a competition modelled on the UEFA Europa League.
Emirati Salem al Shamsi has invested millions in a squad dominated by Egyptians but also containing stars from Burkina Faso, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Tunisia and Uganda.
Zamalek are threatening to boycott the February 14 match against Esperance scheduled for Qatar, a country Egypt accuses of destabilising the Middle East region.
Controversial club chairman Mortada Mansour said Zamalek will change their stance only if ordered to do so by the government.
“I do not understand why CAF want to stage the match in a country which is an enemy of Egypt. We are African clubs so why should we play in Asia?,” Mansour asked during a press conference.
The six-month secondment of FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura to crisis-plagued CAF ends on January 31 and there will be huge interest in what progress the Senegalese has made.
Her brief was to introduce reforms, notably in governance, competitions and refereeing, to an organisation World Soccer magazine labelled the “biggest basket case in football”.
Assisting Samoura is CAF President Ahmad Ahmad, who has not commented on various allegations against him, including corruption, financial misappropriation and sexual harassment.
There have been no broadcasts in sub-Saharan Africa of CAF national team and club fixtures since November after a 12-year TV deal with a French company was scrapped.
Lagardere Sports paid EUR890,000 in 2017 for the TV and marketing rights, but separate judgments ruled the deal illegal because there was no tender process.
Desperate football followers have resorted to streaming, but fixture options are limited and the high cost of internet data is an additional obstacle.