The Kalaba Vote Snub: A Journalist’s Critical Perspective

kalaba-mazembe1With the dust yet to settle over how Chipolopolo skipper Rainford Kalaba missed out on the CAF African Footballer of the Year based in Africa, seasoned sports journalist Augustine Mukoka has weighed in strongly on why the TP Mazembe star’s missing out on the prize amounts to day light robbery. Mukoka reckons voting for Kalaba on the back of a meritorious show in TP Mazembe colours counted for more than vouching for a fellow countryman.

Below is what veteran scribe wrote:


Rainford ‘Master’ Kalaba’s failure to win the African Footballer of the Year award for players based in Africa has dominated football discourse the last three days or so.

What has even fuelled this debate is the revelation that Zambia’s golden son Kalusha Bwalya denied his Mufulira native the vote.

Kalusha, according to the voting pattern availed by CAF, favoured Zimbabwe’s Khama Billiat who he apportioned 5 votes. His second choice was the eventual AFOYBA award winner Uganda and Sundowns goalie Dennis Onyango who was allocated 4 votes while Kalaba was recipient of three votes.

As a soccer fan who has trooped to various stadia for local and international fixtures from a very tender age, I was without question rooting for Kalaba. But as a sports scribe, I had to go a little further to arrive at that decision.

I delved into the performance of all three finalists during the period under review and was self-assured Kalaba was to become only the third Zambian after Kalusha and Clifford Mulenga to win a continental honour. Boy, was I not disappointed?

On both fronts, I still believe Kalaba was robbed.

And here is why.

The AFOYBA award was introduced in 2012 when Zambia won her maiden Nations Cup title. In that year TP Mazembe also reached the semi-finals of the CAF Champions League.

Two Zambians, Kalaba and defender Stophilla Sunzu, made the final shortlist but the eventual winner was Mohammed Aboutrika. Aboutrika helped Al Ahly win their seventh CAF Champions League title that year and accounted for six goals in the campaign.

Aboutrika was also one of the three overage players that represented Egypt at the London 2012 Olympics. He was on target for Egypt at the Olympics in their 3-2 defeat to Brazil.

At the senior national team level, the Pharaohs were absent at the Nations Cup. They failed to qualify. He still emerged winner of the award ahead of two players who had guided their country to a first Nations Cup title and club to the semi-finals of the Champions League.

In 2013, Aboutrika again won the AFOYBA after guiding Al Ahly to their eighth CAF Champions League title.

Fast forward to 2015, the AFOYBA was awarded to Tanzania’s Mbwana Ally Samatta. His club mate DR Congo goalkeeper Robert Kidiaba and Algerian Baghdad Bounedjah on the cards of Etoile du Sahel were the other two finalists.

Of interest in the 2015 decision was how Samatta edged Kidiaba for the award. Both Kidiaba and Samatta had helped TP Mazembe reach the final of the Confederations Cup after being eliminated from the Champions League in the second round.

Kidiaba went a step further by helping the DR Congo reach the semi-finals of the 2015 Nations Cup where they lost to the then Herve Renard coached Ivory Coast.
It’s not in dispute Tanzania were not at the Nations Cup in 2015. Not sure if they have ever been.

On record, Kidiaba had a better season than Samatta at both club and country, but CAF thought it wise to award the latter with the 2015 AFOYBA award largely because of his individual contribution to TP Mazembe and Tanzania.

In 2016, Kalaba had an explosive season for Mazembe scoring 7 goals in the CAF Confederations Cup. He emerged top scorer.

Conversely, Billiat scored only three goals in the Champions League one behind Zesco United midfielder Jackson Mwanza and striker Jesse Were.

In fact, Zesco United’s Idriss Mbombo was third best scorer in the Champions League with 5 goals, four behind golden boot winner Mfon Udoh of Enyimba, Nigeria.

As for Onyango, he had a decent run with Uganda keeping a near clean sheet in the AfCon qualifiers. He conceded only two goals in six matches, yet he was not the best in the series. Egypt and Morocco goalkeepers were the overrall best performers conceding only a goal apiece.

Going by the criteria and individual performance of the 2016 AFYOBA finalists, Kalaba put up a decent performance to deserve the crown. The problem arises when we want Kalaba to compete against himself. He is not the Kalaba of 2012, but in a head-to-head face off with Billiat and Onyango during the 2016 season, he was still a better player than the other two finalists.

The argument that Zambia’s failure to qualify to the Africa Cup cost Kalaba is very weak and can’t hold based on how winners of this award are selected. Until I’m convinced Samatta won the 2015 AFYOBA award because Tanzania was better than DR Congo that year, or Aboutrika beat Kalaba and Sunzu that year because Egypt were better than Zambia in 2012, our man was robbed.

Given the chance to vote, I would have picked Kalaba not because he is a fellow Zambian but he demonstrated great leadership inspiring his club where he is vice captain to the Confederations Cup title which many teams fail to win when dropped from the ‘superior’ Champions League.

If in doubt about how tough the Confederations Cup is, ask Zesco United or any team that has dropped from the Champions League to chase this title.

That’s why Kalaba’s achievement can’t be downplayed. Voting for Kalaba was never going to be a favour given that he had as good, if not better, a season as would any prospective winner. I rest my case.

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