African Footballer of the Year Shortlist: Salah, Mane, Auba headline open field


CAF revealed their 30-man shortlist for the 2017 African Footballer of the Year on Tuesday, with a strong field of candidates celebrating the pick of the continent's talent from the last 12 months.

Despite the extended shortlist, several talents stand out as potential winners - and successors to last year's Player of the Year, Riyad Mahrez - while a handful of the continent's star men are conspicuous by their absence.

The only player in the 30-man selection to have previously won the award - Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang - will again be in the running for this year's prize.

He received personal recognition last season after pipping Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski to the Bundesliga top scorer award after netting an eye-catching 31 goals in 32 German top flight outings.

However, Gabon's failure both at the Africa Cup of Nations on home soil and in the World Cup qualifying campaign will likely count against the continent's finest hitman.

Instead, expect CAF to crown a brand new Player of the Year when the winner is revealed in Accra on January 4.

Liverpool provide two of the key contenders in Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, with the duo having delivered a series of scintillating performances when paired together for Jurgen Klopp's Reds this season.

Mane is in his second season at Anfield, but despite having won Liverpool's Player of the Season award last term, his career on Merseyside has been punctuated by injuries, suspension and international absences, all of which may count against him.

Salah, by contrast, has been consistently effective both for AS Roma last term and since returning to the Premier League; he currently has nine goals in 14 games in all competitions this term and has taken seamlessly to life at Liverpool.

Notably, the Pharaohs attacker has also been influential at international level, both at the AFCON -- where he made the team of the tournament and inspired Egypt to the final - and during the World Cup qualifying campaign.

Indeed, has there been a more iconic moment in African football this calendar year than Salah's late winning penalty against Congo-Brazzaville in Alexandria last month - the goal that took Egypt to their first World Cup since 1990?

Other notable contenders include Naby Keita and Jean Seri - two midfielders who were influential as OGC Nice and RasenBallsport Leipzig enjoyed unexpected seasons of success last term - and Chelsea's Victor Moses.

The latter may have missed out on the AFCON due to Nigeria's failure to qualify, but his re-emergence at Stamford Bridge last term represented a remarkable story of renaissance, and it's rare that an African talent has played such a critical role in a Premier League-winning team.

Elsewhere, Keita Balde and Eric Bailly enjoyed fine campaigns in major European leagues, and could fancy their chances of reaching the final three and receiving an invite to the awards ceremony in Ghana next year.

Christian Bassogog, Essam El Hadary and Vincent Aboubakar have been included - one would assume - based primarily on their contributions at the AFCON, while Denis Onyango also deserves acknowledgement for another 12 months of excellence, in which he's been pivotal in Mamelodi Sundowns' successes and Uganda's return to prominence.

However, while the 30-man shortlist does represent the cream of the continent's talent, the absence of several players appears mystifying, even if they'd all be outsiders to actually make it to the final cut.

First of all, while reigning APOTY Mahrez didn't come close to his 2015-16 successes with Leicester City last term, he still excelled in the Champions League and made a series of decisive contributions as the Foxes beat the drop.

His two-goal showing against Zimbabwe during Algeria's miserable Nations Cup campaign was also a performance of outstanding quality - despite the malaise around him - and he surely deserves his place among the continent's top 30 players.

Even more conspicuous by their absence are Napoli duo Kalidou Koulibaly and Faouzi Ghoulam, arguably Africa's two best defenders in the world today.

Bailly, Ali Maaloul, Fackson Kapumbu and Willliam Troost-Ekong are the only defenders on the 30-man shortlist, but can any of that quartet match the Napoli pair for consistency and excellence over the last 12 months?

Wilfred Ndidi, Franck Kessie and Wilfried Zaha might also all feel aggrieved to have missed out on the shortlist after excellent campaigns in major leagues last term, but perhaps the biggest omission is Ajax's Hakim Ziyech.

As well as being the architect at the heart of Morocco's fine World Cup qualifying campaign - bouncing back from his AFCON snub - he was also influential in Ajax's run to the Europa League final.

Most notable, however, have been his contributions in the Eredivisie, as the Amsterdam giants ran Feyenoord close in the Dutch title race.

He made 18 combined goals and assists in the league for Ajax last term - adapting seamlessly after signing from FC Twente - and already has eight in 10 this term.

Quite how his sustained constancy hasn't merited a spot in CAF's 30 is hard to fathom, but don't be surprised if the 24-year-old to get the recognition he deserves in the years to come.