- George Weah is the sole African winner of FIFA's top individual prize
- Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah now hope to match his feat
- Both players have the support of Senegal legend El Hadji Diouf
It is 24 years since an African player last won FIFA's highest individual honour, when George Weah was crowned FIFA World Player of the Year. Since the launch of The Best FIFA Football Awards™ in 2016, one player from the continent has been in the running to match the Liberian great each year, but Riyad Mahrez, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mohamed Salah all ended up falling short in their respective races.
For the 2019 edition – and for the very first time – two African footballers have a chance of claiming the top prize. While Egyptian winger Salah is back on the ten-man list of candidates after finishing third last year, he is joined this time around by Senegal's Sadio Mane, as the duo aim to be chosen as The Best FIFA Men's Player 2019.
"Anyone who follows football closely will tell you that their presence in the top ten is not even up for debate," says El Hadji Diouf, sharing his verdict with FIFA.com. "But beyond the logic of it, it's also nice to see. They are both wonderful standard-bearers for African football. We're very proud of them."
The Best of El Hadji Diouf
- Your favourite memory as a player? The 2002 World Cup, and in particular the win against France.
- The best player you played with? Jay-Jay Okocha at Bolton. He could do absolutely everything with the ball.
- The best player you came up against? Myself. I was my own best and worst enemy!
- The best goalkeeper you faced? Tony Silva, who managed to be decisive in big games.
- The best coach you worked with? Bruno Metsu and Sam Allardyce. Everything comes down to management, and they were the best at that.
The pair have certainly been excellent this year, helping Liverpool clinch their sixth European title with victory in the UEFA Champions League and leading the Reds to a runners-up finish in the Premier League. And although Salah could only reach the last 16 of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations with Egypt, Mane made it all the way to the final with Senegal. Above all, both players have racked up goals and assists galore.
"You can't have one without the other," says Diouf. "One of them's left-footed (Salah) and the other's right-footed (Mane). Sadio needs Mo like Mo needs Sadio. They have the same qualities: speed of execution and skill in their final touch. Salah is perhaps a little more effective in front of goal because he puts in less defensive work than Mane, but I'll say it again: you can't have one without the other."
Comparisons are nothing new for Diouf. A genuine legend for the Lions of Teranga, the former Liverpool player has found himself constantly weighed up against Senegal's latest star. The major difference is that by the time he had reached Mane's age (24), Diouf had already won the African Footballer of the Year award twice and made history for his nation by helping them grace the quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup 2002™.
"[Sane] is following in my footsteps," says Diouf. "He's doing an incredible job. He's a fantastic ambassador for Senegal. Now he has a chance to write his own story. And on top of being a superb player, he's also a great guy – humble, generous and always available for other people. We have a special relationship."
Naturally, that connection means that Mane is Diouf's own personal choice to be named The Best FIFA Men's Player 2019. "Both are African, both are talented and both are setting an example for the next generation, like we did for them. Whichever wins, I'll be very proud. But I'm pulling for Sadio because he's my compatriot and he's like a little brother. Plus he has another advantage over the others: he has taste. Wherever he goes, he says that his idols are Maradona, Zidane … and El Hadji Diouf."
The Best of El Hadji Diouf
- The club you remember most fondly? Lens, the French Liverpool. The supporters there are exceptional.
Your favourite goal? That would be the most important goal of my career: the one against Morocco that put Senegal in the World Cup. It was a cross from Ferdinand Coly and a half-volley by El Hadji Diouf.
The greatest African player of all time? George Weah. What he did was incredible.
The best Senegalese player of all time? That's me, of course! I'm the only Senegalese player to have won African Footballer of the Year twice and I did it without going flat out.
- The greatest player of all time? Leo Messi: better than Pele, better than Maradona … and even better than me! (Laughs) What he can do is beyond remarkable. He's an extra-terrestrial.