Amidst the flood of contributions to the Ballon d’Or debate, Cheikhou Kouyate had one of the more interesting takes.

He thought neither Lionel Messi nor Virgil van Dijk should have won the award.

The Crystal Palace midfielder thought Sadio Mane should have won it by a street but did not because he is an African player.

If Kouyate believes only Mane’s heritage stopped him beating the peerless Messi to the honour, his argument is dubious.

Messi’s magnificence in 2018-19 was unquestionable. He was a worthy winner. Again.

If Kouyate’s broader point is that black African footballers, or any footballer with a black African heritage, do not get the credit and the accolades they deserve, he is spot-on.

Sadio Mane, pictured with Ballon d’Or runner-up Virgil van Dijk, was superb against Everton this week

Oh they get credit alright, mainly for their athleticism, their strength, the physical endurance they bring to the game.

But for their wider talent? Very rarely.

That wider talent is recognised by Messi – he voted for Mane in the FIFA World’s Best awards and said this week it was a ‘shame’ the Liverpool striker only finished fourth in the Ballon d’Or voting.

And the GOAT himself would have been bewitched by Mane’s display in Wednesday’s Merseyside derby.

He probably would have been most enthralled by his finesse, by the lovingly-persuaded passes that set up goals for Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri.

Sadio Mane’s Senegal teammate Cheikhou Kouyate has questioned why the Liverpool star didn’t win the Ballon d’Or

It is not often black African players are associated with finesse.

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In the pantheon – if we can now call it that – of great Manchester City players, where will Yaya Toure be positioned?

Hopefully, right at the very forefront. In the emergence of the modern-day Manchester City, no-one played a more significant part on the pitch.

But he was almost pigeon-holed as a box-to-box, relentless, marauding midfielder.

His cultured finishing, his accomplished technique, his passing range were routinely underplayed.

No player has done more than Yaya Toure to get Manchester City where they are today

Toure has three Premier League winners’ medals, an FA Cup winners’ medal and two League Cup winners’ medals to his name.

He never, in eight seasons, won a Player of the Month award.

Neither did his Ivory Coast compatriot Didier Drogba in nine seasons with Chelsea.

In a 28-month period between 2015 and 2017, Harry Kane won six.

In the 2009-10 season, Drogba scored 29 goals in 32 Premier League appearances, as well as three FA Cup goals, two League Cup goals and three Champions League goals.

Didier Drogba, like Toure, never won a Premier League player of the month award

Chelsea won the Double, Drogba scoring the only goal in the FA Cup final.

Wayne Rooney was named the PFA Player of the Year and the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year.

It is a global thing. The only black African to win a Ballon d’Or remains Liberia’s George Weah in 1995.

This week one of football’s most important administrators, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin, admitted much, much more must be done to tackle racism in football.

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Of course, he is right.

George Weah remains the only black African Ballon d’Or winner

And a start would be to take a long hard look at how we stereotype players with a black African background.

From the old chestnut about them being economical with their age (one ‘gag’ that did all the rounds in football was that Kanu had the best 10 years of his career between the age of 21 and 22) to the categorisation of them as physical enforcers.

When Samuel Eto’o retired three months ago, Jose Mourinho had this to say about the Cameroonian striker.

“It is difficult to understand how Samuel Eto’o never won the Ballon d’Or. Samuel played for the best teams in the best leagues in the world. He scored an incredible amount of goals and was successful in different leagues.

Jose Mourinho questioned why Samuel Eto’o never won the top individual honour in world football

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“He played three Champions League finals, winning two with Barcelona and scoring in both finals. He also won one Champions League at Inter and won many league titles.

“He was the best striker in the world for several years and I think he deserved a Ballon d’Or … but these things are out of our control.”

Cheikhou Kouyate, for one, would agree.

And so, you suspect, would Sadio Mane.





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