When they asked Amitabh Bachchan why he thought he had been selected the greatest star of the millennium in a BBC online poll, beating the likes of Marlon Brando, Lawrence Olivier and Charlie Chaplin, he said he believed it was due to the exceptionally large number of Indians in the world.
His compatriots in the millions, he thought, had probably flooded the poll’s web site with e-mails in his favor.
That’s probably what happened in the poll conducted by the African Football Federation (CAF) as it searched for the continent’s best player in the past 50 years.
The poll, timed to celebrate CAF’s 50th anniversary which was marked this past Thursday, chose Cameroon’s Roger Milla for the continental honor. We have no problem with that; Milla deserves it. Milla was one of the first African players to achieve stardom on the international stage.
He played in three World Cups and achieved international stardom at 38, an age at which most footballers kick nothing around except fond memories, by scoring four goals at the 1990 World Cup and helping Cameroon become the first African country to reach the tournament’s quarter-finals (they would have gone on to the semi-finals had they not unraveled when they were ahead against England).
The greatest of them all, Pele, put Milla on the list of the 125 greatest living footballers.
It’s the names that follow Milla on the CAF roster that have caused controversy. Selected No 2 was Egypt’s famous Mahmoud El-Khatib, followed by Hossam Hassan, another Egyptian standout. The controversy stems not from their credentials.
If not the best Egyptian player, El-Khatib was certainly the most famous. A brilliant dribbler and scorer from seemingly impossible angles, Khatib’s claim to fame: the only Egyptian to be named African Player of the Year, in 1983.
Hassan, still on the field at 41, is best known for longevity, having been in 170 international games, third in world history. Only Saudi goalkeeper Mohamed Deayea, with 181 games, and Mexican defender Claudio Suarez, with 178 caps under his belt, have represented their countries more.
And there is also the 80 goals Hossam has scored for his country, the fifth best all-time.
Like we said, El-Khatib and Hassan are worthy of places on the CAF’s who’s who, but not as high as they have been placed. Are they better than the Liberian and former AC Milan star George Weah, the only African selected the best player in the world, who ended up in sixth place?
Are they better than No 4 Samuel Eto’o of Cameroon and European champions Barcelona, the only player named African Footballer of the Year three times in a row?
If the criterion for greatness is how many times you have been named Africa’s best, then Eto’o and Abidi Pele with six such titles between them are better. But Abidi finished No 5. If the yardstick of measurement is the international standing of your club, then the better is Bruce Grobbelaar of Zimbabwe and Liverpool during their dominant 1980s and who beneath the showbiz eccentricities was one of the outstanding goalkeepers of his generation.
But Grobbelaar didn’t make the list at all. And if it’s goal scoring you’re looking for, our Egyptian duo, who were both forwards, did not score too many more goals than the Paraguayan Chilavert, a goalkeeper!
Since our dynamic two are surpassed in all the major categories by which performances are judged, it is reasonable to conclude they were voted higher than those better than them because Egyptians decided not only to send more poll e-mails but also based their selection on nationality.
It worked, but Amitabh knows why.