Johannesburg: Another chapter in the personal rivalry between former Liverpool teammates Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah will play out in Rabat on Thursday when the annual African award winners are announced.
Mane was a key figure in the Senegal team that defeated Salah-captained Egypt in the 2021-2022 Africa Cup of Nations final and in a 2022 World Cup play-off.
Both the African title decider in Cameroon and the Qatar eliminator in Senegal were won by the Teranga Lions after penalty shootouts.
Mane scored in each shootout while the final was decided before Salah could take his kick, and he blazed wide in the play-off.
The Senegalese successes have made Mane favourite to win a second straight Player of the Year award after 2019 - the following two editions were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Should Mane win in the Moroccan capital, he will become the first Bayern Munich star to be voted the top African footballer.
The closest a player from the German giants has come to winning was in 1999 and 2001 when Ghanaian Samuel Kuffour finished second.
Mane moved to Bayern last month on a three-year deal after joining Liverpool in 2016 from Southampton and Anfield boss Jurgen Klopp calls him “a complete forward”.
“My only criticism of Sadio is that maybe at times he is the only one not to realise just how good he is.”
Liverpool defender Andy Robertson hailed the predatory instincts of the 30-year-old: “Whenever he is in front of the goal you do not think he will miss.”
Salah lifted the award in 2017 and 2018 and the victory of Mane the following year raised to four the number of winners from Liverpool with another Senegalese, El Hadji Diouf, topping the 2002 vote.
The Egyptian had an outstanding 2021-2022 season for the Reds, sharing the Golden Boot award with South Korean Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur.
Salah was voted Premier League Player of the Season by both the Professional Footballers’ Association and the Football Writers’ Association.
Algeria captain and Manchester City winger Riyad Mahrez is the other former winner among the 10 nominees having come first in 2016 after helping rank outsiders Leicester City become Premier League champions.
Mahrez and Algeria have struggled lately, however, with the defending champions making a humiliating first round exit from the Cup of Nations, then losing a World Cup play-off against Cameroon.
The 10 candidates for the Club Player of the Year include Brazilian Tiago Azulao, whose chart-topping seven goals in the CAF Champions League took Angolan outfit Petro Luanda to a surprise semi-finals spot.
South Africans dominate the Women’s Player of the Year nominees with 2018 winner Thembi Kgatlana, Andile Dlamini, Refiloe Jane and Bambanani Mbane among 10 hopefuls.