ABUJA, Nigeria, Jan 4 – Algeria forward Riyad Mahrez is favourite to be crowned African Footballer of the Year for 2016 on the back of his contribution to Leicester City’s shock English Premier League title win.
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) title would make it a hat-trick of wins for the 25-year-old, who has already been named PFA players’ player of the year and BBC African player of the year.
The CAF award ceremony — Africa’s most prestigious and now in its 25th year — takes place in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, on Thursday.
Mahrez was a key figure for Leicester last season, which saw the English East Midlands club defy 5000-1 odds and predictions of relegation to clinch a fairytale title victory.
He played in all but one of the Foxes’ games in 2015-16 and scored 17 goals.
The slightly-built, right-sided forwarded also had humble beginnings, starting out with hometown club AAS Sarcelles in 2004.
Also in the running for the CAF title are reigning footballer of the year, Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Gabon, and the Liverpool and Senegal star Sadio Mane.
Should Mahrez win, he will end a 19-year absence on the podium for a player from north Africa since Morocco’s Mustapha Hadji in 1998.
Other Algerians to have won are Rabah Madjer in 1987 and Lakhdar Belloumi in 1981.
Elsewhere in the Maghreb, the title has gone to Morocco’s Badou Zaki (1986) and Mohamed Timoumi (1985); Mahmoud Al Khatib (Egypt, 1983), Tarek Dhiab (Tunisia, 1977); and Ahmed Faras (Morocco, 1975) when the awards were organised by France Football magazine.
This year’s winner will be picked by CAF member associations’ national team coaches, a panel of journalists and television consultants.
Aubameyang and Mane stand between Mahrez and a clean sweep of wins.
For the 2015 awards, Gabon skipper Aubameyang was a surprise choice ahead of Yaya Toure of the Ivory Coast and Manchester City.
Aubameyang’s goals at Dortmund handed him the African crown and this past year he remained prolific in front of goal, netting 25 goals in 31 appearances in the Bundesliga.
The mercurial Mane became the most expensive African player when he moved to Liverpool for a transfer fee of £34 million last year.
The 24-year-old winger has since justified his high price tag, scoring nine goals in 19 matches for Liverpool this season.
African champions Mamelodi Sundowns have two players –- Khama Billiat of Zimbabwe and Denis Onyango from Uganda –- in the running for the best African-based player.
Zambia skipper Rainford Kalaba is the other contender for this award after his exploits with TP Mazembe in last year’s CAF Confederation Cup.
English Premier League-based Nigeria youngsters Kelechi Iheanacho (Manchester City) and Alex Iwobi (Arsenal) are top contenders in the various younger players categories , while the country’s team who won Olympic bronze are gunning for Team of the Year.