ESPN's African Football Awards: 2020 in Review

Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane have been the brightest African stars in the Premier League in 2020, guiding the Reds to the league title. Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

We have seen another fascinating year in African football, with the continent's stars gracing the pinnacle of the game yet again and regional sport having to endure the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.

As we look back over an unforgettable -- if testing -- 2020, here are ESPN's awards for the best, the worst, and the unforgettable players and moments of the past 12 months.

Moment of the Year

Many of Africa's biggest stars were eliminated earlier than expected in the UEFA Champions League, but two of the continent's less-heralded players left lasting marks in the latter stages of the competition.

The performance of Lyon duo Karl Toko Ekambi and Maxwel Cornet against Manchester City in the quarterfinal was particularly memorable, with the former deftly dummying a through-ball from Houssem Aouar to allow Ousmane Dembele to add the second goal.

Cornet had previously opened the scoring, beating the advancing Ederson with a fine angled shot from distance, demonstrating sumptuous technique to ultimately set Lyon on their way to the semis.

This was a personal triumph for Cornet, who had been reconfigured in an unfamiliar fullback role by Rudi Garcia earlier in the campaign.

That was topped, however, by Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting 's late winner for Paris Saint-Germain against Atalanta in the quarters.

Having entered the game as a substitute, the much maligned Cameroon skipper -- whose past at relegated Stoke City was regularly used to mock him -- netted in the third minute of stoppage-time as PSG came from behind to reach the semis for the first time since 1995.

Choupo-Moting and PSG fell short in the final, but that dramatic quarterfinal strike was a career highlight for the hard-working attacker -- and a feel-good story for fans of one of African football's more compelling characters.


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Unsung Hero of the Year

Premier League observers are only belatedly becoming aware of the qualities Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa brings to the Fulham midfield.

His first season in the top flight -- back in 2018-19 -- was miserable, as he struggled to settle and was relegated with a Cottagers team that lacked character.

Last term, on loan at Villarreal, he reportedly attracted interest from Real Madrid and AC Milan with his commanding performances in Spain's La Liga, although a move never materialised -- perhaps due to the impact of COVID-19 on those potential buyers' finances.

So he remained at Fulham, where, to his credit, he has been firmly committed to the cause this season.

Zambo Anguissa's defensive and offensive qualities have been key in Fulham finding their feet in the top flight; he's joint-fifth in the league for tackles per match, and no one in the Premier League averages more successful dribbles per match.

This combination is sure to make Europe's biggest clubs sit up and take notice (again) in 2021.

Signings of the Year

Tariq Lamptey certainly took a risk when he swapped Chelsea for Brighton & Hove Albion in January, in a bid to secure more playing time.

The right-back was given a glimpse of the Blues first team under Frank Lampard, but he was ultimately allowed to leave with little ceremony by his parent club.

He's since demonstrated his qualities on Brighton's right flank, making up for a lack of stature with his tenacity, speed, and desire to get forward to contribute to the attack.

Lamptey relishes one-on-on combat with lightning attackers -- something other fullbacks can shy away from -- and rumours of interest from Atletico Madrid are testament to how his eye-catching performances make him such a prospect.

In time, Tosin Adarabioyo, who moved to Fulham from Manchester City for a fee that could rise to a meagre £2 million, could prove to be the bargain of the season, with the Anglo-Nigerian boasting consummate defensive qualities and composure in possession.

Honourable mentions go to offseason signings Achraf Hakimi and Hakim Ziyech, both of whom immediately offer another dimension to Internazionale and Chelsea respectively.

Breakout Star of the Year

Silas Wamangituka and Boulaye Dia were both contenders for this award, but the nod goes to Tino Kadewere, who's stepped up seamlessly to life at one of France's biggest clubs after being signed by Lyon.

The Zimbabwe striker enjoyed a sensational season in Ligue 2 last term, scoring 20 goals in 24 outings for Le Havre before the campaign was wrapped up prematurely.

Kadewere's move to OL for $16.6 million was confirmed in January, but he made his French Ligue 1 debut only in September -- since when he had had a hand in 10 goals.

The highlight was his winner against Paris Saint-Germain in early December -- a goal he claimed he dreamed about -- and Kadewere's burgeoning relationship with Memphis Depay and Toko Ekambi has got all Gones fans dreaming about a title challenge.

Certainly, his form over the past four months sets the 24-year-old up to become the preeminent southern African player in the world game.

Wonderkid of the Year

For years, we've heard rumours of the immense promise of Youssoufa Moukoko, who broke goalscoring records aplenty at youth level with Borussia Dortmund.

BVB are so convinced by his talent today -- as well as his potential for tomorrow -- that they registered him for their German Bundesliga squad at the age of 15, heaping pressure on 'The New Eto'o' before he'd even made his top flight bow.

Against Hertha Berlin in November, only days after his 16th birthday, he became the youngest player in Bundesliga history, and then he netted a delicious left-footed effort against Union Berlin in December to become the youngest goalscorer in the division's history.

Many hotly tipped youngsters have fallen by the wayside despite the quality shown at youth level, but Moukoko -- who has taken naturally to life with one of Europe's giants -- looks like the real deal.

Disappointment of the Year

Nicolas Pepe's continued failure to justify the club-record £72 million Arsenal paid Lille for his services remains a massive disappointment.

In France, the wideman proved that he wasn't just an eye-catching talent, but -- having had a hand in 33 goals in his final season in Ligue 1 -- boasted a genuine end product and could settle matches in the final third.

Unfortunately, Arsenal fans have seen precious little of this talent.

His early struggles could be excused by the regular period of adaptation that comes with a new player arriving in a new country, as well as the muddled tenure of former Arsenal coach Unai Emery.

However, the signs of improvement that accompanied Pepe's brighter performances in the spring were replicated only rarely post-lockdown, and have been scarcer still this season.

To date, in 2020-21, Pepe's contribution reads: 11 league appearances, two goals, zero assists, and one inane red card.

It simply isn't good enough for £72 million... not even close.

Player of the Year

This one is a two-horse race between Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, although it could have been a different story had Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang maintained the form he showed before he signed his new Arsenal contract into the 2020-21 season.

Mane and Salah were both influential during Liverpool's Premier League-winning campaign, with the latter maintaining his exceptional form into this campaign.

Despite concerns about potential fatigue, the Egyptian has already scored 13 goals and registered three assists in 14 league outings, and he is among the outstanding individuals in the 2020-21 campaign to date.

However, Mane, who was named PFA Fans Player of the Year, would surely have been the front runner for CAF's Player of the Year prize -- were the awards still going ahead -- after inspiring the Reds to the title.

He was the embodiment of Jurgen Klopp's vision for that Liverpool side -- marrying intelligence, technical prowess, big-game mentality, and the sense of team spirit -- and consistently gets the best out of those around him.

The big wishes for 2021

We're going to be a little greedy and propose two big wishes for the next 12 months in African football.

First, we can only hope that a greater number of African dual nationals play for their African national team.

It was a delight to see the likes of Willy Boly, Sebastien Haller and Cyriel Dessers commit to the continent's national sides and enrich the African football landscape, the continent also lost out on some big names as well.

Adama Traore ultimately turned out for Spain despite having been pictured holding up a Mali kit, while Bukayo Saka broke Nigerian hearts when he made his England debut.

In 2021, the international future of the likes of Ademola Lookman, Ibrahima Konate, Eberechi Eze, Moussa Diaby, Christopher Nkunku, Jules Kounde, Dan-Axel Zagadou and Youssoufa Moukoko will be the burning talking points.

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The second wish involves African football governance.

The familiar tales of corruption, nepotism, cronyism and embezzlement reared their ugly heads yet again in 2020, resulting in the suspension of ex-CAF President Ahmad Ahmad.

The Malagasy football administrator had been welcomed amid a wave of optimism in 2017, but he departed in disgrace even before his first term had come to an end.

The upcoming CAF elections in March must herald in a new era of transparency, accountability and prudence when it comes to the governance of the African game.