By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 13th 2020)
There’s no doubt that Ahmed Faras was a great player – one who deserved the accolades he received later in his career, but how could it compare with Chitalu’s 1972? Africa’s Goal King had the best year of his career.
In fact, it was arguably the best year of anyone’s career. He had set two world records, two African Cup of Champions Clubs records and won all five trophies that were on offer domestically to his club, Kabwe Warriors, that year. What more could be expected of him and Kabwe Warriors?
Yet, he did not feature in the top ten of the African Player of the Year (APotY) Awards that year. Chitalu was not even the top ten of France Football Magazine’s vote that year.
There were odd inclusions, which have already been detailed – see Parts 12-14 – but as will be shown in later articles in this series, Chitalu was far from the only notable exclusion in the APotY of 1972.
The top ten of the APotY vote was half completed and, in fact, it stood out more for notable omissions than notable achievements. The top ten was lopsided. The top 5 was, in reality, a top 5+1 as the late Algerian defensive midfielder (libero) Miloud Hadefi was equal 5th with Faras.
However, Hadefi’s inclusion was absolutely baffling as well. Like Faras, Hadefi is undoubtedly a great player and he too had far better years, but his 1972 was not even comparable to Faras, let alone to Chitalu, or Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) winners, François M’Pelé and Jean-Michel M’Bono.
And like the Moroccan striker, Faras, Hadefi played for an unfashionable club. Neither Chabab Mohammédia, nor MC Oran trip off the tongue when referring to the best-known teams of Morocco and Algeria.
Unlike Faras, Hadefi was a defensive midfielder but, position aside, his place on this list is baffling. Algeria had not qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations or the Olympic Games. And his club hardly shone in African or domestic competition either. What, if anything, was special about his 1972?
Hadefi’s club, MC Oran, won the Algerian championship for the season 1970-71 and MC Alger were the champions in 1971-72 – the 1972-73 champions were JS Kabylie, but Algeria went unrepresented in the African Cup of Champions Clubs in 1972 – the year that Oran had earned the right.
USM Alger achieved an unwanted hat-trick, losing the Algerian Cup each season between 1971-73. The Cup holders in 1971 and 1973 were MC Alger, sandwiching Hamra Annaba 1972.
So, Hadefi’s club, Oran, did not win anything in domestic football in 1972 and they did not play in the 1972 African Cup of Champions Clubs tournament.
Strangely, Algeria did not always take up their place in Africa’s top competition for clubs – the last Algerians to do so were another unfancied champion of Algeria, CR Belcourt (Chabab Belouizdad) in 1970. So, what did Hadefi do to warrant inclusion in the 1972 APotY list?
Hadefi played two of Africa’s four matches in the Brazil Independence Cup – both losses. France and Argentina beat Africa 2-0 in both matches. Hadefi was a fantastic player – anyone referred to as ‘the African Kaiser’ by Pelé due to his opinion that Hadefi was similar to the great Franz Beckenbauer, had to be a special player.
Nevertheless, the question remains, why was so special a player only picked for two of the matches in that tournament? Could two matches, however good, come anywhere near to trumping Chitalu’s 1972, or the Republic of Congo’s AFCON triumph?
And then there is the question of whether Hadefi was even the best player for Oran in 1972. Hadefi’s teammate for club and country, Abdelkader Benfrèha, was the top-scorer in Oran’s 1970-71 season. He was not mentioned in the APotY vote, but his 1972 was better than Hadefi’s as well.
Hadefi’s inclusion in the top ten, let alone equal 5th, is baffling. This appeared to be a very strange APotY vote for many reasons.
 CR Belcourt refused to play the second leg in Sénégal against ASC Jeanne d’Arc, despite leading 5-3 in 1970. The second leg was awarded 2-0 to Jeanne d’Arc which sent the Sénégalese through to the next round.
Jeanne d’Arc de Dakar is one of the most successful and historic clubs in Sénégal. It was founded in 1923 but has fallen on hard times since its glory days. They now play in the third tier of Sénégalese football. The rich history of this club and its contribution to both football and Sénégal is in danger of being lost to future generations.
MC Alger was the next Algerian team to enter the competition in 1976. After a 3-3 draw on aggregate – both teams won their home legs 3-0 – the Algerians beat the defending champions Hafia 3-1 on penalties.