And the list and Afrobeats go on. On Monday night inside the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, Rema delivered a memorable performance of his global hit song, Calm Down. It was a fitting reminder for Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe to wait for another year before they can lay claim to the coveted Ballon d’Or award for the world’s best football player of a calendar year.
With his showing, Rema became the first Nigerian and African artiste to perform at the Ballon d’Or ceremony. Halfway into his performance, he shook hands with some of the world’s best players in the front-row seat. Rodri, check. Mbappe, check. Bernando Silva, check. Haaland, check. Jude Bellingham, check. Vinicius Junior, check. A telling reminder that Afrobeats now occupied a front-row seat in global music.
“Afrobeat in Ballon d’Or! I’m truly grateful for the opportunity. Glory to the most high for the grace,” Rema later posted on his official X (formerly Twitter) account.
Expectedly, the award was Messi’s again. Having finally won the FIFA World Cup in Qatar last year, the Argentine superstar was the overwhelming favourite to win a record-extending eighth Ballon d’Or. Haaland and Mbappe came second and third respectively. England and Real Madrid midfielder, Bellingham, may stake a claim for future Ballon d’Or. He won the 2023 Kopa Trophy – given to the best young player under the age of 21 – and he is the first English player to win it.
Messi is infinity, the ceremony’s montage proudly exclaimed. The show’s hosts, Didier Drogba and Sandy Heribert led the applause for the footballing genius from Rosario, Argentina, but made in La Masia, Barcelona. It was a fitting tribute for a player who is regarded as the GOAT – Greatest Of All Time. It would take an eternity for another player to equal his Ballon d’Or trophy haul. Messi’s closest rival, 38-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo, with five Ballon d’Ors, who now plays his football in Saudi Arabia, was not even nominated in the 30-man shortlist.
Haaland is 23. Mbappe is 24. Both players have to be at the top of their game to be counted among the world’s best for at least 10 years if they aim to surpass C. Ronaldo’s or ever come close to Messi’s record.
But the nomination that excited many Nigerians and Africans was that of Victor Osimhen, who was ranked 8th best. The Nigerian international, who led Napoli to its first Scudetto in 33 years last season, is the first Nigerian player to make the Top 10 in the Ballon d’Or awards. Kanu Nwankwo came close in 1996 when he finished 11th in the rankings. Kanu was also nominated and ranked 23rd in 1999.
Although Daniel ‘the Bull’ Amokachi (1995) and Jay-Jay Okocha (1995 and 1996) were also nominated in the past, they received no votes, just like Sunday Oliseh, who was nominated for the 1998 Ballon d’Or. In 1997, Victor Ikpeba, fondly called the ‘Prince of Monaco’ in his footballing heydays, was nominated in a year in which he also won the African Footballer of the Year. However, he finished 32nd in the Ballon d’Or rankings.
Osimhen was also the only African player in this year’s Ballon d’Or Top 10. The other Africans in the 30-man final shortlist were Liverpool and Egypt’s Mohammed Salah – ranked 11th; Yassine Bounou (Al Hilal and Morocco) – ranked 13th and Andre Onana (Man United and Cameroon) – ranked 23rd.
In 1995, Liberia’s George Weah won the coveted award and is still the only African to have ever won it. That same year, Nigeria’s Finidi George was nominated and finished in 21st position.
Super Falcons Asisat Oshoala also made history, becoming the first Nigerian female footballer to make the Top 20, twice. Oshoala was also nominated for the award in 2022. Spain’s World Cup winner, Aitana Bonmatí won this year’s award, following the footsteps of her compatriot, Alexia Putellas, who won it in 2022.
Ballon d’Or 2023 was a glittering night of firsts. Eight Ballon d’Or awards for a genius. Eighth wonder of the world. Messi is infinity. And Afrobeats is truly global.