Salah or Mane for African Player of the Year? ESPN predicts CAF Awards

Laurens: Mane's departure could hurt Liverpool's threat (1:04)

Gab and Juls discuss Sadio Mane's proposed move from Liverpool to Bayern Munich. (1:04)

The Confederation of African Football awards return on Thursday for the first time in three years, with the continent's governing body celebrating players, teams and clubs alike.

It's set to be a glamorous and glitzy affair in Rabat, Morocco, with CAF finally bringing back the gala evening for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began.

ESPN's Ed Dove gives his nominations for each of the 12 categories, which will conclude with a clash between two former teammates for the African Footballer of the Year.

Player of the Year (Men)

Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Edouard Mendy are the three players still in the running for the POTY award, CAF having identified them from an initial longlist of 30.

That primary shortlist was questionable, with the likes of Mohamed Elneny and Bertrand Traore included at the expense of 14-goal Napoli star Victor Osimhen and Liverpool's Joel Matip, who won two domestic cups and reached the UEFA Champions League final with the Reds.

Traore in particular endured a miserable injury-hit year, as he made just one English Premier League start and played on the winning side -- for club and country -- just once in 2021-22; even in that triumph he played only four minutes. Indeed, the attacker -- whose days at Aston Villa appear numbered -- is coming off the back of a year he'd surely be desperate to forget, with even the Africa Cup of Nations a somewhat fitful affair for the one-time Chelsea wunderkind.

Mendy's inclusion in the final three is also debatable, even if he was a Nations Cup winner with Senegal, considering Chelsea's struggles both in Europe and domestically. The likes of Premier League winner Riyad Mahrez, Champions League record breaker Sebastien Haller and Chelsea new boy Kalidou Koulibaly each arguably had greater claims to make the final three than Mendy.

The goalkeeper is surely the outsider of the final three, and it would be a major shock if he became the first stopper since Ezzaki Badou in 1986 to win the award.

No, this is a two-horse race between long-term Liverpool colleagues Salah and Mane; although the Senegal attacker has the edge, it may not be as straightforward as some expect.

Salah won the PWA Players' Player of the Year, PFA Fans' Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year awards after a stunning campaign, even if his year lost momentum upon his return from the Nations Cup. He was also named Player of the Season by both Liverpool's fans and players -- another award in which he was in direct competition with Mane -- and was arguably unlucky to have been pipped by Kevin De Bruyne to the Premier League's official Player of the Season award.

Salah's form in the latter part of 2021 has rarely been matched by an African player, both for its consistency -- he had a hand in 28 goals in all competitions between late August and mid-December -- and class, with wonder goals against Watford and Manchester City and the hat-trick against Manchester United at Old Trafford being the best examples.

However, the CAF Awards have traditionally skewed towards international football -- specifically the Nations Cup and World Cup -- which should give Mane the edge when it comes to the African Ballon d'Or.

He was Player of the Tournament at the AFCON, netting the decisive penalty in the shootout against Salah's Egypt as Senegal won their first crown. That goal capped a fine tournament in which he weighed in with five goals/assists en route to the final, in contrast to Salah, who laboured as a limited Egypt side toiled to the final.

In the World Cup qualifying playoff -- against Egypt again -- Mane got the better of his Liverpool teammate, scoring the decisive spot kick as Salah fired over in a blaze of lasers.

The pair shared the Reds' successes at club level -- even if Salah won the Golden Boot -- but Mane's historic performances for Senegal make him a firm favourite for the CAF prize, something that would have been hard to anticipate during the Egyptian's remarkable run during the first half of the season.

Coach of the Year and National Team of the Year (Men)

Expect a double triumph for Senegal and their head coach, with Aliou Cisse having masterminded the Teranga Lions' maiden Africa Cup of Nations success.

Senegal's victory in Cameroon was no fluke, with Cisse overseeing several years of progression after taking the reins in 2015.

Cisse duly followed up the AFCON triumph by qualifying Senegal for their second consecutive World Cup -- the first time they've achieved the feat -- and behaved with class and dignity throughout.

Club of the Year (Men)

Al Ahly are a questionable inclusion in the final three-team shortlist, even though they reached the CAF Champions League final, as they fell at the final hurdle and -- critically -- lost their aura of dominance domestically.

Pitso Mosimane has departed, and their Champions League final vanquishers, Wydad Casablanca, should comfortably claim this award ahead of Renaissance Berkane, having coupled continental success with winning the Moroccan top flight.

They're still in contention for the treble, having defeated FUS Rabat on Wednesday to reach the Throne Cup Final.

Club of the Year (Women)

We saw the inaugural CAF Women's Champions League, with the eight-team tournament taking place in November last year.

CAF president Patrice Motsepe's club, Mamelodi Sundowns, were victorious, seeing off Ghana's Hasaacas Ladies 2-0 in the final in Cairo, and appear overwhelming favourites to clinch this award.

Player of the Year (Women)

Asisat Oshoala's Women's Africa Cup of Nations may have ended in injury disappointment, but she remains the outstanding woman in the continental game.

Having become the first African to win the Woman's Champions League last year, she followed that up with another Spanish title at Barcelona and clinched the Golden Boot with 20 league goals during the campaign.

Barca also reached another Champions League final, in which they were ultimately pipped by Lyon in Turin, although Oshoala did feature in the 7-0 Super Cup rout of Atletico Madrid.

Interclub Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year (Women)

A particularly tough award to predict, with Andile Dlamini and Evelyn Badu two outstanding candidates for the prize.

The former was part of the Mamelodi Sundowns team that won the maiden Champions League, picking up the Goalkeeper of the Tournament award in the process.

Badu, however, won both the Golden Shoe and the Golden Boot, having netted five goals as Hasaacas Ladies reached the final.

She secured a move to Norwegian club Avaldsnes IL on the back of those efforts, and would be a worthy winner for both this award and Young Player of the Year.

CAF may opt to recognise Dlamini's achievements with the Interclub honour, and celebrate Badu as the YPOTY.

Coach of the Year (Women)

It's a questionable decision by CAF to announce this award at the ceremony on Thursday while waiting until the final of the WAFCON before awarding the Women's Player of the Year gong as they wish to factor the tournament itself "in deciding a winner befitting of the status of the award."

This implies the outstanding work of Morocco and South Africa coaches Reynald Pedros and Desiree Ellis at the ongoing tournament, in which both are finalists, is likely to be overlooked.

This opens the door for Jerry Tshabalala, who guided Sundowns to the maiden Champions League crown, to clinch the award and round off a magnificent night for the African and South African champions.

Goal of the Year (Men)

Zouheir El Moutaraji should be the winner, for his sensational effort from range against Al Ahly in the CAF Champions League final.

Not only did the thumping effort set Wydad on their way to a third continental triumph, but it was also an audacious moment of technical mastery in the biggest club fixture in the African footballing calendar.

Honourable mentions to fellow nominees Gabadinho Mhango, for his stunning strike to beat Yassine Bounou as Malawi gave Morocco a scare at the AFCON, and for Pape Ousmane Sakho's overhead kick against ASEC Mimosas.

Interclub Player of the Year (Man)

El Moutaraji should surely have made the final cut, for his performances throughout the Champions League -- particularly in the final -- and in the Botola.

With him out of the running, it's a three-horse race between Wydad's Achraf Dari and Al Ahly duo Aliou Dieng and Mohamed El-Shenawy.

Dari looks to be the favourite -- he appears on course for a high-profile transfer to Ligue 1 on the back of a magnificent campaign for Wydad -- with the Al-Ahly duo intriguing inclusions after their club's difficult year.

It's tricky to reconcile how Africa-based trio Ibrahim Blati Toure, Yahya Jabrane and Mohamed Abdelmonem made CAF's original 30-man longlist for the POTY award, whereas Dari, who's made the final three for the Interclub prize, wasn't included.

Young Player of the Year (Men)

Ghana's Kamal Deen Sulemana had appeared to be the favourite, but he was omitted from the three-man shortlist despite a barnstorming season in Ligue 1 with Stade Rennais.

Without him, it's an open content between Pape Matar Sarr, Hannibal Mejbri and Karim Konate -- all of whom are flawed nominees.

Sarr was relegated with Metz, but did play 13 minutes in Senegal's AFCON-winning campaign, while Mejbri managed only 68 minutes of league action with Manchester United.

Konate may have moved into pole position after scoring seven goals in eight Confederation Cup matches for ASEC Mimosas before securing a transfer to FC Salzburg.