Only four names have been awarded to the best goalkeeper throughout the history of the African Cup of Nations.
AFCON has been one of the most unique continental tournaments compared to the others. Only CONMEBOL’s Copa America can match AFCON’s irregularity in terms of rules, competition period, switch, and political controversy.
One of the unusual facts about this African’s top-tier national team championship is the number of awardees in the Best Goalkeeper category. Since its first edition in 1970, only four keepers have won such an accolade, which is completely uneven. One of them was even awarded twice.
The reasons for this odd fact are rather unexpected. The best goalkeeper category is relatively new in comparison to other awards such as best player, team of the tournament, and top scorer. It was added to the list in 2008 and awarded to Egypt’s Essam El-Hadary. He has been the only one to win twice. Furthermore, the award was not given in three AFCON editions: 2012, 2013, and 2017, despite the fact that three goalkeepers were named to the tournament’s team.
These four goalkeepers were undoubtedly more fortunate than them, as they were officially named the best goalkeeper by CAF and were also named to the tournament’s winning team.
Essam El-Hadary (Egypt)
The current Syrian national team goalkeeper coach holds the record for receiving the most accolades in goalkeeping throughout AFCON history. El-Hadary won it in 2008 and 2010, and he was named to the tournament’s team for three consecutive editions (2006–2010), during which he also lifted the trophy.
The former Al-Ahly player competed in the AFCON from 1998 to 2010, as well as in 2017, when he helped Egypt reach the final before losing to Cameroon 1-0. On the global stage, he was included in the 2018 FIFA World Cup squad and got a nod in the last game of the group stage against Saudi Arabia. His World Cup debut marked him as the oldest player in World Cup history at the age of 45.
At the club level, El-Hadary enjoyed his trophy-laden stint with Al Ahly, including four African Champions League titles. However, he left the Egyptian giant in disarray after forcing a move to Swiss side FC Sion in 2008, despite being under contract with Al-Ahly. He was then fined and suspended for four months by the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS). The goalie with 159 international caps switched sides 10 times afterwards, including three stints with Ismaily before hanging his gloves in 2020.
Sylvain Gbohouo (Ivory Coast)
The Ivory Coast international won the best goalkeeper award in the 2015 AFCON despite his absence in the final. He was sidelined due to his thigh injury in the semifinal. Gbohouo contributed well by playing in all games prior to the final with only one clean sheet. It was the final match at the group stage versus Cameroon. He made several clinical saves to keep the opposition at bay after Max Gredel’s only goal of the game. In the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Gbohouo never made an appearance despite being named in the squad.
He has spent his career in Africa instead of plying his trade in Europe. The current Stade d’Abidjan man was the mainstay in TP Mazembe from 2015 to 2021 and previously in Séwé Sport before moving to the Ethiopian side Wolkite City. The 35-year-old goalie helped Mazembe win the African Champions League in 2015. However, the shotstopper with 65 international caps has never been called up by his national team since his 18-month ban for a positive drug test in 2021.
Rais M’Bolhi (Algeria)
The 37-year-old shot stopper was awarded the best goalkeeper award in the 2019 AFCON. He was able to keep clean sheets in five games, including two fixtures against Senegal at the group stage and in the final, where M’Bolhi was also named the man of the match. The 2019 AFCON was one of his only two trophies in his career. The other one was the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup, which served as preparation for Qatar prior to hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
The Paris-born goalie was part of the Algeria World Cup squad in two editions. He made an impressive performance while holding England in a stalemate in South Africa in 2010 and while taking on Germany in Brazil in 2014, making a number of crucial saves and being named man of the match instead of Die Mannschaft‘s Manuel Neuer. Unfortunately, Algeria suffered a narrow 2-1 loss and headed to the exit.
Unfortunately, M’Bolhi’s career at club career has not been as remarkable as his form on the international stage. He is quite a journeyman, with brief stints in various clubs in France, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Japan, Russia, and the USA before settling in Saudi Arabia. The former CSKA Sofia man was the mainstay in Al-Ettifaq from 2018 to 2022 before switching to another Saudi side, Al-Qadsiah. He is currently playing for CR Belouizdad, his first Algerian club in his long career.
Édouard Mendy (Senegal)
The current Al-Hilal man was the best goalkeeper in the last edition. Mendy had his best year in 2021, as he not only helped Senegal win their first continental title but also won the UEFA Champions League with Chelsea. He was even awarded FIFA Best Goalkeeper too.
In the 2021 AFCON, Mendy was in peak form, keeping clean sheets in five games, including the final. He denied Mohamed Salah’s shot from close range in the first half and saved one penalty in the shootout. The former Rennes shot stopper went on to win more silverware with Chelsea, including the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup in the same year, before representing the Lions of Teranga in the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Sadly, Mendy’s season in 2022/23 was hampered by injuries. He went down the pecking order after Thomas Tuchel was sacked. His form could not return to the same level. The 31-year-old goalie was eventually sold to the Middle East in the summer of 2023.