“And Nigeria has won the World Cup With a scintillating display. They are the first African country to do so”
The above statement is not limited to just Nigeria but can be replace by any other African country in the context of this article.
Realistically, many people would never believe that statement if they were placed in a “state of numbness” during the course of the World Cup event in Russia and wake up to hear it. While this might be assumptive to a degree, this reflects a greater degree of precision rather than failure. Without doubt, Africa is blessed with many skillful football players and many are still to be discovered on the countless dusty pitches across the continent. Yet, despite the great influx of talent, Africa is still far from World glory.
So the big question is why?
To demystify the first reason let’s drive through a comparable route of pinpointing Europes/South American football structure and stipulate the dichotomy from Africa’s. All through Europe and South America, their Major and second division(even third) leagues are standardized in such a way that it stimulates an influx of indigenous players who have deciphered that such leagues will help sharpen their ability and most definitely financially uplift them. This is inclusive of sponsorship of their leagues, marketability and more importantly “appeal”. For example in the English Premier league, the expanding circus of international stars has broadened the league’s appeal. South Koreans tune in to watch Tottenham Hotspur’s Heung-Min Son; Senegalese and Egyptians to follow Liverpool’s Sadio Mané and Mohammed Salah etc. Such players have been acquired partly thanks to injections of foreign capital.The Premier League also has some features which have the effect of lowering its standard but making it more exciting to watch. Teams on this league bargain collectively for television deals and share the booty more equally than other leagues, which has made for a more competitive division. This is also seen significantly in France, Germany, Italy, Portugal et al and slightly South American leagues.
In comparison, Africa’s football leagues marketability(economic attractiveness) is very low thus foreign investors and tycoons hardly patronise major leagues. This is because Africa has not created the “appeal” that comes with having a standardise football structure and maintaining football sanity through various football mechanism like Standard football facilities and football training programmes. Even African and world business mogul Aliko Dangote prefers to buy significant shares in Arsenal FC in England than Nassarawa United or Eyimba In Nigeria or perhaps even Asante kotoko S.C or Orlando Pirates in Ghana and South Africa respectively. Even if we won’t blame him totally for this, he deserves a fair share of the blame based on his influence (gotten basically through Africa), financial impetus to fix barriers in dilapidating football structures and ideas through “will power” to pull foreign investors.
Footballing infrastructure across Africa is in a bad state. Only a few countries such as South Africa and Morocco boast of world class stadiums and facilities. Other countries such as Angola, Burkina Faso, Egypt and Mali have benefitted from hosting the Africa Cup of Nations which has led to building and renovation of some stadiums. Collectively though, football infrastructure in Africa is in a poor state and mismanagement worsens the situation. Sound management practices and well-trained personnel could do much to alleviate these problems
Another problem is the ” excessive” individualism that exist within the African footballing sphere. Nigerians sometimes make statements like “If Mikel isn’t in the team, then no hope for Nigeria”. This goes too for Ghana And Asamoah Gyan and more recently the Ayew brothers, Egypt and Salah, Senegal and Saido Mane amongst others. Why this is not entirely wrong, Africa’s overindulgence in this mentality is alarming. Case study: Portugal Vs Egypt friendly and their capitulation after Salah’s withdrawal and countless other cases.
This has created a custom of easily acrueing failure to the absence the of “star-men”. While other continents might practice this, there is a difference. In South America, Brazil relies on Neymar but their team performance are not intricately tied to him. His presence would make a difference but his absence would not significantly lead to a failure. Except Argentina who are whack without Lionel Messi or Portugal who are shit without Cristiano Ronaldo. But understand even in this teams, the existence of such individuals institutes a weakness and creates the ability for teams to indirectly or directly destabilize these teams through “targeted fouls” or “preconceived injury tackles”.
However, the perfect example of teams that are devoid of this is Germany and Spain. In both teams there is an existence of multiple gamechangers thus obliterating the idea if individualism to perhaps minimal occurrences (Mario Gotze or Andreas Iniesta World Cup winner). This is something Africa must imbibe in her football culture to further boost her chances.
Thirdly is the issue of where their allegiance lies (whether country or club). Established African players draw the bulk of their income from their professional clubs and not national team assignments. Take Yaya Touré, who is one of Africa’s biggest stars, as an example. The Ivorian, who announced his retirement from international football in 2016, earned a staggering basic salary of £240,000 ($352,000) per week in the 2015/16 season from the English Premier League club Manchester City. Conversely, African players are unlikely to get rich from playing for their countries. Zimbabwe’s national team refused to board a plane for Gabon in a dispute over allowances. It was finally
resolved when their football authorities agreed to pay each player $5 000 in appearance fees per match and a daily foreign allowance of $400 each which is pitifully meager when compared to what some of their opponents earn in their day jobs in those fancy European leagues. Hence, the problem of allegiance is most times tied to financial incentives and “player protection”. Even though sometimes professionalism bypasses this barrier, it is still a cankerworm and professionalism would grow weary without monetary benefits. As for Player protection, National teams must be able to assist in treatment of players in the event of injury while on national duty except in the deference of the Club. This is a very sensitive issues as it influences efficiency in performance and commitment. For example Nigerian Emmanuel Emenike for example complain a few years ago that the NFF lacked interest in his welfare and didnt assist when he had a nasty injury while on national duty which subsequently lead to his retirement from international football. This is in fact a legitimate problem.
Lastly, they exist the problem of “indirect influencers” or politics in football team selection for major National tournaments usually forcing the will of team coaches. This is a BIG problem as this overrules meritocracy in the sport. Players pay National football officials to influence coaches to select them irrespective of their performance or players even pay Coaches directly. This has sometimes lead to the National football federations in respective African countries to use this as justification for appointing foreign coaches with high level of experience which they say are devoid of such corruptive tendencies. While they might exist an atom of truth in this, it can be questioned owing to the insatiability of humans which can trump professionalism. Consequently, this is problem can be eradicated by ensuring independence of Team coaches in decisions as these. After all what were they paid for? Also infusing policies to dis-incentivise players from engaging in this deplorable act and banning them(Coaches, players or Managers) from the National team when necessary. (e.g incultating football spies who can be loyal and less prone to manipulation (especially when highly paid) In football team management while installing them at a position of decoid : just a suggestion. Just like I think adeife (A student of a university in akure Nigeria) would make a good loyalist based on his religious background and intuition)
Conclusively, the existence of these problems (not limited to), shows that Africa is far-off as regards winning the World Cup and doing so would be very unlikely or would perhaps be due to massive luck. However, even luck is forced and structural incapabilities in this context can’t force luck. And these Imbalance is intricately part of African Football but can be eradicated. Until then, Africa is the less lucky continent when compared to the others and are still at the bottom of the pyramid. However, getting to apex and competing objectively with the rest of World is in her hands. Would we see her act? Nobody knows but her.