Big trouble in African football

Africa being represented by Algeria in the last 16 of this year’s World Cup confirms that the game in the land with one of the greatest football followings has come to a pretty pass. Nothing is wrong with Algeria’s performance itself. If anything, it was commendable.

However, the fact that the majority of the Algerian squad was born in France, is enough to ruffle some feathers. This is compounded by the fact that a significant number of those players were actually also raised in and learned their craft in the European country. In addition, most of the Algerian players ply their trade abroad, naturally.

However, that this Algerian squad is a competent football team cannot be denied. The results suggest as much. What is significant is that many of the players who were born in Algeria and ply their trade abroad, have done so precisely because they wanted to expose themselves to the ways of great sporting minds.

They wanted to understand and replicate the process and as far as these Algerian players are concerned, the rest has been up to them. Their decisions have been amply justified in their own careers. They have succeeded.

So, no, the point is not that Algeria is not represented by enough born and bred African players. Quite to the opposite.

Nor does their presence at the World Cup reflect all that badly on the African continent itself, as oppose to its administrative wing.

To the contrary, it actually indicates the ability to embrace all sorts, including those who for all intents and purposes cannot actually be identified as Africans… players who in fact represented France at junior level.

Some Africans, although they will never openly admit it, have been waiting for Algeria to fall but they have only stumbled. Indeed, Algeria’s success ought to provoke some introspection among the thousands of locally born and bred patriots.

The inability of Africa to produce stronger candidates than Algeria at the World Cup is actually embarrassing. For that matter, the failure of teams like Cameroon, Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana to subdue some of the opponents they played against suggests that most of the money at Africa’s disposal – and there is more of it than you think – has been wasted.

But then again, African teams have seldom been able to look down on their rivals anyway. No African team has asserted its authority at the World Cup. Instead, Africans have celebrated occasional victories, mistaking them for transforming events. It is really a state of mind.

It is true that the circumstances haven’t always been ideal and there are extensive socio-economic problems on the continent but ,in all honesty, these inescapable truths require an explanation or, at any rate, something a lot more impressive than bluster about new structures and football legacies.

If the thinking from African football authorities is awry, then more money and schemes are and will be a great waste of precious time. South Africa, champions of Africa in 1996, have had 20 coaches in the past two decades. It goes without saying that if nothing changes this kind of cycle will likely continue for the foreseeable future.

Africa needs to focus not so much on plans and more on character, especially upon its development. Perhaps the first port of call would be for Africa to raise their ambitions and do away with this tendency of wildly celebrating a World Cup last 16 appearance.

Perhaps it would be more prudent to arrange a small party and get back to work. Africa ought to be a more feared force in the sport, as many of their players are physically superior and more intimidating than most.

When development is adequately addressed, and we really are grabbing onto that piece of wood here, there are bizarre administrative aspects which need to be remedied. Even if the continent is able to produce a plethora of talented players, the current schedules will not only limit their potential but they will wear the players out.

It is bizarre that CAF hosts its continental tournament every two years and even more bizarre that, until just recently, the Africa Cup of Nations was held in the same year as the World Cup. Then there is the dreaded CHAN tournament, which takes place in between all of that. It serves absolutely no purpose, although organisers will have us think otherwise.

The gruelling qualifying campaign, which often takes place at awkward times of the year, is not ideal either, as this hampers the African teams which should be representing the continent at the World Cup.

Egypt is a glaring example: a nation which has dominated African football, yet it has failed to qualify for the past six World Cups. That demands an explanation.

African players are simply playing too much football on a geographically awkward continent and the teams which should be representing the continent aren’t always at soccer’s showpiece.

Does Africa deserve more slots at the World Cup? Of course it does, it has the largest number of FIFA affiliates.

However, along with that opportunity will need to come more responsibility. African football authorities need to better serve the interests of the sport. If they don’t they will continue to rely on imports to do their bidding at football’s most prestigious tournament.

FUNSHO FAGBURE

post by Funsho Fagbure