It is not axiomatic when the idea of the football World Cup was conceived, but it’s certain when it was first implemented – July 13, 1930.
African teams, however first participated in the tournament that immediately followed in 1934. Since then, 21 World Cup tournaments have been held. Out of all the times that African teams have participated in the tournaments, they have only managed to progress to quarter-finals on three occasions – Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002), and Ghana (2010).
The furthest an African team has gone in the tournament is reaching a semi-final – Morocco (2022). No African player has ever won any admirable accolade such as a golden ball (for the most valuable player in the tournament) or golden boot (for the top scorer of the tournament) or golden glove (awarded to the best goalkeeper of the tournament) across all the World Cup tournaments.
But what explains Africa’s constant average performance at World Cup tournaments?
I think the plausible argument isn’t that the African DNA is devoid of football talent. It is that most African countries lack the requisite facilities, expertise and probably the will to nurture talented individuals to the level of football players in Europe and South America.
Out of the eleven (11) players in the French main squad that played against Morocco, there were six players of African descent. If Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kante were fit, they would replace Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann respectively to make a total of eight players of African descent in the France main squad.
And France – a two-time winner of the World Cup – has almost always had more than five players of African descent in its main squad across various competitions – both at continental and world level. The players are either born and raised in Europe, or their parents shift to the revered continent when they (the players) are in their infancy.
To further understand that the difference between Africa’s football abilities and those of Europe and South America isn’t innate but artificial, one can assess the main squad of Morocco that played against France.
Out of the eleven players of Morocco that started against France, only four were born and partly nurtured in Morocco. And all the four are now playing their professional football in Europe. The remaining seven players were all born and raised in Europe.
So, whereas many Africans are proud of Morocco’s performance at the 2022 World Cup, the same Africans should wonder whether Africa has had a significant contribution to the success of Morocco.
It is very reasonable to argue that Morocco was able to put up a good resistance against its opponents at the 2022 World Cup because the majority of its players were born and nurtured in Europe, where the necessary facilities and expertise are in large supply.
On the day France played against Morocco in the 2022 World Cup, it struck me as true that there was no striking difference between France’s and Morocco’s squad constitutions.
On one hand, France had six players of African descent who were born and reared from Europe and, on the other, Morocco had seven players of African descent who were also born and raised from Europe under European facilities and expertise.
If we choose to prioritise Africa and not the respective countries of origin of the African players on France’s main squad that day, we can say that Morocco was a France on an African continent. Africa is yet to have a great player who has been born and largely nurtured from Africa.
African football icons such as Didier Drogba, Samuel E’too, George Weah, Yaya Toure, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Adebayor, Emmanuel Eboue, Acraf Hakimi, Pierre Aubameyang et cetera have all been nurtured under European facilities and expertise.
What is the way forward?
For African countries to have the necessary facilities, expertise and financial means, football leadership in African countries must become more deliberate on attracting fans into stadia.
It is after attracting a significant portion of fans into stadia that reasonable gate collections from selling tickets shall be realised, and the same fans will attract mega deals from advertisers for the most popular football clubs.
One may advance a merited argument that most African economies are still too weak to permit significant attendance of football fans in stadia at a weekly basis, but the current number of fans in stadia isn’t the optimum that can be attracted.
In almost every region of Uganda, bars are open and people frequent them. It is clear that such people can be distracted from bars on weekends to stadia after all it is possible and probably more interesting to pour beer down one’s throat while watching an entertaining football match.
The author is a social commentator
Source: The Observer