For as long as I can remember, I have loved the beautiful game – football. I try to watch as much as I can and there are certain teams that I have supported since I was a child, like Liverpool and Bayern Munich. From a national perspective, it has always been Germany and, Africa’s first national team, the Black Stars – Ghana. During my younger years, one rarely heard of African players making it in the more resourced and developed leagues, like the English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga or Italy’s Serie A.
African football was considered the poor little cousin everyone tolerated, despite the immense talent that existed on the continent. To reach the pinnacle of the game, players like Eusebio played for the former colonial masters, taking up those nationalities, breaking down the boundaries and making it easier for the multitude to follow. This has changed with the impact of players like Roger Milla (Cameroon), Abedi Pele (Ghana), Kalusha Bwalya (Zambia) and George Weah (Liberia). Today, African players dot leagues throughout the world, plying their trade and continuing to demonstrate that African football has a place.
Also, African national teams are no longer the pushovers they once were at the World Cup. With players playing at the highest level day in, day out, when they get to their home team, they retain that fearlessness. The playing field is becoming more and more level. The Africa Cup of Nations, running every two years in January, and initially a footnote in football’s history is now experiencing the Club vs. Country debate that has raged in European football for decades. Now, in the lead-up to Afcon, European newspapers spend weeks debating the impact of the African players leaving on the overall league.
The Africa Cup of Nations is kicking off this Sunday and, in celebration, I will be doing brief write-ups on some of my favourite African players, regardless of home country. I am obviously biased towards Ghana and dream of taking both the African and World Cups this year but still I take pride in and celebrate Africa’s Football Finest who have given me so much joy through their ability, dedication and creativity.
Once had Abedi Pele staying over at the hotel I work at. It was a trip for me, he was just so low-key and nobody seemed to know or care about who he was. However, let a former Springbok or someone off that nature come through these parts and watch how they spring to attention!
Growing up, that was my football hero. In April, was on same flight as he was to Ghana. Had to go up and thank him.
What is wrong with our teams? I mean by that, Likoena and Bafana Bafana. Talent isn’t the issue. I played in Lesotho and I know what’s there (or what was there, should I say?). South Africa is brimming with talent. So, what gives? Why is Ghana good? Cameroon. Senegal. The Ivory Coast. Is it a question only of management?
BTW, when I was in Canada I hung out (a tiny bit) with Pule… Ace. He had been my favourite player (together with Teenage Dladla) for a long while. It was an oncredible experience just talking to the man, who was sorry he couldn’t play internationally for his country against other countries.
Likoena and Bafana Bafana don’t even make it to the Africa Cup of Nations, for crying out loud. Oh well.
Ntate, unfortunately I lament Likuena but not Bafana Bafana. My teams are Ghana & Likuena. I do think there are a number of factors that come into play, one of which is development. For example, we (Ghana) just won the U-20 Fifa World Cup which means that a significant number of those players who beat Brazil to win, shall play them in years to come at senior level, as well as play in top leagues around the world. The significance of confidence cannot be overlooked. Lionel Messi was signed by Barcelona at about 14 years of age and put through their academy. Our players in Lesotho still play part-time. Not comparable.
All THAT, and the ubiquitous unfavourable political climate. e.g. due to archaic legislation, strictly speaking, no professional soccer team ( and therefore player) can exist. The law virtually prohibits anyone from earning a decent salary from the game – it prescribes some ridiculous amounts as ceilings at which players can be remunerated.
Also, with you guys in the diaspora, and us swallowed by the false and fickle comfort of salaried employment, there are not enough creative marketers to play matchmaker between ‘big’ business, the arts and sports here. So, for example, given that we haven’t passed any anti-tobacco advertising law yet (and i’m not saying that we should/not), why have we not enticed the likes of British American Tobacco to sponsor European/African soccer twinning initiatives – perhaps with biennial tourneys?
And of course, until physical education is given its proper place in school curricula ( in all schools and not just a handful model c schools), we may as well forget about development.
Phomolo, it’s a law? Legislation exists that says our players cannot earn a living through their skills? I hope I misunderstood you, for if that is the case, then we might as well say RIP to Likoena competing with other nations. It is not talent we lack, but enterprise.
I was so happy Malawi kicked some big-name butt. Why can’t we?