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.