Why Africa fumbled in Russia

Sadly all five African flagbearers in Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup have crashed out with the exit of hopeful Teranga Lions of Senegal. They came into the tournament with huge confidence and started hopefully but could not control the ride when it mattered most.

The ouster of Africa in Russia brings back the delightful memories of Italia 90 when Indomitable Lions of Cameroun stole the show, beating defending champions, Argentina in their opening fixture en route reaching the second round. It also reminds all of the exploits of Senegal at the 2002 edition.

Russia 2018 brings the reality of the African sport to bear on all. Football in Africa in the last 10 years has been totally politicised. Rather than unite the people to pave way for a path and direction of success, it has polarized the continent along the Francophone and Anglophone divide as witnessed in the CAF Award for the best footballer. It is also witnessed in the awards of hosting righrs for and of major CAF tournaments like its flagship competition, the AFCON. The leaders of the sport take delight in amassing wealth that should have been channelled thoroughly into the development of the sport through grassroots.

The result of this is poor sponsorship of the sport by global brands….and the effects trickles down to Federations and poor league sponsorships across the continent. The talents Africa has in terms of gifted players have no choice but to seek greener pastures abroad.

When key players leave the domestic Leagues in droves, they create a lacuna for their national teams. When African teams assemble with the arrival of the foreign legion, it takes over four weeks of camping to blend….that is for the home-based players to understand their overseas based colleagues.

Poor domestic leagues across Africa ensure that players are not well remunerated. It ensures that the financial control of the sport is left in the hands of governments. State governments own and run clubs as it is the case in Nigeria. Truth is countries that have good sponsorship of their leagues in Africa are not upto 10 out of the 54 in the continent. Players rush overseas to sign contracts with clubs in obscure leagues and countries. These players don’t get enough first class football in terms of quality. They are merely satisfied with the peanuts they are paid compared to what their colleagues from other great football playing nations earn. But they are satisfied because once they convert their earnings abroad to their local currencies bavkhome, they are instant billionaires.

For the few players who are fortunate enough to feature for top clubs, they find it difficult to be released by their foreign clubs for national team assignments most times. And on the few occasions they are released they struggle to gel with the players assembled both locally and from obscure leagues around the world. This grossly affects teams when they play at the global stage.

Again, misappropriation of funds by federations makes it almost impossible to hire world class coaches to help build African national teams. The local coaches available who can excel if adequately motivated are gagged by the Federations bosses. They are treated and paid like amateurs. This is another problem thus leaving the sport and coaching the national teams in the hands of mediocre who are not known or rated in their countries yet they are hired by Federation bosses as experts.

Still talking about mismanagement of funds as a bane to building solid national teams in Africa, it must be mentioned that the annual handouts by FIFA to Federations to develop and boost the sport end up in the pockets of Federations’ bosses and their allies. They use this fund for personal issues like seeking election into CAF Executive Committee or sub-committees.

During these elections legends of the sport are kept away from partaking in the running of the sport. The best offers and positions they get is member of technical committee or member of competition committee. When legends of the sport are shut out from the administration of the sport, mediocre and non professionals who don’t understand what it takes to be a successful footballer run the sport. This is another of the reasons why Africa presents shambolic teams in the World Cup.

The shame in Ghana which has painted Africa in a bad light but exposed the truth to the world has a way of rubbing off on the national teams. In such situations how can the best players of the affected country be picked for a game or competition? And how can the country qualify for the World Cup? At the end of the day, weak teams fly the continent’s flag at the World Cup.

If referees or match officials are bribed by Federations with the assistance of some characters in CAF during qualifiers for the World Cup as testified by some Ghana ins then, we cannot expect Africa to field her best teams in the World Cup.

By Desmond Ekwueme

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