At times there is something infuriating about the pace of African football. A continent that has produced Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha, George Weah Opongo, Abedi Pele, Roger Milla, amongst other gifted sons has inexplicably failed to garner sufficient traction to move forward. But after a recent symposium on African football, the wheels of progress could be about to turn, observes Staff Writer, MQONDISI DUBE
It is ages since legendary Brazilian, Pele predicted an African team would win the World Cup. Pele, a cult figure and considered one of the finest players to grace the soccer field, is now ailing, “too embarrassed” to be seen in public, according to media reports from his home country.
Pele will feel a sense of revulsion that his prediction is still to pass during his lifetime.
African football’s rib cage has been, of late, worryingly protruding, largely due to the domineering influence of the European game.
The continent’s administrators are pacing up and down, some with a defibrillator, while others have been accused of exacerbating the situation by trying to line their pockets amid a desperate situation.
Only this week, it emerged that CAF’s books were in tatters, and the administration, questionable.
Amid the administrative chaos, the continent has managed to export countless talent to the lucrative European market. Sadio Mane, Mohammed Salah, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Kalidou Koulibaly are some of the best African talents in Europe. Europe and other better paying football markets have benefitted immensely from Africa’s player brain drain, while the local leagues get thinner and thinner.
Successive administrators have chosen to ignore a red flag that has consistently been waved for the last two decades or so.
Local leagues are becoming less fashionable, as attention turns to the more palatable European leagues.
The Botswana Premier League is in dire straits, fans have deserted, and it’s the story of the continent, where only a few A Games attract good numbers.
According to the ‘mere exposure effect’ theory, consistent exposure to a product, makes it more palatable or preferable. This has been the impact of continuous bombardment from the West with marketing of, particularly the Premier League.
Revered English commentator, Peter Drury has not only made it to most African homes through the satellite, but is now a click away on social media.
Of late he has been used as a bait to increase the English league’s influence on the continent. Millions follow the English Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga and Serie A.
In West Africa, the following now borders on religion.
Replica jerseys for Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea fly off the shelves, while the Miscellaneous and TAFIC jerseys gather dust.
Social media is flooded with posts about the European game, as the local game has been tucked away in a dark corner, and without concrete steps, it will be invisible to generations to come.
Supporting European sides has become a firm fashion statement, but authorities in Cairo have kept
It has taken FIFA president, Gianni Infantino’s intervention, to set a new agenda, away from the squabbling and looting that has been the hallmark of the African game.
Infantino wants a continent that can enjoy its homegrown talent, from within the stadia or on television, rather than to turn to foreign leagues.
He believes this can be partly achieved through improving infrastructure, competitions and mobilising funding. Not long ago, local leagues were lucrative, the names of local heroes echoed through the combis, homes and malls, every match day.
European leagues were deemed surplus to requirements, but they have moved in to be the main course, while the local game has been relegated to the touchline.
“This is the story of our time. I used to be crazy about Palapye United. I went to their training, washed their kit, helped clear their football ground,” says Gideon Nkala, a now dyed in wool Liverpool supporter.
“Every day, I consume a thicket of information on Liverpool. My wardrobe is breathing heavy under the weight of Liverpool memorabilia.”
It is a story that resonates with countless African supporters who find themselves enslaved by the European game.
The Europeans have packaged their game in such a way that it has become irresistible. The reverse has been the case for the African game, as administrators fail to put together a package that would wean locals of their insatiable appetite for the foreign leagues.
The damage might have been done, but Infantino, through his transformation agenda, believes something could be salvaged from what is now a mangled wreck of African football.
However, there are some strategies, like pushing to hosting of the Africa Cup of Nations, from every two years to four.
Critics argue, this goes against CAF’s development plans, as it would see some national teams inactive for lengthy periods.
The creation of an elite league is also seen as more beneficial to FIFA rather than the continent.
Infantino has suggested the creation of a super league in the continent, although CAF already has its flagship club competitions, the Champions League and the Confederations Cup.
While the FIFA president’s proposals will meet resistance in some quarters, it should be applauded as a platform where the continent can launch a new path for the African football.
A six-point strategy should be triggered, as it is evident that the local game is suffocating under the heavy influence of foreign leagues.