In football, world football often means European football and the winner of the UEFA Champions League trophy is often described as the best club team in the world. Despite the remarkable performance of African players on the “international” scene, the recialisation of footballers from the continent continues unabated.
The last two World Cup finals were contested by European sides and three of the last four winners of the tournament were European. The majority of the world’s best players ply their trade in Europe, particularly in Italy’s Serie A, the German Bundesliga, Spain’s La Liga and the English Premier League.
In the heat of the 2013 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in South Africa, many European football fans have been dismissive and negative in their observations of the competition.
Racialisation of African footballers
African tournaments are viewed through a racial prism with pundits and tweeters denoting clear differences between African footballers and their European counterparts.
As the 2013 AFCON was underway, one Tweeter remarked: ‘it’s awful!!! Never seen a continent so dearth of technical ability! Their goalies are awful…!” Rarely do commentators describe an African footballer as being ‘intelligent’ or a fine technical player.
Obviously this is a hugely simplistic analysis of African football. Cote d’Ivoire’s Didier Drogba and Cameroonian Samuel Eto’o have been two of world’s best strikers in the last five or six years, and are indeed more than just physical strikers.
Eto’o was a key figure in an incredibly technical FC Barcelona side under Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola. He is also one of the world’s most successful footballers winning the Champions League on three occasions.
Drogba too was one of the most technically gifted players in the Premier League, scoring 100 goals for Chelsea in just over 200 appearances for the club; to dismiss him as a powerhouse does this great player a great disservice. His turn and volley against Liverpool is a fine piece of technique from a player on his weaker left foot.
In terms of cultured midfield players, Ivorian Yaya Toure was probably the Premier League’s best player last season, 2011-12. He is indeed a powerhouse and a dynamic runner on the ball, but he was also the league’s second top-passer last year.
Toure averaged 75 passes per game with 90.5% rate of accuracy, making him the league’s ninth most accurate passer. Yet when analysed by pundits they tend to focus on his athletic ability, rather than his wonderful technique.
Nigerian playmaker John Obi Mikel, a long time servant at Chelsea, similarly was a key-passer last season with the 10th highest pass-completion in the league with 90.2% and has been the heartbeat of Nigeria’s AFCON side.
European spectators have been quite critical over the ‘quality’ of football on display. Forgetting how Holland behaved at Euro 2012 one tweeter remarked: “The quality of play in the group stages was appalling. It’s like they don’t know what teamwork is.” The situation was so bad that Dutch players could be seen arguing on the pitch and Captain Wesley Sneijder lambasted the ‘pathetic egos’ in the squad.
In World Cup 2010 there was a strike in the France squad and Florent Malouda was reportedly held back from hitting his own coach by Patrice Evra, while disagreements persisted over team selection and who was made captain.
Didier Drogba in his prime would have walked into any international side and Yaya Toure still can. Cote d’Ivoire presented as many Champions League winners as the Premier League champions Man City. Unfortunately that still wasn’t enough to see The Elephants make it past Nigeria’s Super Eagles, but such is the nature of tournament football.
Since 2004, 11 different African players have won the UEFA Champions League, including three time winner Samuel Eto’o.
Only three African players won the tournament in the 10 years prior to that between 1994 and 2004, demonstrating that the quality is ever improving. Of course some teams are not of a very high standard but the same can said for teams who participated in Euro 2012. The Republic of Ireland, for example, failed to clinch a single point during the tournament.
There are a lot of problems with football in Africa and the AFCON tournament is by no means the pinnacle of the modern game. The footballing infrastructure and investment is also a lot less than it is in Europe, contributing to problems at the grassroots level.
As for the overall quality of African footballers, it has certainly improved in recent years. Ghana managed to progress as far as the quarter-finals in the 2008 World Cup, while Cote d’Ivoire have struggled at recent World Cups as a result of tough draws.
Hopefully in years to come we will see African sides making increasing headway in the World Cup competitions and break the dominance of European and South American sides. But for now, the likes of Yaya Toure should shatter previous myths surrounding the technical quality, or perceived technical quality of African footballers.
Source: African Report