Writer Prince Teye looks at some Africa’s foreign-born players who could have featured for their respective countries.
By Prince Teye
Having been actively involved in a long-standing debate which has, in no doubt, diluted the quality of players that have mounted the pitch in the name of Mother Africa, I try to take a closer look at a situation which can best be described as unfortunate. Several African-born soccer players, under various circumstances, have opted to honour national call-ups of Non-African countries in the stead of their African origin much to the dislike of their African followers and well-wishers. But have we, as Africans, done enough to lay claim to these players?
From the legendary Ex-Portuguese footballer, Eusebio, to Zinedine Zidane, several African descents have trod the path of many European countries albeit a deluge of criticism.
While these players are tagged unpatriotic and disrespectful, little pragmatic efforts seem to be put in place to curb the situation. And deservedly so, the situation continues.
Deplorable conditions in most African countries, especially Sub-Saharan Africa, have made the need to move outside the continent worthwhile.
These emigrants, as expected, procreate with their kids given little or no knowledge about their origin. Consequently, they grow to see themselves as just citizens of their places of birth with little regard to their African origin.
But are these kids wrong to have such mind-sets when their parents did little in instilling the much-needed sense of Africanism in them?
The situation even gets worse with the young footballers of half African parentage. Doncaster Rovers’ James Harper turned down the chance to represent Ghana at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany at the time he was in red-hot form for Reading in the English Premiership. And his speech tells it all – “My mum is from Ghana but she moved here (England) when she was three. I have never even been to Ghana. I can’t speak any of the 32 languages they have got.
I don’t know the colour of their flag and its not my country. I wouldn’t feel right putting on the shirt. If I was born there and then came over to England, then fair enough. But I didn’t and I’m English.”
Harper’s comments may have been a little harsh, but subtly seemingly offered a gleamer of hope for a second category – those who moved from Africa at tender ages. Obviously, they should seem easier to convince but the cases of players such as France’s Patrice Evra and Portugal’s Luis Nani seem to deflate any such hopes.
Having moved from Senegal and Cape Verde respectively at tender ages, they both considered playing for their adopted countries as priorities when they became established soccer professionals. In such cases, the ages at which they moved to Europe was sure to play a big part in how much connection they had with the continent.
However, I personally think their places of birth or residence would have played a lesser influence in their choices if we (Africans) did enough to poach them at younger ages when they were relatively unknown.
This must, of course, not be done to the neglect of the development of our local talents. The establishment of bodies – I mean functional and effective units – would surely go a long way to curtail the situation in the future.
Whiles most Nigerians vilified Aston Villa’s Gabriel Agbonlahor for picking the English Three Lions ahead of the Super Eagles, the striker, in a recent interview with KickOff Nigeria, stated that he received no contacts whatsoever from the Nigerian Football Federation. The 27-year-old who was born in England to a Nigerian father was quoted as saying – “For me, there was nothing to consider.
Neither my agent nor my club have ever had any formal contact from the Nigerian FA inviting me to play for the country or enquiring if I was even interested that I have ever been aware of. So when England selected me in the senior squad, there wasn’t even a choice to make.”
Agbonlahor’s comments clearly suggested that he might, perhaps, have given Nigeria a chance if he were contacted. It’s the bid to forestall such future losses that the establishment of relevant units is much needed.
These units will help scout and identify young African talents at their early ages in Europe. Such an approach and an eventual role in their development is sure to introduce Africa to them at their formative years.
Nigeria, having noticed their loss in players such as David Alaba, Angelo Ogbonna and Dennis Aogo, has moved swiftly in proposing the establishment of a unit to perform the task stated above. However, as to whether such a laudable idea will see the light of day remains to be seen.
Former Black Stars defender, Tony Baffoe, in February 2006, was made the International Relations Officer by the Ghana F.A whose duty, among others, was to help identify and woo young Ghanaian players abroad. The functionality of that unit barely eight years down the lane remains largely inconspicuous if only still existent. And sadly, the greed of our coaches to make money from player selections or market players at major international youth competitions only worsens the case.
I do remember Danny Welbeck making his English debut, paradoxically, against Ghana back in March, 2011 at Wembley. As anticipated, he was greeted with boos in disdain for his perceived ‘unpatriotism’ by the Ghana fans.
But in truth, did Ghana partake in his development to that stage? How much Ghanaian does he feel and did we have enough reasons to label him a ‘traitor’?
Many would, nevertheless, erroneously think that Africa has done well so far in persuading the likes of Salomon Kalou, Victor Moses, Joel Matip, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Mourad Meghni in representing the continent. The sad reality, however, is that, for most of these players, it was a matter of a second choice well taken. We deserve better.