How much longer must we sing a sad African song?
ARIVER of tears snakes its way through the continent after yet another World Cup failure for Africa.
Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Tunisia and Senegal have all crashed out in the group stages of Russia 2018 – and, while sadness and sorrow accompany this sobbing stream of disappointment, it does reveal a desperate need for greater introspection.
In fact, scrap that: there have been too many years of analysis and soulsearching for African football; the time for change is at hand. Surely, this cannot go on any longer.
Let’s not even talk too much about the statistics: this is Africa’s worst World Cup in 36 years – without a team in the knockout stage for the first time since 1982 – and, of course, the biggest blip of them all: no African country has ever reached the semi-finals of the World Cup; only Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010) have made it to the quarterfinals.
In the build-up to the crunch final group game against Colombia on Thursday, Senegal’s players spoke about not just representing their own country, but that they were carrying the hopes of the entire continent.
It’s always this way: the issues at play in Africa, like its colonial history and economic disadvantages, create a sense of unity; we are all in the same boat.
And it’s one of the reasons why Africa is regularly referred to as a country rather than a continent – and why, when an African team plays at the World Cup, it has 1.2 billion rooting for it.
More than that, football is idolised in Africa; people love the sport. It’s played on every patch of tar, cement or grass, with any raw material that can be shaped into a ball, in every corner and cranny of the continent.
Because of this, football owes bigtime. it’s about time – it’s time for African football sides to live up to its potential.
So what have we seen in Russia? Egypt, Mo Salah and all, were hugely frustrating; Tunisia, the less said the better; Morocco showed promise, but that’s about it; and, then, both Senegal and Nigeria had opportunities to progress, but lacked the cutting edge, the composure and the overall decisiveness during the critical moments.
Every World Cup, Africa sings the same tune: they played well and they can hold their heads high.
How long, to steal a line from the U2 song, how long must we sing this song?
More significantly, what the continued decline does is reinforce that irritating and patronising attitude towards Africa: they have potential, but; they have the players, but; they could one day win the World Cup, but; and this “but” perspective is, of course, synonymous with the general attitude to the African continent, in every sphere of life.
It’s time for football to break such perceptions.
There is no doubt that the top African teams have the talent to go all the way at a World Cup. But, and here’s the rub, how do they do it?
To be honest, I don’t really know. Having been involved in football, as a player and then a writer since the 1980s, and having witnessed, first-hand, the implosion of football in South Africa – from the highs of 1996 to a stagnant 2018 – the solution is not easy; there are so many factors at play.
But what I do know is football on the continent has to structure and plan better, it needs to change its top-down approach, it needs clean, committed, visionary administrators, and it has to place greater emphasis and financial resources on development.
More than that, and probably even more importantly, the remedy to Africa’s football anguish is not to be found in pointing fingers outward; the cure, route to success, will be found when they search within: the answers are there.