African he­roes fade, but still a great show

Bafana delir­ium was un­for­get­table

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - DANIEL HOW­DEN

THREE gi­gan­tic pho­to­graphs stand guard over the ar­rivals hall at Oliver Tambo Air­port in Joburg.

Dressed in yel­low and play­ing for a team called Africa United they are Michael Essien, John Obi Mikel and Salomon Kalou.

They are the he­roes who were sup­posed to drive the con­ti­nent’s ar­rival at foot­ball’s top ta­ble. These were meant to be three of the biggest stars of the African World Cup given pride of place in one of the most ex­pen­sive dis­play ad­verts in the coun­try. The mes­sage which has been deaf­en­ingly com­mu­ni­cated – in this case by a mo­bile tele­phone op­er­a­tor – to a bil­lion Africans in more than 50 coun­tries has been clear: suc­cess for one African coun­try will be suc­cess for all Africans.

Yet as the World Cup en­ters its knock­out phase, the sec­ond wave of vis­i­tors to South Africa could be for­given for hav­ing for­got­ten who the play­ers be­hind the gi­ant posters are.

The 10m-tall pho­to­graphs now serve as a re­minder that the con­ti­nen­tal con­tri­bu­tion has failed to live up to ex­pec­ta­tions. Af­ter South Africa and a frus­trated Nige­ria joined Cameroon and Al­ge­ria in mak­ing a first-round exit, only Ghana could buck the trend. Didier Drogba and the rest of the Ele­phants needed a del­uge of goals against North Korea to progress.

The post-mortem has al­ready be­gun. Fifa ad­mit­ted as much as it called a press con­fer­ence on the state of the game in Africa.

The first thing that will be for­got­ten in the search for scape­goats is the role of chance.

“There have been in­juries and a cer­tain amount of plain bad luck,” says David Gold­blatt, author of The Ball is Round, who has been fol­low­ing the African con­tin­gent in South Africa.

The sec­ond thing that will be for­got­ten is that de­spite the com­mu­ni­ca­tion strat­egy of Fifa’s spon­sors, Africa is a con­ti­nent, not a coun­try. Ghana’s Ser­bian coach Mi­lan Ra­je­vac greeted their en­try into the sec­ond round by call­ing on lo­cal fans and all other Africans to back their team. This ap­proach ig­nores the fact that the roots of dis­ap­point­ment are in many cases par­tic­u­lar to the coun­tries who are go­ing home. Chelsea stars Obi Mikel of Nige­ria and Michael Essien of Ghana never made it to the month-long foot­ball fi­esta, be­cause of in­juries.

Their club­mate Kalou got on to the pitch but failed to make much of an im­pact once there.

One place that foot­ball’s au­thor­i­ties will be re­luc­tant to look for an­swers is in the pop­u­lar idea that the game’s re­la­tion­ship to Africa is an ex­cep­tion to the ex­ploita­tive rule. Fifa pres­i­dent Sepp Blat­ter and lo­cal or­gan­is­ing chief Danny Jor­daan have both spo­ken of foot­ball of­fer­ing a level play­ing field for the con­ti­nent.

For 90 min­utes this is true. As a whole it is not.

Some ar­gue that satel­lite tele­vi­sion, foot­ball scouts and for­eign­spon­sored acad­e­mies have func- tioned like the colo­nial rail­ways once did, open­ing up the con­ti­nent for the ex­port of raw ma­te­ri­als.

The com­mod­ity of African tal­ent has be­come a flood but the profit has flowed to Europe.

Coun­tries like Ghana and Ivory Coast, which have made the strong­est con­tri­bu­tions to this World Cup, have seen their do­mes­tic games emp­tied by ac­quis­i­tive for­eign clubs in a sys­tem that is stacked against devel­op­ment. Not a sin­gle mil­lion­pound trans­fer fee has been paid to a sub-Sa­ha­ran African team.

Fifa is sup­posed to act as a check on this, re­cy­cling the vast monies cre­ated by mega-events like the World Cup into the grass roots of the game.

The South African foot­ball fed­er­a­tion will re­ceive nearly £50 mil­lion (R571m) from the month-long fi­nals, Fifa said this week. Much of the cash­flow into foot­ball devel­op­ment takes place in the form of unau­dited grants.

This has of­ten meant lav­ish ex­penses for African fed­er­a­tion of­fi­cials and lit­tle or noth­ing for the game it­self. Michela Wrong’s as­ser­tion that Africa’s po­lit­i­cal classes never dis­ap­point in their ca­pac­ity to dis­ap­point is equally true of its sport­ing au­thor­i­ties.

“It’s un­fair to say the whole prob­lem is Fifa but they have en­cour­aged the prob­lems that we’ve seen: short-ter­mism, clien­telism and good old-fash­ioned cor­rup­tion,” said Gold­blatt. “They are the pay­mas­ters and they’ve turned a blind eye to ev­ery­thing be­cause it’s in their own in­ter­ests.”

But Africa’s World Cup is not bound for fail­ure de­spite the heart­break­ing ab­sence of a con­ti­nen­tal cham­pion in the lat­ter stages. The delir­ium that rose up when Bafana seemed set to achieve a mir­a­cle and thrash France soundly enough to get to the sec­ond round on Tues­day will live in the me­mory of any­one who saw or heard it.

The vol­ume may come down a notch or two; some of the fab­u­lous makara­pas, gi­ant sun­glasses and vu­vuze­las that have flavoured this event will be packed away. But the warmth and vi­vac­ity with which the world has been greeted in South Africa will con­tinue.

And de­spite the ap­peals from mar­keters and Ghana’s coach­ing staff, not ev­ery­one will in­stinc­tively join Africa United.

More Brazil, in par­tic­u­lar, Por­tu­gal and Ar­gentina flags are al­ready be­ing painted on faces and flown from car roofs, along­side South African ones.

Like fans all over the world, Africans love the way the samba stars play. – The In­de­pen­dent

GREAT EX­PEC­TA­TIONS: Ghana­ian king­pin Michael Essien.

SOLEMN: John Obi Mikel

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