It was never time for Africa

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BY PHILIP SAMBU

What was meant to be a celebration of African football has turned out to be a sham due to below-par performances from the continent’s representatives.

The 2010 FIFA World Cup was meant to show how far our football has developed but with the second round beckoning, we still have a long way to go in terms of rising to the top.

The gulf in class between Africa’s elite and their European and South American counterparts is more profound than has ever been despite most of these players plying their trade abroad.

Perhaps that’s where the problem lies. Players head for Europe at a very tender age when their talent is still being nurtured. They end up being moulded in the robotic philosophy of European football that doesn’t allow any space for flair or creativity that African football is famous for.

Another issue is the general organisation of the African teams in the build up to the tournament.

Ivory Coast and Nigeria in particular appointed Sven Goran Ericksson and Lars Lagerback respectively just months to the start of the competition unlike Brazil and Mexico who had their respective coaches in place for a substantial period of time.

Aside from that, all African countries bar Algeria have employed European coaches to steer their faltering campaigns.

Despite just failing to progress to the second round, the Desert Foxes, who are coached by Rabah Saadane, were the most enterprising of the African sides by keeping to their philosophy of a fast paced game.

The risk with having foreign coaches is that a clash of ideologies between themselves and the players becomes evident in terms of how to play football.

Cameroon clearly illustrated this fact with coach Paul Le Guen (a Frenchman) playing Inter Milan striker Samuel Eto’o in a midfield role despite scoring 46 goals for his country by playing upfront.

The individual performance of African players has also been an issue. Their allegiances have been questioned going by the disparity in their form for club and country.

So far, what we’ve been treated to lethargic and half hearted displays from players who just months before were stretching their bodies to the limit for their clubs.

Eto’o, Chelsea’s Salomon Kalou and Marseilles’ Taye Taiwo were all key players for their clubs who went on to win their respective leagues but have failed to replicate those lion-hearted performances on the biggest stage of all.

One school of thought is that the long European season has run the players into the ground but that is an argument that holds no water as they rub shoulders with the likes of Lionel Messi, David Villa and Giovani Dos Santos who are setting South Africa alight with eye catching skill.

South America has stolen the show with Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay in the last 16 while Chile and Paraguay produced impressive displays spiced with Latin flavour.

Most South American players are also regular participants in European football theatres but their reliance on home bred coaches has been their primary reason for success in South Africa.

Ghana has shown what African football can conjure up on the biggest stage. Their grassroots structure which culminated in them winning the FIFA U-20 championship late last year is proof that investing in age-grade football yields dividends.

Let’s hope that what we’ve seen from the African teams is a wakeup call to the continent’s football administrators to start planning at this point in time so that in four years time we can paint Brazil with African colours!

(Philip Sambu is a Capital Sports reporter).

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