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African flair is returning


I fell in love with African football about two decades ago. It was a time when African football wasn’t just a game, it was a show!

The list of great African footballers is endless – George Weah, Roger Milla, Abedi Pele, Rigobert Song, Yakubu, Sammy Kufuor, Taribo West, Jay Jay Okocha, Samuel Eto’o, Didier Drogba and so on. If I was writing this article ten years from now I would add a few names of players who excelled in the just ended Africa Cup of Nations.

Bakary Kone; Jonathan Pitroipa from Burkina Faso; Emmanuel Emenike and John Obi Mikel from Nigeria; Seydou Keita from Mali and many other players made this tournament worth watching. Some of these players have shone for their European clubs but I felt a deep sense of pride that they gave 110 per cent for their countries.

Even Gervinho, who many Arsenal fans love to hate, was impressive for his country, showing flair that isn’t that common in football these days.

It took me a while to warm up to Afcon 2013 but, once the teams really got started, I began to enjoy it. When Nigeria took to the field, I began to get a feeling of nostalgia for the Nigeria of the 1990s.

I have had my issues with African football for a while because it has become so clinical that I barely recognise it. The mass exodus to leagues in Europe, the Middle East and the Far East has resulted in many players losing their African flavour in order to adapt to the needs of their clubs.

It’s not wrong for players to adapt to their clubs because the managers and coaches have a plan and because direct football is effective. In fact I’m usually the first person to start yelling at Gervinho to pass the ball when he decides to start dribbling.

Somehow Nigeria made it work in the early 1990s and, if their performance at this year’s Afcon is anything to go by, a few of their players are taking us back there – which is good.

Football is great when you win but it’s also great when it’s entertaining. If a country or club can effectively achieve both, then that’s perfection.

I support Arsenal, for instance, and at the turn of the century the club was playing the most entertaining and effective football. After watching a game I would feel completely satisfied with both the result and how it was achieved. Somewhere along the way both the flair and the consistent results have been lacking but I believe Coach Arsene Wenger will rediscover that early-century form in the near future.

Burkina Faso, Mali and even Cape Verde showed signs of emerging flair and it was a sign that the “owners” of African football are changing. Gone are the days when the flair only belonged to some nations. When coupled with an intelligent game, it creates an all-round winning team.

Nigeria lost both their flair and great results over the years and the fact that they did not feature in Afcon 2012 hurt to their core.

So I must commend my dear friend, Coach Stephen Keshi, for achieving the results he sought while providing us with the entertainment that we have so missed on the African scene.


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