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Should we let African soccer die?

The beginning of the end for any human is the moment he starts to believe he knows it all. Africa’s football for decades now keeps showing lots of promise but never gets to the “promised land” that it deserves.

This week Soccerex is in Lagos, Nigeria. With the support of Supersport, South Africa, the plan is to try open minds to the possibilities of taking African Football one step forward.

What is actually wrong with African Football and how can Africans consciously re-ignite it?

The game of football is basically one that is all about footballers; their talent and their will to achieve. In an advanced football stage, progress in soccer is also a lot more to do with other external non-footballer factors. That is where the African soccer progression stalls.

Soccer originated from one of Africa’s colonial masters, England, in the 18th Century. In 1974 Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) flew Africa’s flag at the Fifa World Cup in Germany for the first time. Ever since, Africans have been striving to achieve the pinnacle of world soccer but it still remains elusive and recently seems to be regressing.

Nigeria led the way in 1996 to conquer the world and become the world’s first third world country to win the much coveted Olympic soccer gold, a feat emulated by Samuel Eto’o-led Cameroon years later in Sydney, Australia.

Africa’s representation in the world’s major clubs and leagues has diminished in recent years. It is common knowledge that soccer is the No 1 sport in Africa. It is religiously followed and people follow and are very supportive of winning teams. No wonder Barcelona of Spain and its star Lionel Messi are the toast of most fans. The same goes for Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo, Chelsea and Didier Drogba (even though he is no longer there), Man United and Wayne Rooney and Man City and Yaya Toure. African nations and clubs are not achieving major goals and their fan base, and the accompanying revenues that follow, are almost non-existent, hindering progress.

The aim of this write up is not to point out the obvious but to propose solutions.

First and foremost, Africans in general have to realise that they have to carve out a playing style to suit African people - their culture and mentality - while taking serious interest in the importance of the modern evolution, tactical and physical development of modern-day football.

Africans have to improve their playing style to maximise the integration of natural qualities that we have in abundance.

Take Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Kanoute, Gervinho, Song and Obi and you notice the impact their physical strength has in their success. Though they are equally technically gifted, the advantage in key moments is their involvement of physical aspects when the going gets tough. Didier Drogba’s forceful decisive header in this year’s Champions League finals almost tore off the gloves of Manuel Neuer of Bayern Munich. This same Drogba then showed world class finesse and calm when he ‘slotted’ in the decisive title-winning penalty just minutes later.

Conscious and effective youth development:

It is a general consensus that to improve any nation’s soccer prowess, investment and development has to go into the youths. Unfortunately it does not suffice to gather talented youths (which nations like Nigeria have an abundance of) and let them just play among themselves and hope that football success will come.

Those days are way behind us and that is really one major reason why most African nations struggle at the moment and are no longer able to produce new “stars” in the bloodline of world major leagues.

Corruption? Succeed in spite of it! It has become glaringly obvious that wiping corruption out of our football is not something that we can just do in the very near future. Therefore, for the sake of progress, Africans have to learn to succeed in spite of it and turn it into an advantage.

Choose technical crew wisely: It is no secret that eight out of 10 children who come out of a family with stable and caring parents turn out well. In a soccer team, the technical crews are the parents. Hire and sack is the dominant motto in most African nations. It is understandable when these nations do not achieve results but how can their chances of success be bright when they are not suitable or well equipped to achieve the task at hand.

Certain coaches and their philosophy do not go hand in hand with certain nations and their playing culture. If you employ a coach from a pure “running” philosophy football nation to coach an African team, short of the Kenyans who are born marathon runners, you are most definitely destined to fail.

Education and formation of coaches is paramount. It should not be just any education but effective education in the modern trends of soccer. Coaching lessons are not aimed to teach what to think but how to think to achieve your desired goal, irrespective of what that is.

If nations and clubs who do have these formations still struggle or get it wrong at times, imagine those of us who do not have it all. What will we achieve?

It was mentioned that the assumption that one knows it all is a hindrance to development. This I believe because it is no shame. In fact it will be very smart of Africans to study successful soccer nations and clubs in detail and try to take aspects that we lack and mix it with our own abundant human resources and technique to outdo them and finally take the rightful place that Africa’s football deserves.

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