Have African players lost their glitter?


Harare – Are Africa’s finest football stars losing the glitter that made them hot property in world football since a 40-year-old Roger Milla exploded onto the biggest stage of them all and held the world spellbound at Italia ’90? Milla’s brilliance in Italy opened the doors for a wave of African footballers to move to Europe, as, suddenly, there was a deeper appreciation of the talent that lay in abundance around the continent.

Five years later, George Weah, made history as he became the first African footballer to win the Ballon d’Or when he was voted the best soccer player on the globe after his stunning exploits for Italian giants AC Milan. Weah won 144 points as he finished ahead of German legend, Jurgen Klinsmann, and Jari Litmanen, the Finnish and Ajax Amsterdam star.

Since then, a number of African footballers have made their mark in world football and three years ago, the Black Stars of Ghana came within just a successful penalty conversion of becoming the first team from this continent to reach the semi-finals of the 2010 World Cup finals.

That year, three African football stars – Didier Drogba, Asamoah Gyan and Samuel Eto’o – made the final 23 nominees of the Ballon d’Or with Cote d’Ivoire skipper, Drogba, finishing in the Top Ten in the final vote count.

Drogba, one of the greatest African footballers of all-time, finished in ninth place while Cameroonian legend, Eto’o, finished in 12th place and Gyan, the Black Star who missed the decisive penalty against Uruguay that denied his team a place in the history books, ended up in 18th place.

Last year, Africa provided two football stars, among the final 23 nominees, with Drogba and his Ivorian counterpart, Yaya Toure, making the list and also impressive, in the final votes, where Drogba finished eighth, with 2.6 percent of the vote, and Toure finished 12th with 0.76 percent of the vote.

But where Africa provided three of its stars among the 23 nominees just three years ago, and two of its stars last year, with one of them even finishing as high up the ladder as eighth place in the final vote count, the continent now just provides one player, Yaya Toure, among the nominees for the 2013 Ballon d’Or. Is this an indictment of the football stars from this continent?

“There is no question that there has been a marked decline, in terms of the quality of football stars, which have come from Africa and made a mark in world football in the past two years and that’s why you find that we only have one player, whom I believe clearly deserves his place there, on the final 23-man list,” Zimbabwean football agent, George Deda, told The Southern Times.

“What really worries me is that the only African player who is on that list is 30 years old, which means that he is in the twilight of his career, and he has been around for some time now and, somehow, we haven’t had a number of youthful players who have emerged on the scene, from our continent, who hold a lot of promise that they will be great players.

“When George Weah was named the best player in the world in 1995, we had a host of promising young African players who were emerging on the scene like Jay Jay Okocha, Emmanuel Emunike and Nwanko Kanu who were part of the Nigerian team that won the gold medal at the Olympics in the United States.

“Then, at around 2000 or thereabout, there was that emergence of those players from Senegal, who came really good at the 2002 World Cup and beat France, who were then the defending world champions, and then went all the way to the quarter-finals.

“We have lost something, which used to help us produce some quality players, and that is why you don’t see some quality young African players, at big clubs in the major leagues of Europe, who are creating a buzz out there.”

Deda also feels Africa has also lost the dominance that it used to enjoy when it came to the world youth championships with Ghana and Nigeria winning tournaments at the FIFA Under-17 and Under-20 World Cups.

“That’s another point that we should look at because we have lost whatever magic that used to make us dominate the World Cups and Under-17 and Under-20 levels and that could provide the answer as to why we no longer have a steady stream of very exciting young football stars coming out of the continent,” said Deda.

“We won the Olympic Games gold medal in 1996, with Nigeria, and then again in 2000, with Cameroon, but that was the end of the story for us.

“We are a very large continent and football is very important for us here in Africa and you feel there is something wrong that in 2013 we only have one player from here who can make the 23-man shortlist for the Ballon d’Or.”

November 2013
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