FIFA Confederations Cup: Lessons for Africa

By Andrew Bonani Kamanga

THE 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup has come and gone. Germany came and Germany conquered as they usually do in football tournaments. Russia tried to put up a good show for the spectators and television.        

Football lovers were left gasping for more.  The 2017 FIFA Confederation Cup was more than just a dress rehearsal for the hosts, it was also wonderful platform to develop teams, try new talent without the pressure of the big occasion. 

Valuable lessons were learnt by everybody including the organisers of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, coaches and players.

The biggest lesson that I saw from an African perspective is how African teams are always ill-prepared for effective competition at the FIFA World Cup.

Cameroon, the Indomitable Lions, are supposed to be the best team on the continent, judging from their victory at 2017 Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Gabon. However, their performance in Russia left a lot to be desired. Their tactical naivety was there for all to see.

They did not stand a chance against Chile and Germany, the eventual tournament winners.

Cameroon only managed a draw at the tournament, which is thoroughly disappointing for a team that is representing the African continent.

The Cameroonian Head Coach, Hugo Broos, summed it up very well when he said there is need for improvement of the structure and programmes in Cameroon before tangible progress can be made in world football. This requires colossal investments in football development particularly at grassroots. This is important not just for Cameroon but for the entire continent.

National football federations are simply not investing in grassroots football and this affects the quality of players who graduate into the national team. Coupled with the shambolic administration and preparations for tournaments, no wonder why, African performances at major events are usually dismal, despite large reservoirs of wonderful potential talent.

There is no doubt that having players who ply their trade in the big lucrative European leagues is a huge bonus. This brings us to the predicament that Southern Africa finds itself in.

As the old adage goes, “For one to be declared a big fish, you have got to swim with the sharks”. This saying also applies to the world of sport and in this case, football. For you to be deemed great, you need to play with the best, not just on the African continent but at world level.

There is no doubt that the lucrative football leagues are the ultimate measure of success for any aspiring footballer. Whilst other parts of Africa remain fairly represented in the big leagues, Southern Africa has fallen way behind with only a handful of players competing with the best in the world.

It is now a fact that Southern Africa does not have many world-class players at the moment. The development structures in the several of the countries of the region are not simply producing respectable talent that can get coaches, agents and scouts from Europe excited.

Gone are the days when Southern Africa was represented in top leagues in Europe by the likes of Bruce Grobelaar, Kalusha Bwalya, Lucas Radebe, Benny McCarthy, Adam Ndlovu, Peter Ndlovu, and Benjani Mwaruwari. These were outstanding performers who could fit into any team in world football.

The decline of Southern African football is also illustrated by the fact that no team from the region qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

The draws for the preliminary rounds and qualifying tournaments for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia have been done. Given current trends and status of football development programmes, it is indeed safe to bet that no team from Southern Africa will make it to the final thirty-two (32) going to Russia in about a year’s time.

Southern African teams are ill-equipped to compete with the best in Africa, let alone in the world.  The reasons for this malaise are quite obvious to any lover football. 

To begin with, the environment established by the football leaders is not conducive to the development of the beautiful game.

The football leaders do not provide dynamic and visible leadership for the acquisition of skills at a tender age through well-structured grassroots programmes.

Furthermore, the adoption of modern scientific means of talent identification and development is alien to most of the various football administrations.

There is an overwhelming tendency to opt for quick-fix solutions for success by hiring and firing national coaches.

Instead of grooming local coaches, most national football associations prefer foreign coaches who drain the resources of the cash-strapped associations through their huge salaries. 

A quick survey of the various football administrations will most probably reveal that very few of them have a ten-year technical development plans for production of players who are capable of competing with their peers on the continent and beyond.

The football leaders think that players like Pele, Maradona, Messi, Drogba and Ronaldo are going to crawl out of the woodwork, somehow, through some kind of astonishing miracle.

Well, this is time for a reality check! In addition, most of the football leaders are quite comfortable to sit back and relax, waiting for the respective governments to utilise public funds to bail them out of their problems.

They do not have viable strategic plans and marketing initiatives to make their associations financially viable. Even with the abundant financial support that has recently been extended by the world-governing body, FIFA, most Southern African football associations have no clue as to what is really needed to transform the game in their countries. Let us have a continuous learning culture!

There are indeed valuable lessons to be learnt from the FIFA Confederations Cup but it is doubtful whether the football leaders are learning! Let us have a continuous learning culture!

July 2017
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