I began by looking through last weekend’s English Premier League fixtures just to know how many Africans are likely to start in any of the top six clubs. The result didn’t look great. Amused, I decided to take a roll call of every African player in each of the top six clubs of the English Premier League, and now I am disappointed.
Twelve! A continent of 54 nations blessed with an array of footballers who possess incredible pace, strength, and hunger with just 12 players in the top six clubs of the Premier League is disappointing. Surely, they should be elsewhere; LaLiga, Ligue 1, maybe Serie A too.
How many stars in the top five clubs in LaLiga – including Valencia, Sevilla? No, you couldn’t have guessed this. Just one! Ghana’s Thomas Partey who progressed through Atletico Madrid’s youth system. He remains the sole representative of the African continent among Spain’s top clubs – Achraf Hakimi is currently on-loan away at Borrusia Dortmund, hence, can’t be included. Although 13 of the 20 teams in LaLiga have at least one African in the mix, it is disappointing that there is only one player at any of the top clubs.
Africans don’t fancy a move to Germany anyway, so whatever number I get there won’t be a surprise. Ok, this is a polite way of saying, I didn’t check.
However, I expect that more African footballers should be at the French Ligue 1. Yes, that is exactly the case. However, how many of the lot play at the highest level? How many Africans star for the top four teams – PSG, Olympique Lyonnais, AS Monaco, and Olympique Marseille in the French Ligue 1? 12.
At this stage I’m pissed. We have been parading mediocre numbers at the topmost level of football for a while and we have been oblivious of that fact.
Then I stumbled on Cameroonian Jean-Eric Choupo-Moting, who joined PSG shortly before the summer transfer window which shut in August.
How did Choupo-Moting make the leap from a relegated Stoke City to PSG? It didn’t take too long to spot two crucial factors.
One, he had played for the current Parisian boss while at Mainz at the turn of the twenty-tens. Second, he is seen as cheap backup for the star front three.
Although the 29-year-old knows he will get limited playing time, it is interesting to see that he left Stoke City. Why shouldn’t he? If there are 98 options across the top 5 European leagues, why settle for a championship club? This is, in every sense of the word, a career jump.
Will he earn more than the £60k/week Stoke City paid him? Maybe not!
Three key members of the Super Eagles currently play in China and more surprisingly, Saudi Arabia. Admittedly, the quality of football in China is improving with an array of South American players and top level coaches in the Super League; same can’t be said about Saudi Arabia. Hence, there can be no footballing reason for anyone to join these leagues.
Money is a huge factor for footballers, particularly Africans. Most African footballers come from poor or middle-class homes; exposure to the amount of money that moves in the sports world immediately brings a ton of distraction from friends and family and most often than not, truncates their careers.
Oh! Add the nightlife wonder to the mix.
Just as recently as the naughtiness, there used to be one way of making big bucks in football: play for one of the super clubs and become a global icon. The usual result is a ton of endorsement deals and an increased pay of around $10-15m a year. It’s a different world now; there are two more ways to make money in football. Get a move to the Premier League and if that doesn’t work out, focus on the Chinese or US market. But there is another obvious problem that comes with playing in China and the US, the quality of football isn’t the same.
Ferran Soriano, the CEO of City Football Group, once revealed that top-level clubs pay on average $1m grossly per annum on academy graduates. Take away tax and other necessities and frankly, $500,000 a year is still an awful lot of money for anyone within the ages of 18-30; except, in this case, we’re talking strictly about players between the ages of 18-22.
Another case that haunts a typical African footballer is coaching. In saner climes, footballers are exposed to professional coaching as early as 5, in Africa, same kid is either still kicking plastic or paper-made oval-looking soccer ball, run around on a pitch looking like a quarry site and goalposts usually made of two bigger stones. Ah! There are no referees too, so fouls only count when the victim is really hurt or when the offender fears revenge.
In this environment, a typical African footballer builds his strength, technique, competitiveness; great attributes to possess, and at the same time he losses out on proper coaching from an early stage. So, he’s 25 and his technique is still raw because it wasn’t fine-tuned early enough. He possesses real quality, but he’s a headache for his coaches now. How will you transform him into a superstar when his formative years were spent kicking the ball around with no coaching? No way!
There remains a very rare group of Africans who have spanned over a decade at the topmost level, towering above any name is Samuel Eto’o. Next is Yaya Toure, John Mikel Obi, Didier Drogba, Joseph Yobo, and Michael Essien – just couldn’t get the ghost off his back. Salomon Kalou, 33, has found home at Hertha Berlin.
Samuel Eto’o and Yaya Toure should be the example of every African kid. Although these two were extremely fortunate to be spotted by European scouts early enough, they have prolonged their careers than most. Into their late 30s, and these two aren’t stopping; can’t cope with the rigours of the Premier League? Find another competitive league to play in, not China, not Saudi Arabia.
Mikel John Obi is one to be adored. First, he was subject to a transfer tussle between Manchester United and Chelsea. Afterward, he spent a decade at the North London side. Not too many Africans would have spent a decade at Chelsea without loan spells between. Sources close to the Nigeria captain reveals he’s considering a return to the Premier League. It doesn’t matter if it is a mid-table team in England; he wants to play the best teams again.
This is at a time when the MVP at the last AFCON, Christian Bassagog, 22, is enjoying his retirement in China.