Monday, June 21, 2010

Why African Teams Cant Suceed In The World Cup

There are many reasons why African teams have not won the world cup. It has been hard to pinpoint the main reason but one commentator attempts to explain 8 main reasons why this is the case.
Fox Sports commentator, Nick Webster, notes that African teams continue to struggle in their own World Cup due to the following:
  1. They don't have the infrastructure in terms of domestic leagues.
  2. Their players are scattered over the globe.
  3. There can be too many differences within the squad based on tribal allegiances.
  4. There are examples of money squabbles diminishing the World Cup challenge of an African team (Cameroon in 1994, et al).
  5. Coaches come and go at whim, and are usually foreign and usually overpaid.
  6. Pele predicted that an African nation would win the World Cup by the end of the 20th century (and anyone who knows anything about Pele's World Cup predictions would know that they are the kiss of death).
  7. There is a lack of competition at international level (the African Cup of Nations, while taking place every two years, does not provide enough experience for African national teams, whereas European national teams have tough qualifying campaigns for the European Championships and the World Cup).
  8. There appears to be an individual mentality rather a team mentality.
Now, I like to be realistic when it comes to the prospects of African teams in the World Cup. Yes, the prestigious trophy has not been brought to the continent yet for a winning team and yes, we do need to explore the reasons for this in order to correct them. However, are the reasons sited above legitimate reasons or do we also see undertones of popular images (stereotypes) of Africa propagated? I will touch on a few of the points that were mentioned that need to be redressed:

Reason 1. Africa lacks Infrastructure and organization. Does this include the host nation South Africa, in whose fields seem to meet infrastructural guidelines, and who's leagues play in those fields. During the friendlies, I saw fields in Zimbabwe and Tanzania that could have been a field in any country. These fields are used in domestic leagues. I don't think this is a good enough reason. This is like saying that a basketball player from a low income neighborhood can not make the NBA because the hoop, they practice in is in the inner city.

Reason 3. Inter ethnic Fighting (Tribalism). Now, I'm not one to speculate here, but I have never heard of inter-ethnic rivalry disrupting an African soccer teams ability to play a game. Particularly since, from the sociological perspective of  intergroup relationship, participation in common activities to achieve a common task, unifies member of a group, not divide them.  Sports teams are no exception, and they should display a tendancy towards unification of disparate ethnic groups not widening divisions. It may be that in the regular league games inter ethnic rivalries may surface but when playing for the national teams, I sincerely doubt that this is a factor in all countries when one is chosen to play for their country. Thus the reason that many differences in the squad due to tribal allegiance plagues African teams is a fallacy, and reminds us of the stereotype of tribalism and ethnic groups that just cant get along.

Reason 5.  Africans Cant Coach - Are Foreign Coaches the Best alternative? A lot of the teams spend millions of dollars to get a top world class coach but for the most part, we see little results from that coaching. Today, ESPN commentators noted that African teams have not seen much success with European coaches because the coaches have little time to understand the dynamics of the players who play for many disparate leagues abroad and domestically. Only one African team, Algeria, has an African coach in this years tournament. Whilst Algeria's performance was not super ordinary, their coach did not come with a price tag of $2M for one months coaching. Cameroon paid its coach $2M to coach for one month prior to the game and we have not seen a better performance come from them. So is it better for their teams to seek African coaches, who understand the dynamics of African players and those of African players that play abroad?

In the case of Argentina, we see Maradonna, successfully transition from a player to a coach. Why can we not see the likes of Roger Milla of Cameroon, be offered such an honour? He is surely someone whom a win for Cameroon would meet both a professional goal and an emotional goal as a Cameroonian. What about all the other soccer players Africa has produced? This is not to undermine career coaches because yes, not all players can coach, but these players understand the dynamics of international competition and their home countries and may stand the best chance of bringing home a cup. At this stage, African teams have nothing to lose from making the move. We saw Malawi in the African Cup of nations, led by a Malawian coach and former soccer player successfully beat Algeria, a team that qualified for the world cup. This is not to say however, that only African coaches can coach African teams or that coaches need to meet a nationality requirement, but that these former players, at minimum, need to be considered for the job alongside foreign coaches.

Reason 7. Lack of Experience. Lack of international competition may be a factor if the majority of the players in some teams were not playing abroad. Most of Cameroons player play abroad and many players in other teams play with the same players they are playing against during the World Cup. There needs to be another factor that comes to play other than this other than the old 'inexperienced' excuse.

Reason 8. Africans think about themselves. Individual mentality is perhaps, a factor that African teams really need to focus on. Its not simply because players are inherently selfish and don't want to play as a team, but, when being recruited by a league is at the back of the mind of most players, tendency to want to be the star will creep in for some players. We should see less and less of this though from teams that have many of their players that already play abroad and are not seeking their big break.

So Pele has predicted that no African team will win a World Cup until the end of the century. Maybe so, but maybe not. As we have already seen in this World Cup, There seems to be a shift in the World Cup that we are seeing. The once dominant European teams that have a 'tough' qualifying competition at the European Championship that Webster writes about, do not seem so dominant anymore. New teams are arising, and the playing field seems to be following the same route as the their economies, more equitable.

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