Wednesday, September 22, 2021

AFCON 2017: Something missing!

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Gabon’s forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang reacts at the end of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations group A football match between Cameroon and Gabon at the Stade de l’Amitie Sino-Gabonaise in Libreville on January 22, 2017. GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

There is something missing at AFCON 2017. I can’t seem to put my finger on it.Is it the psychological depression of not been a part of the party in Gabon that is personally depressing me, or what?

For whatever reason I have not been as excited about the ongoing championship as I should be, given the general expectation that it will showcase African football as catching up fast with the more developed football cultures of the world.

Obviously, AFCON 2017 does not confirm or even reflect that at all and has not captured the imagination.When the celebrated African footballers in Europe fail to shine in their domestic African championship; when Pierre Aubameyang, probably Africa’s best player in Europe at the moment fails to lead his team, Gabon, the host of the African championship, past the first round and exits the championship without making a dent; when the crowds thin out immediately after the exit of the host team in the first round of matches; when Africa’s recently decorated Player of the Year, Riyad Mahrez of Algeria, fails to lead the highest FIFA ranked African national team beyond the first round; when Cote D’Ivoire and its army of celebrated ageing stars led by Yaya Toure fail to inspire and go past the first round; when a ‘finished’ Emmanuel Adebayoor is the one leading Togo to yet another mediocre performance and both player and country fail to make it past the first round; there are many things missing in Afcon 2017.

Is it also possible that the absence of some teams, particularly, the African giants, Nigeria, again at the African Cup of Nations, is depressing the entire championship?
It is like Brazil missing from the World Cup. Of course, the championship would not be the same!On a personal note, beyond the impact and competitive edge Nigeria presents every time at the African Cup of Nations, whenever the country qualifies it is boom time for the sports business all over the West African Sub-region.

Whenever Nigeria fails to qualify, the opposite is the case – a massive financial disaster for those of us in an industry that is unfortunately driven by the degree of success of the Super Eagles.

Missing the African championship once is bad enough. Missing it two times in a row is a real catastrophe. That’s the psychological depression I have found myself in since AFCON 2017 began on January 14 and Nigeria are not there for the second successive time.

So, surrounded by the gloom on the faces of Nigerians, I have been struggling to watch the matches on television and still do my job of writing about it.

Through the misty clouds of my vision what I have seen so far have been a mixture of a few average matches, one or two great ones with plenty of goals, particularly the goals-thriller between Tunisia and Zimbabwe, a sprinkling of some individual brilliance, a dearth of truly exceptional new talent, some shocking results.

The following are my humble conclusions.
Although there may not be minnows any more in African football, from the evidence of performances in Gabon the game has not undergone any massive movement up the ladder of technical development.

The worst part of the entire championship has been the simple matter of the state of the playing turfs once again. Africa has, so far, not been able to replicate the lush, flat, and undulating green surfaces of Europe and South America to allow for the best standards of football.

When I served on the players’ committee of CAF many years ago along side some great African football legends, Abedi, Francois, Boli, Abega, Miller, Shubair, and so on, one of our major points of our conversation with the CAF leadership was the state of football playing grounds across the continent, how they affected coaching, understanding and developing team tactics, and how they hindered the complete expressiveness of the individual players.

They listened but never quite understood the import of our concerns. Their response was to go on and proliferate the continent with artificial playing turfs. Whilst this was good business for a few members of the Executive Committee, promoters and dealers in the technology, it was definitely a step backwards for genuine African football development.

To rise above the current level of African football and reach for the highest levels in Europe essentially requires, amongst other things, some radical new thinking about investing in simple, lush green grass grounds for effective coaching, training and matches.

Unfortunately, only the deep can understand the deep!Otherwise, AFCON 2017 has been a feast for die-hard football followers.

Matches have been physically well contested and football has lived up to its well-established traditions of unpredictability, shocks and surprises.

Giants have fallen by the way side (Cote d’Ivoire, Algeria, Mali, Zimbabwe); minnows (Gabon, Togo, Uganda) have once again come, seen and have been conquered; the usual warriors remain standing as we start approaching the finish line (Egypt, Morocco, Ghana, Senegal and Democratic Republic of Congo).

The benches of many teams are littered with the aged and battered faces of several of some recycled foreign coaches that continue to play ‘journeyman’ across the continent.As far as I am concerned this is clearly a demonstration of a lack of human capacity development in the technical department of African football.

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