The first time I met Clemence Westerhoff, in 1997, he told me about how West Africans, especially Nigerians, will promise to deliver the moon in a minute without a blush. As a humourous man, I thought he was joking. Maybe he was. Since then, I wondered how North or West Africa dominated everything, including football.
The only nation ever to win the Africa Cup Of Nations outside those areas, was South Africa in 1996. Besides having the best team in their history, which included Ace Khuse, Doctor Khumalo, Fanie Madida, Mark Williams, Lucas Radebe, Neil Tovey and Shoes Moshoeu, Bafana Bafana were hosts and Nigeria did not turn-up in that tournament. Otherwise, it has been a territory for Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Cameroon.
Only South Africa has represented the continent at the FIFA World Cup from this region. Ok, let’s count Angola for their maiden 2006 appearance, but then there has always been representation from North and West Africa. To make it sound a little more respectable, Zaire was at the FIFA World Cup in 1974, where they were embarrassingly trounced 9-0 by some ruthless dudes from Europe. Morocco, Algeria, Nigeria, Cameroon and Tunisia have been there most of the time.
Africa Club Championships have been a domain of countries from up there. Again, South Africa’s Orlando Pirates represented the region by winning it in 1995. They had a great team of Jerry ‘Legs of Thunder’ Skhosana, Helman ‘Midnight Express’ Mkhelele and William Okpara among others. Power Dynamos and Nkana Red Devils of Zambia were always close contenders. A few years ago, Angola was producing potential winners, but the fell flat. There was also DR Congo’s TP Mazembe as well. I must say that Dynamos of Zimbabwe have come close, losing in the finals. Here, names like Asante Kotoko, Hearts of Oak of Ghana, Canon Yaounde of Cameroon, Rajah Casablanca of Morocco, Asec Abidjan, Asec Mimosa of Ivory Coast, Julius Berger of Nigeria, Jets and Esperance of Algeria and Egyptians’ Ali Ahli, National SC and Zamalek have dominated this competition.
The Sub-Saharan region only produced Zambian Kalusha Bwalya for African Player of the Year. Roger Milla, Thomas Nkono, both of Cameroon, Salief Keita of Mali, Yousuf Fofana of Ivory Coast, Rabah Madjer of Algeria, Abedi Pele of Ghana, George Weah of Liberia, Didier Drogba of Ivory Coast, Samuel Eto’o of Cameroon and Frederick Kanoute of Mali are a few of the winners, all from up North/West. A mention of Peter Ndlovu and Bruce Grobelaar comes as a favour by these guys. Lucas Radebe is a figure of note as well.
World Player of the Year for Africans naturally comes from winning the above accolade, hence you will find George Weah, who ran for the Liberian presidency against the incumbent Head Of State in post Charles Taylor Liberia’s last election, had it in the pocket. He was honoured twice. There has been mentions of Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto’o of late but they are all from up North.
Looking at all youth and women championships, Southern Africa has come unstuck. The Olympic Champions, Nigeria and Cameroon, have been world beaters, dominating teams with the best players in the world. The teams competing here are usually under-23 and can have 3 over-aged players. Only South Africa managed to go to Sydney Australia for the Olympics.
Ghana’s exploits in the FIFA World Cup Under-20 last year in Egypt, where they emerged as Champions, proves a point. These trends go for women teams as well. The Nigerian Falconets succumbed to the pressure of hosts, Germany last weekend, when they lost the FIFA World Cup Under-20. Nigeria are perennial participants in the Cup.
The Black Stars were the revelation of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, reaching the quarter-final. Cameroon achieved the feat in 1990 in Italy. The team of Cyril Mackanaky, Oman Biyik, Roger Milla and Thomas Nkono was the finest African outfit of anytime. They were unlucky, falling to some scandalous refereeing. Senegal were there lifting the African flag in 2002 when Hadji Diouf was inspirational. Africa in general showed a step back after these achievements and a new force would emerge, also from North/West Africa.
Highlanders FC have never been near enough to be mentioned when it comes to Africa. Their rich history is so boringly local. Things must change quickly. The team needs to dominate the domestic scene by being a solid unit. The team leadership will do themselves good by looking at ways that keep all stakeholders together. It helps no one to be mediocre.
There is something going on in North/West Africa we don’t know. Until we find out, we will be the weeping boys (and girls) of the sport. Do you think it is the weather, the food, the mental strength of the tribes of these regions, or its sheer talent?