There is a very famous quote from the person who, until Lionel Messi, was undoubtedly the world’s greatest and best footballer to live – Pele (now he hasn’t exactly lost that title, but that wizard from Argentina is pushing him, and to some, has overtaken him! Still, debatable….and a topic for another conversation). Anyway, this quote was sometime in the 1990s, and people like yours truly would like to claim that it was made as a result of the brilliant exploits of Nigerian teams in the 1994 World Cup, followed by the gold star performance and achievement of the nation in the 1996 Olympiad in Atlanta.
This saying was credited to Pele, where he said that by the turn of the century, an African nation would win the World Cup.
We were all very excited by this statement, a seeming vote of confidence in African football by such a renowned enigma in global football. And we walked with a swagger, strutting around the world from France in 1998 to Korea/Japan in 2002, to Germany in 2006 and back home to Africa in 2010; waiting for that magical moment that had been prophesied by the great Brazillian.
Obviously that never happened, so far. And I’m sure that by 2014 when we went to Brazil for the last World Cup, we knew it wouldn’t happen then either.
Many factors have been attributed to this. We can refer to my last piece, and the African inability to consolidate on the successes of its youth. We talk about bad management. Some respondents to my last piece (and I thank you all for your positive comments and your contributions – it shows that we care, and are collective in wanting what is best for the sport we all love and believe in) talked about bad leadership in our football in Africa.
Many forget to mention that it may well be as a result of the advancement of the other parts of the world and Africa’s inability to keep up (the development of Germany, Belgium among others can not have been anything but result of hard work and planning and good leadership of course).
But, yet again I digress. What we have seen though, is huge development of the universal acceptance and growth of the culture of football in Africa. At least most African nations have a few good stadia, functional enough football headquarters, a national team, a member of each football family serving in one capacity or other in the running of the global sport, an artificial pitch or two, and an ability to attend some of football’s major events at least once a year.
This is good growth for Africa. And I am sure many in the continent will say they owe it to the current, soon-to-be-extinguished leadership of FIFA. The Goal project, Financial Assistance Programmes, Technical Aid programmes (and whatever other names the FIFA buffs have conjured up for it over the years) have benefitted Africa immensely. Between 1998 when outgoing President Sepp Blatter (whether he is resigning or “giving up his mandate”, surely he IS leaving?) got into power and 2014, not one of the 54 African nations can claim not to have received some help or other from FIFA.
Which is all good. Football costs and requires money; money which many African nations do not have abundance of. The annual grant of US$250,000 per nation, given to football federations by FIFA (that grew to almost US$750,000 this year due to the success of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil) is big deal to many African nations. Without that money, many small African countries might have wound up football activity.
You can now see why the support for Blatter was overwhelming in Africa, in spite of everything. Blatter changed football in Africa.
These monies are certainly a pittance to countries like England, Germany, many European and rich Asian countries. It’s nothing to the USA and others around there. And that is why they can afford to break ranks and have a voice.
But truth be told, Africa supported Blatter because they are grateful to him. Can anyone question that?
The flip side though, is that Africa therefore resents those that have contrived to, in their words, “bring Blatter down”! Dare I mention names! Let us just say that even yours truly has not been saved from the wrath of some African football leaders, some of them supposed friends, who, in the wake of the scandal that broke in Zurich in May, openly denounced my person and joined me with the “Europeans who brought down Blatter”!
But this piece is not about portraying myself as a victim. Everyone knows what I stand for, and to those who don’t, well, I hope they do in time!
This, rather, is a call on our leaders of football in Africa. The going was not so bad for the continent between 1998 and 2015. Yet, our turnaround has been one Olympic football gold, two U17 World Cup titles, one U20 World Cup, and a highest stature in World Cup being two quarter final appearances. For a continent that promised so much potential that made the great Pele to say we are due a World Cup title soon, that is low. For a continent that enjoyed unbridled support from a FIFA leadership of Sepp Blatter for 17 years, that is low.
And that brings me to the future.
Post-Blatter, after the elections of the new FIFA President, football will change in Africa. It will never be the same again. No new President, wherever he comes from, will give as much support to Africa as Blatter did. If the new President is African, he won’t want to do too much so the world would not accuse him of bias. And if the new President is European, or backed by UEFA, let’s be under no illusion. No matter how mature and forgiving he is, the African support for Blatter will be at the back of his mind and he would do things differently.
So, to our leaders in Africa. Are we ready for that change? Are we ready for a possible drop in revenue to run our football? Should we not start to make plans, strategising on how to grow the game in the continent without the luxury of FIFA assistance, just in case it doesn’t come in as it used to before? Have we even put that into our thought process? How many countries can sustain its football without FIFA largesse?
African football will change. Things will never be the same again. Which is good, in a way, because we need something to change so that we can hold our heads high and say we have done well. We need to make changes so that Africa is in line with the reforms of football in transparency and accountability. We also need to make changes to the management and administration of the game so that these talents that I see EVERYTIME I go into Africa, the natural football talent that play on the streets, can be nurtured somehow differently to become the world beaters that the great Pele said we should be by now.
Africa needs independence, and we need to shape our own destiny.
There is hope, but hope does not become reality if we fold our arms. We should not bask in the excitement of politicking and campaigning, and forget the fundamental issues that made us get to this stage. And we need to make contingency plans on how to grow and sustain African football positively.
Let us think about this. Let us ask ourselves questions. Let us consult, liaise with each other. Let us be one true African family and help each other. If football grows, the society of Africa grows. Our youths will grow. Our economies will grow. And leaders will have made a big contribution to the building of a new Africa. And maybe, just maybe, sooner rather than later, that quote/prophecy of the great Pele, might just come to pass in our lifetime.