African footballers: the forgotten stars of yesterday

Dakar- Senegal (PANA) -- In the late seventies, former football stars from Ghana and Nigeria embarked on a vast programme to restructure football in their countries by targeting and training identified talented youngsters.
The "hunters of budding talents" in Ghana were Charles K.
Gyamfy, one of the country's most talented players in the sixties, Sam Ardey, former national star and, above all, Osam Douodu who "made" Abedi Pele.
In Nigeria, the venture was pursued by Olatunde Dosu, who was junior world vice champion in 1987.
Their strategy based on a "commando" training of players actually bore fruits as, Nigerians and Ghanaians dominated the African football scene in the mid 80s.
Between 1985 and 1999, Nigerians and Ghanaians played seven finals.
The highest point of this domination was in 1993, when the two countries reached the Junior World Cup finals in Japan, with victory going to Nigeria.
With Salif Keita among the pioneers, Mali also initiated the same policy, consisting in training young talents.
The former football start, now businessman and owner of a hotel next to River Djoliba (the Niger) in Bamako, has also set up a training structure dubbed Salif Keita Centre (CSK), which has a club in Mali's elite football league.
When he returned to Mali in 1985 after a professional career, Keita was appointed minister in 1991, following the fall of Moussa Traore's regime.
However, he was not interested in politics.
Ghana's Abedi Pele, who aspires to be president of Ghana's football federation, got involved in training via managing a local club, at President Kufuor's request.
This symbolic figure is considered by authorities as the last recourse, given his rich international experience.
Abedi Pele, who emerged from the 1982 African Cup of Nations finals in Libya, was the pioneer of expatriation in Africa.
He could again blaze the trail for former football stars to manage African football.
Of Moroccan origin, Larbi Ben Barek nicknamed "Black Pearl" had an exceptional career in Europe and was one of the most talented players of his generation in the 30s.
Barek, who trained as a coach, bade good bye to football in June 1955.
He eventually came back to Africa, in Algeria where he played two more seasons.
After he returned to Morocco, the Black Pearl started his career as a coach.
Starting with a local team, he briefly took the Moroccan football national team.
He returned to Algeria in 1967 but his career went through ups and downs.
He eventually hung his boots and withdrew into a lonely life and, in September 1992 was found dead in his apartment in Casablanca.
Poor Barek.
Peculiar about Cameroon's Roger Milla is his exceptional longevity at the highest level of football, and his ability to rebound just when he was thought at his end.
In 1987, Milla bade goodbye to the national team following a jubilee in Yaounde.
With an exceptional vitality, though, he played in an amateur team at Reunion, before being called back personally by President Paul Biya to play at the 1990 World Cup finals in Italy.
Roger Milla sparkled brilliantly and proved that one could count on him by scoring four goals.
He was at the height of his glory even at 38.
He undoubtedly became the symbol of the success of Cameroon's football and is today his country's roving Ambassador.
Roger Milla, was also on 29 November 2001 named Ambassador of the UN common programme on AIDS (UNAIDS).
At the age of 49, the former football star, who left the image of an exceptional sportsman, got involved in the fight against AIDS which is ravaging the African continent.
Among former stars who are still active in football, is Laurent Pokou of Cote d'Ivoire - best CAN leading scorer with 14 goals.
He is coaching a club, Rio of Anyama, about 20 km of Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire's capital.
Also active are Guinea's Cherif Souleymane who coaches the national team, and Cameroon's international goalkeepers Joseph Antoine Bell (president of a second division team in Douala) and Thomas Nkono (assistant coach of the national team).
The former Ivorian football stars gather in an association called Variete-FC, of which Emmanuel Ezan, Laurent Pokou, Konan Yobouet, Mahamadou Sangare are members.
As for the former coach of the Ivorian national football team, Yeo Martial, now Africa d'Abidjan coach, "most of our players are used to being assisted and, as a result, are completely helpless at the end of their career.
" In Morocco, when former football stars are old or sick, they too sink into oblivion just like Abdelali Zahraoui, who impressed football fans in the seventies.
Many renowned players of his generation are living in misery and no jubilee was organised, even if just to sustain their ego.
Other Moroccan players are needy, often unemployed and finally wind up in poverty.
They include players of the fifties and sixties such as Tibari, Baba (Etoile), Lardi (WAC).
Tibari's case is the saddest.
The former professional who plied his trade in France had experienced great moments of glory, is today surviving on a modest monthly income of 1,500 dirham (about 130 US dollars).
Hadj Abdelkader Lokhmiri, now too old for his actual age, is not in the same plight, although he still hopes to get help from his cherished team, Chabab.
The case of Houssine of ULM is even more serious, as no one is reaching out to save him from a protracted illness.
Yet, in his time of glory he was the idol of all - hero of the same people who today look the other way when he passes by.
Nor are matters any better with Africa's first Best Player award winner, Morocco's Ahmed Faras.

19 december 2001 10:46:00

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