Professional football still embryonic in Africa

Dakar- Senegal (PANA) -- African football might have come a long way, but the continent is still a long way to catching up with world football giants the likes of Europe and Latin America.
Despite the fact that the continent is endowed with talented players, football is still an amateur sport in most African countries.
The results is that only a few African clubs are capable of affording adequate training facilities, let alone providing players with decent social conditions.
Even in countries well known for football like Cameroon or Nigeria, facilities are still minimal, and the means very scarce.
"How can you professionalise football in countries lacking the requisite economic and financial means?" queries Cameroonian-born Issa Hayatou, who is president of the African Football Confederation (CAF).
"Most clubs are cash-strapped and cannot afford even the minimum of players' needs," notes Senegalese sportswriter Mamadou Koume.
According to Koume, clubs that perform best in continental competitions including the champions league, CAF Cup Winners Cups, tend to be those with some financial wherewithal.
This explains the exploits of clubs in North Africa (Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt) and some sub-Saharan clubs such as ASEC and Africa Sports in Cote d'Ivoire, Obuasi Goldfields, Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko of Ghana, or Petro Atletico and Inter Club of Angola.
These clubs not only own sports facilities (good training grounds) and training schools for budding footballers, but also offer attractive conditions (salaries and match bonuses).
They wield the means to lure top players from other African clubs.
Hence it is common to see Nigerian, Togolese, Senegalese, Congolese, Sierra Leonean or Zambian stars in such clubs.
The budget of ASEC Abidjan, for instance, rose from 900 million francs CFA in 1995 to 1 600 million FCFA in 1998, then to 3 100 million in 2000 and 5 000 million (6 million US dollars) in 2001.
Besides a training ground, the club also runs the Mimosifcom football academy.
Elsewhere, Esperance of Tunis pays players salaries between 3 000 and 5 000 dollars excluding bonuses, which vary with match fees.
Koume observes that in spite of efforts to professionalise certain clubs on the continent, they still fail to keep the best of their players, who tend to seek greener pastures in Europe.
"At best, African clubs rather serve as springboards for topflight players who, after one or two seasons, migrate to Europe," the sports commentator notes, adding "there is no retaining them.
" Examples include Nigerian Garba Lawal, who left Esperance Tunis for Dutch club Roda, Togo's Tadjou Salou who left Club Africain of Tunis for Servette in Switzerland, Nigeria's Rashidi Yekini, Benedict Iroha and Stephen Keshi who played in Cote d'Ivoire before joining Europe.
According to Koume, while such a situation is logical and humanly justifiable, even beneficial for players and their national teams, the same cannot be said about the uncontrolled exodus of young African talents to Europe, with the complicity of parents and unscrupulous scouts.
The drain generally involves players discovered during national and international competitions.
Ghana was a major victim following their 1991 U-17 World Cup triumph in Italy.
Ghanaian football authorities are now facing serious difficulties mobilising competitive selections.
The country with four African titles is still to regain its lost glory, as Ghana's last African Cup win dates back to 1982.
Meanwhile, German coach Peter Schnittger, who led Ethiopia, Cote d'Ivoire, Madagascar and Senegal, recently averred that there was nothing anyone can do about the drain on African football talent.
He even cautioned against trying to regulate the transfer of players.
"Managers stalk young talents like vultures and when the youngsters emigrate it is difficult to get them back," Schnittger admitted - a view shared by Ghana's football legend Abedi Ayew Pele.
Abedi, though, insists on stemming tide of premature departures, by making it mandatory for young players to stay in Africa until they turn 19.
Between 14 and 17 years of age, players are not yet ready to face the difficulties inherent in changed diet, weather and lifestyle in general, he warns, adding that one needs to be mentally strong to accommodate such change.
Also commenting on the phenomenon, CAF chief executive Hayatou avers that "leaving early is harmful for young players still maturing, as they easily lose their balance and their style becomes a hybrid of African and European football.
" Hayatou also wondered how some sense of moral rectitude could be enforced in the process, when officials of national football associations give in to the temptation of money from middlemen, often not approved by the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA).

19 december 2001 12:55:00




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