in Africa, football is still looking for its way

For the first time, the World Cup (from November 20 to December 18) is organized in an Arab country. In Qatar, the Tunisiathe Moroccothe Cameroonthe Senegal and the Ghana hope to achieve another first: to become the first African selection to qualify for the semi-finals.

The last three cities were also the only countries to reach the quarter-finals, respectively in 1990, 2002 and 2010. No jealousy, the other two qualifiers also have their record: in 1978, the Tunisians were the first African footballers to win a World Cup match and Moroccans, the first to qualify in 1986 for an eighth final.

Thanks to its five representatives, can African football finally break the glass ceiling of the quarters? The president of the Cameroon Football Federation, former star scorer Samuel Eto’o, does not hide it: “People think that winning a World Cup is almost impossible for Africa. But I tell myself that it is possible. I dream of winning it. »

Players in top European clubs

Despite this conquering discourse, the findings are hardly encouraging. Since the good course of the Ghanaians in 2010 during the South African edition, the only World Cup organized on the continent, Nigeria and Algeria failed in eighth during the 2014 edition. Worse, in 2018, no African representative managed to get out of the groups.

Reigning African champion, Senegal is coming for its third participation in 18e position in the FIFA rankings, a few places ahead of Morocco (22e). Tunisia narrowly enters the top 30, while Cameroon is only 43e and Ghana left behind at the 61e square. Not enough to make another Cameroonian optimistic, ex-goalkeeper Joseph-Antoine Bell, 68. “Even if it is indicative, this ranking means somethinghe observes. However, we rarely have an African country in the top ten. One cannot think that magic, according to the belief of some in Africa, will happen suddenly at the right time. »

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However, more and more African players shine in the best European clubs. In October, the Senegalese Sadio Mané – at Liverpool, and now at Bayern Munich – ranked 2e place of the Golden Ball, the best performance since the victory of Liberian George Weah in 1995. But the star of the continent was injured and was forced to forfeit the World Cup. His compatriot Edouard Mendy (Chelsea), voted best goalkeeper 2021 by FIFA, will be there. They are far from isolated cases. African internationals impress in Europe.

Performance without a future

If it allows to raise the level, this contribution is not enough, estimates Joseph-Antoine Bell. “It’s an elite that doesn’t necessarily allow you to compete. We appreciate that Europeans say: “Ah but Africa has great players, Africa will soon win the World Cup”sexcept that football is not athletics, does he analyze. The Nigerian who runs his 100 meters in 9.90 seconds and who trains in the United States will run it just as fast with the Nigeria jersey. In football, it’s not a player who wins alone, it’s a team that wins. »

Quarter-finalists, the Cameroonian footballers caused a sensation at the 1990 World Cup in Italy, only losing in extra time against the English. A performance without a future since they subsequently failed five times in the first round. A member of this epic, Joseph-Antoine Bell takes a severe look at his national football.

“Cameroon remained frozen in their quarter. Yes, we were the first at this level, but others have done better: South Korea were in the semis in 2002. We have to dust everything off to go further », he asserts. The former Olympique de Marseille player continues: “We must allow as many people as possible to play for fun before thinking about the showcase that is the national team”he insists.

Exodus of young talents

In Africa, when you are a footballer, you have to go into exile to live. The championships often only have professionals in the title, with rare exceptions such as in Egypt, South Africa or Morocco… Which often leads to the early exodus of young talents.

During the 1978 World Cup, only two selected Tunisian players were playing abroad. In 1982, there were only five Cameroonians playing outside of Africa. More than twenty later, during the 2006 World Cup, 80% of selected African internationals earned their living outside the country for which they were selected (compared to 18% for Asian players or 48% for Europeans). At the 2018 World Cup, this percentage was 85.2%. “There are a lot of Argentinian players in Europe but Boca Junior against Rosario or Velez, the stadium remains full. Local football did not die because individuals left. We can’t even play at home.”laments Bell.

The training of young players is another major weakness of most African countries. Many have opted for a short-term solution, the use of binational players. At the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, the Algerians reached the round of 16 with 17 players with French nationality. In 2022, around fifteen Moroccan internationals have dual nationality.

Academies lacking resources

But Morocco understood that it could not rely entirely on Europe for the training of its players. Alain Olio was director of training in the clubs of Fath Union Sport in Rabat and Wydad in Casablanca. “Since 2010, many structures have been put in place at the country levelhe says. On paper, the clubs have specifications with requirements for the training center. On the ground, it is not yet fully respected. » The former Olympique Lyonnais trainer wants to be confident: “They are not yet in the development of the Moroccan player in Morocco but they are on the right track. It is a will on their part. »

The situation is quite different in West and Central African countries. In Senegal, for example, if we also use binational players (nine in 2018), training is a poor relation. A system of academies of young players, very unequal, has developed, but it remains insufficient. “In Senegal, as in other West and Central African countries, most academies do not have the resources. Young people play on sand or pebbles. The structures are not good and the trainers are not trained”noted Alain Olio, who also led the training of the Sacred Heart of Dakar between 2015 and 2018.

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European clubs have smelled the good vein. From the 2000s, they set up partnerships with local structures. In Senegal, Génération Foot has been working for years with the Metz club, which picks up the most promising residents. Sadio Mané is the most famous example. OL followed suit with Sacré-Coeur; the Diambars academy collaborates with OM. “Out of sixteen clubs in the first division, only these three entities have good structures and are working on training”observes Alain Olio.

Faced with this abandonment of local development policies and this dependence on foreign countries, Joseph-Antoine Bell is not resigned: “African leaders should not wait for an exogenous solution. We have to build our own path. » A feeling shared on the sporting side also by the Senegalese coach Aliou Cissé, Sunday on the eve of his entry into the running: “It’s not about copying what others are doing. We have to have our identity. We have to be ourselves. » A kind of “third way” applied to football, from which would arise a model that belongs only to the continent.

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