Russia 2018: Africa, Do you see anything to smile about?July 19, 2018
Le jour de Gloire est arrivé! Le jour de Gloire est arrivé! The day of glory has arrived. 20 years since their maiden appearance at the World Cup final, FRANCE were world champions again, this time in Russia and two stars would go above the cock on their crest: ⭐⭐ Bravo Les Bleus. Allez Les Bleus! Le jour de Gloire est arrivé! You’d be hard-pressed to find anything more unifying than the World Cup victory, especially for France. Especially, this French team! The resounding reverie would resonate beyond the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, at the hub of the 12 avenues which irradiate from her to the entire nation; across Russia from whence the resplendence of this victory emanated and engulfed Africa, engulfed us… There couldn’t be any World Cup triumph that has ever felt more African. We owned this one. It was ours. Despite the jubilation and sense of achievement, Eric Munene, producer of The Dugout Podcast and lifelong football fan, challenges us, to take a critical, introspective look into the crises of African football before, during and beyond Russia 2018.
To construe the accomplishment of the French National team without mentioning the political sphere within which it has been achieved would be unjust. Especially for the political schema that’s as racially bigoted as this. French politics has and continues to place enormous pressure on the National team to be the haloed idol which French society looks upon, more so for those occupying the lower strata. Black, Blanc et Beur. Black-White and Brown. Jean Marie Le Pen since the eighties, in the foul rhetoric of his far-right racial bile, asserted that the French National team in its multi-racial composition neither reflected the makeup nor values of typical French society. He made it to the final round of the French presidential elections in 2002, with his daughter Marie, making the Reassemblant National, still as far right as ever, the second most popular party in the country today.
Jacques Chirac, himself riding a wave of anti-immigrant rhetoric to power in 1992, and his exaltation of the malaise of fracture sociale (racial societal division) was proven wrong in 1998 by the antics and image of one Zinedine Zidane, sliding across the turf in celebration alongside a Polish immigrant’s son, Youri Djorkaeff. Where only three years earlier, Algerian terrorists had bombed the metro and evoked a legacy of state brutality through police militarization against the banlieues (lower predominantly black immigrant district); another descendant of Algerian immigrants brought the French their first World Cup trophy at their first time of asking at a final.
Raymond Domenech wouldn’t have taken France to the World Cup finals in 2006, let alone reach the final, without pleading for the return of Zinedine Zidane, Claude Makelele and Lilian Thuram from retirement. Upon the return of Zizou, Thiery Henry would quip:
What I am going to say may sound over the top but it is the truth: God has returned to the France team.
However, it would be Fabio Cannavaro and not the French No 10 who would lift the World Cup at the end of that campaign, and in as much, as there were more forgiving sentiments, the established order squarely blamed the French loss in the connection between Zizou‘s bald head and Materazzi‘s sternum.
When the World Cup came to Africa in 2010, Raymond Domenech had lost the dressing room. Malouda had even squared up to Domenech in the dressing room ready to physically assault his national team coach, were it not for the intervention of his team captain, Patrice Evra. Nicolas Anelka‘s dissatisfaction with Raymond was even more glaring, playing out in the public gallery, culminating in mutiny within the French national team. It wouldn’t help that the crisis was so grave that it needed a presidential inquisition to resolve and Anelka became the icon for everything that was wrong with the banlieues: Stubborn, uncultured and Black!
The young player of the tournament, only other teenager to score at a World Cup Final and outright revelation of Russia 2018, Kylian Mbappe, N’golo Kante, Blaise Matuidi and another final hero Paul Pogba all come from the banlieues and are black! Sub Saharan Africa black. Emmanuel Macron, the French president, whom Paul Pogba infected with the charm of the dab, in 2015 vetoed the Plan Boro, which was meant to alleviate the poor living conditions of the banlieues, Mbappe‘s and Pogba‘s old neighbourhood. But he (Macron) is never shy of a photo op with the banlieues boys and recently dabbing with them. And thus it persists, Black, Blanc, Beur the political myth of France’s unification and symbol of cohesion, only evoked after the National team’s victory! As they have done before, against great odds, Wilfred Mbappe, Kylian‘s father, the Pogbas, the residents east of the Sentier Métropolitain of Saint-Denis and similar places in France will have to continue fending for themselves. In fact, according to Macron their aggregation into larger French society is their own problem. They need to create their own order, change their own narrative with state intervention being largely police heavy-handedness.
The French football team were not handed the FIFA World Cup trophy. For at least half of the National squad, that victory was in spite of everything else against them. The composition of that team and the circumstances of its success do not only bode well with almost every other team from Africa in terms of optics but also in the challenges of poverty, seclusion, state marginalization, police brutality and indiscriminate incarceration. All of which players of our national teams have either faced or have been affected by. For what its worth, the French national team would be your go-to model for what a well managed African team ought to look like, what it can be and what it can achieve: winning the World Cup!
Africa was represented by 5 teams from the continent and France, de facto. France won the trophy, not one African team made it past the group stage. Contrast. Which makes one wonder what’s so unique about African football that makes us the butt of International football?
Betraying the Game.
Anas Aremeyaw Anas, one of the most high profile and controversial journos in these parts of the world, ca. a month to the World Cup released a damning expose on the rampant corruption rife amongst match officials and federations, in Ghana and Africa. Damning but not shocking! Ghana did not make it to the finals. It would seem that any corruption scandal in Africa would be replete without a Kenyan’s implication, and Range Marwa, an assistant referee on retainer by FIFA for the 2018 finals in Russia, did not disappoint! He too, took money he shouldn’t, not only losing his job, status but also bring the game into disrepute. Unfortunately, this is an open secret, on the continent, hence Anas Anas‘ report merely confirmed that the African game is mired in corruption, much like a chicken hatches out from an egg laid by a hen. Managers of federations, politicians, match officials, club officials are betraying the game.
Away from the drama and game of musical chairs that is characteristic of African qualifiers, the tournament in Russia showed the dearth in quality and bad-at-best organisation of African teams. Yes. In 2018, Nigeria on the back of depending on handouts from politicians, most notably Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom state (himself at the end of many valid allegations of corruption) had to make their Federation pay the players up front. The Captain, Obi Mikel, during the tournament played with a noose of extortion and uncertainty hanging around his neck- his father had been kidnapped, again, and the state could do nothing more than ask him to pay the ransom.
The questionable mental fortitude of African teams came to the fore, time and time again. ALL the teams from the continent conceded crucial goals at some point after the 75th minute. Coincidentally, that’s when farcical and lacklustre defending cropped up. Seemingly, African teams were happy to merely wait out games to earn a draw. Egypt, at least on paper, had the easiest way out of the group stages. Their over-reliance on Mohammed Salah is inexcusable; there’re nations whose stalwarts are mavericks many times over the Egyptian, but whose management, had a bit more up their sleeves, than “give him the ball”. They finished last, in a group with Saudia Arabia (‘oil’ due respect to the Saudis).
Separating football from politics is, to borrow biblical wisdom, the thankless task of trying to thread a camel through the eye of a needle! However, football should NEVER indulge or be seen to indulge in politics. Politicians make the strangest of bedfellows. The Eagles of Carthage, as the Tunisian national team identifies, is unpopular, especially in Tunisia. They slept with the dogs and caught the fleas. Ousted in the Jasmine revolution and outed by new President Moncef Marzouki, Ben Ali‘s involvement with the Tunisian national team drained hope, aspiration and connection between the Eagles and Tunisians. Outlandish gifts in the order of single sourced tenders to players, trainers and officials, bribery of referees to let the most infamous Tunisian team, L’Espérance win games and the complicity of trainers and players alike in the cronyism of the dictator and his allies were the order of the day before 2011. The Eagles made it to Russia and played three games there but their political choices only serve to remind Tunisians and the rest of us of alienation by the oppressors.
Morocco has a lot of statements to make. They’re encumbered in their association with the African continent. The north offers more: Spain and Europe, economic and social progression as opposed to the rest of us. Hiring Herve Renard was a statement of intent, but in a group, with Portugal and Spain, the largely European squad was effectively playing against their own. They finished last.
Senegal were the favourites for any African with a good one above their necks. Aliou Cisse, captain of the 2002 class of giant killers, during their debut, was the rookie manager of FIFA 2018 World Cup and happened to be black, the only black manager. We enjoyed the quality of football on display. His team showed us exactly what he believed in: hard work and tactical defending without the ball and quick, surgical, counter-attacking football when they had the ball. We watched him learn, tweak and improve his method; his deployment of Idriss Gana Igueye almost divinely inspired. The Senegalese, however, would cut their own legs from underneath themselves. It remains to be known, whether they were aware of the fair play rule, amassing the highest number of cards in their group during their final game, which they could afford to lose, or FIFA connived against a black team, in her rules for determining tiebreakers during the group stage.
As such it remains: the least fit team at the World Cup: Tunisia. Confederation with most VAR calls against them: CAF. Confederation with least VAR calls for them: CAF. First team to be eliminated from the World Cup by ‘Fair Play’: Senegal.
As we celebrate the victory of African France at the World Cup, let’s not forget that whenever Victor Wanyama comes to Kenya, he pays a visit to Kamiti Maximum Security prison, where there’re lads with whom he came up locked up for violent crimes of robbery. Africans travelled all the way to Russia to support their national sides (and later overstay their welcome to seek unwarranted meaningful employment in the case of some Nigerians). African sides who’re effectively eliminated after the first round of matches. Kenyan MPs never known to let an opportunity to misappropriate public funds pass, decided to use taxpayers’ monies to travel to Russia. Fans, back home, who brave the cold evening to go to viewing parties hoping the Nigerian side of four days past would turn up against Argentina. Naija’s only take away being that they had the most beautiful fastest selling home jersey, a cash cow for Nike. Fans, like you, who contribute to the FIFA kitty to be squandered by your local federation, by paying your preferred pay-tv company subscription fees to watch Egyptian mediocrity. Fans who watch France and see what could be the triumph from Africa. We salute you!
Will an African team ever lift the World Cup trophy?
To all the French, who own Black, Blanc et Beur, since France won the World Cup and are indignant that it is a French and not an African victory, we call you out on your BS! Half of the French team is of African heritage. They are French AND African; we shall forever celebrate them.