The first round of the 2017 Confederations Cup came to a close last Sunday with African champions, Cameroon, unable to make it past Germany, Chile and Australia.
And the question, “when will Africa justify its huge football talent pool and deliver on the world stage”, arose again?
Without a doubt, Africa is blessed with many skillful football players and many are still to be discovered on the countless dusty pitches across the continent.
Meanwhile, the lucky ones have become professionals and are already dotted around the world with the more glamorous teams and the not so glamorous.
Despite all that talent and promise, the best an African team has done at the World Cup is get to the quarterfinal.
Cameroon achieved this feat in 1990 led by the mercurial and age-less Roger Milla, followed by Senegal’s golden generation in 2002 and then the painful Ghana loss in 2010 caused in most part by a blatant hand-ball on the goal line by Luis Suarez.
Top players but no top teams
Emeka Enyadike, a renowned football commentator said on Twitter that Cameroon were beaten by Chile in their first match at the Confederations Cup mainly because they were not offensively proactive.
“They [Cameroon] probably should have won but sat too deep…African success only comes by playing on the front foot,” he said.
Some may believe the reason for this lack of top level success is players plying their trade in the lower echelons of the European game, but I will beg to differ.
Just take a closer look at the Australian team, that finished ahead of Cameroon – they don’t boast superstars and almost all their starting XI play their football outside Australia – China, Turkey, the Championship in England but still got quite credible results against Chile and Cameroon. They even scored two goals against Germany.
Coaching still looks defective
So it may not be about where they play but more importantly how they are coached.
Almost all the African teams have these five characteristics that impinges the way the national teams play:
1. Reactive and not proactive [Rushed to react]
2. Don’t take care of the ball very well, especially in offensive positions
3. Play with more instinct than distinct training regimen
4. Do not deliberately create scoring chances
5. Improve the local leagues
The major challenge facing the African game is too much reliance on individual skills.
The Europeans and South Americans also boast these skills but have added organisation and scientific innovations to get ahead of the pack.
Their various leagues have plans from the academy and almost every player has been scientifically coached since the age of eight.
Tactical training still lacking
Clubs play more cohesively than national teams because they spend more time on the training ground together to work on tactics and national teams benefit when the tactics employed in the local league almost mirrors that at the national team level.
The word that closely explains what happens at club side level is SIMULATION. When national team bosses are able to achieve something close to what is employed at the local clubs, this spells success and progress.
The closer a team is able to replicate what happens on the training ground in real match situation – the better they will play as a team.
Gavin Hunt, Bidvest Wits manager said in his analysis on television that the major problem facing African sides is how to play when they lose the ball.
That challenge can be coached away but it still exists because that discipline is not applied on the local stage.
Whilst the African player is at par or even ahead of the European in terms of skill factor, the technical adaptation of this skill to a team of 11 players is what eventually lets many African teams down and will continue to ensure that the African game will continue to supply players to the better leagues but its national teams will continue to play second fiddle.
Africa definitely has the talent to rule the world in football, as in other spheres of life – but the question is whether they have committed and responsible leaders to make it happen.