Africa’s undoing at the World Cup festival

By CHARLES OUKO

The beautiful game of football has two sides to it. The social and the business.

By social I refer to the simple act of kicking about a football for the fun of it. All over the continent, this is the daily norm for millions of African children.

However, when it comes to various FIFA World Cups, the neglect by African federations to address the business side of football will continue to beset Africa’s ambitions.

And what exactly is this business side? In one word, money! And more precisely, its judicious application in preparing our five World Cup representatives.

Specifically, the investment in world class coaching setups and for sustainable periods of time.

African federations display an appalling ignorance of the worth of their product (the footballers). This is evidenced by their refusal and or neglect in engaging coaching setups that reflect their respect, knowledge and appreciation of their players worth.

FOOTBALLING TALENT

Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire and Senegal undoubtedly produce the finest natural footballing talent on the continent comparable to any other parts of the world. However, they continue to be plagued by their clueless and visionless “big men” in their federations.

Unfailingly these federation chiefs engage coaches that would not be allowed anywhere near the respective European clubs of their charges!

One illustration using Cameroun should suffice. When Samuel Eto’o (Barcelona), Rigobert Song (Liverpool), Lauren Etame (Arsenal), Geremi (Chelsea) and Njemba–Njemba (Manchester United) were playing in the same Indomitable Lions team, their federation (FECAFOOT)went through about 10 coaches in a five year spell!

All these nondescript coaches had one thing in common; they were out of work when engaged and thus asked to apply for the coaching positions. And when engaged, their salaries were in the region of US$10,000 – usd$20,000 monthly.

Coaches at the above mentioned clubs, and their likes, today earn in the range of $7-10 million annually. And this only for the head coach/manager!

DESIRED TERMS

They also have one thing in common; they are head hunted. Both Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola were tapped by Manchester United and Manchester City and literally given an open cheque to fill in their desired terms!

To have a realistic shot at winning the World Cup likewise requires an investment in proven coaching staff at under 17 and under 20 levels.

At the ongoing Russia World Cup, FIFA have a total pot of $791 million to give away. This is divided into participation, preparation, performance, compensation and prize money fees.

By failing to simply hold out for a draw in their last group stage match, both Nigeria’s Super Eagles and Senegal’s Lions of Teranga lost out on a massive financial windfall.

They each missed out on $4 million that is given to every team that qualifies for the initial knockout round of 16.

At Russia 2018, every participating team was paid $8 million upon qualification for the finals; a year before kickoff. A further $1.5 million was likewise given to every team to cover their participation costs once in Russia.

PAYMENTS

FIFA’s financial payout also makes provision for payments to all the parent clubs of the 23-man playing squad of each nation. Compensation is also paid out to every player’s club in the unfortunate event of serious injury during the tournament.

Such is the serious business of money at the FIFA World Cup that whereas the financial pot at the USA ’94 finals was a paltry $94 million, three finals later at Germany ’06, it had risen to $282!

Whereas the World Cup winner takes home $38 million and the runners-up nation $28, it is the commercial attraction that this win generates that is where the real story is.

The winning federation can attract in excess of $250 million during their four-year reign as world champions.

This money is generated from commercial endorsements of all the world champions on and off pitch activities, during their four year reign. Among these on pitch activities are exhibition matches, for which millions of dollars are paid out as appearance fees.

The world’s biggest and richest corporations are of course FIFA’s partners including Qatar Airways, Toyota Motor Corporation, Coca-Cola and Samsung.

NATIONAL FEDERATIONS

FIFA, by extension, “owns” the individual national federations, bankrolling them seriously and thus justifying their zero tolerance policy to government interference in their operations.

FIFA does, of course, dole out these staggering figures because it wants to afford every country a realistic chance of victory by ensuring that it is thoroughly prepared. And good preparations (camps, multiple coaches and coaching setups etc) cost money.

Cameroun at Italia ’90 was the last team that could have won the World Cup without the need of a coach! Such was their incredible natural talent that they went to the tournament with a “token” coach in the person of Russian Valerie Neponmiachi (RIP). He neither spoke the two main languages of Cameroun – English or French.

That notwithstanding, Cameroun easily cruised into the Cup quarters and were well on their way to eliminating England and making the cup semis but for some atrocious refereeing decisions that saw England awarded two penalties.

FIVE WORLD CUPS

Let me end by giving a very telling statistic. At the last five World Cups, beginning with Japan/Korea 2002 and including Russia 2018, African teams have played 82 matches, drawn 19, lost 48 and won only 15. A win ratio of only 19 pc!

Until the disconnect between the social and business side of football is bridged significantly by African federations, not only will the above statistics not be improved upon; but Africa will continue to be represented at the World Cup by brilliant individual players, and not well drilled cohesive teams.

And the consequences will, of course, continue to be Africa’s failure to progress to the business end of the competition.

As the old adage goes, ‘to fail to plan is to plan to fail”!

The writer is a freelance journalist

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