Until recently, when Footballers of African origin now don the colours of countries in Europe and South America, they would have been rated just within the average, and of course, the tag would have been "oh yes, he's a fine player." Just because they play for countries outside the continent doesn't make them European by blood, they are the products of the quest for survival and circumstancing relocations.
The likes of Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldinho, Paul Pogba, Neymar, Bayern Munich's David Alaba, Mesut Ozil, Vincent Kompany, Ngolo Kante, Dele Alli and the unending lists of notable Footballers, past and present could have won the World Cup for an African country all things being equal. The very root of their loss is still very much in existence today on the continent; wars, hunger, corruption, inability of authorities to manage and develop talents and government ineptitude.
What if Mohamed Aboutrika, Rashidi Yekini had found their ways to Europe earlier in life, or better still, what if leagues on the continent are well managed, with investors pumping in money to attract the best? Indeed, stars on the continent would edge out the big names in Europe. The fire power of Rashidi Yekini and Ronaldo De Lima could have made the latter run for his money for the coveted price of FIFA's best if both had been nurtured under decent atmosphere.
FIFA is more likely to award the Ballot D' Or to Footballers plying their trade in Europe than anywhere in the world. It doesn't matter if a striker scored 40 goals as against 20 in Europe.
Recently, Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu claimed the team’s winger Ousmane Dembele is better than Neymar. The player he was signed to replace at Camp Nou.
Neymar quit Catalonia for PSG in the summer of 2017 for a world-record transfer fee of €222m (£198m/$250m), with Dembele arriving from Dortmund for €105m (£90.6m/$118m) soon afterwards. According to him, “Dembele’s level is better now than Neymar’s, he’s a much better player than Neymar and he’s already adapted.
The bitter truth is that if we as a people live our priceless gifts to be carted away and trampled upon, we can't get a good deal for their value. Football is a money spinning sport and players, even our best will be willing to stay given the right environment. We've lost enough to the world through slavery, wars and hunger, now we're losing them to the beaming attractions of money and the promise of prosperity. We're losing them because others need them and are willing to build them from scratch.
Europe provides respite and succor for their parents who ran in times of distress, will they not be more willing to stay committed and loyal to the West? Here, they are undervalued, and hence, when its time to celebrate the very best of the best in the world, they just miss out.
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) must use the opportunity presented by the 2019 AFCON to introduce policy frameworks that will woo investors to the continent. More importantly, it must ensure that local leagues are well managed, providing guidelines for conduct and acceptable standards. Why should the likes of Salah, Mane, Aubameyang and so on be regarded as African stars just because they're shining outside the continent?
Header Image Credit: Liverpool F.C