All is set for the Euro 2016 final soccer showdown at the Stade de France between Portugal and France. While the winning team will celebrate its European dominance, Africa has a lot to celebrate too. The French team for one, looks like an African team and it might take a bit of convincing for people new to soccer to appreciate that it is actually a European team. Jokes have been passed around that the Euro may as well be called the AFCON as so many European players of African heritage are making their mark. Whatever team lifts the Euro Cup, that team has an undeniable streak of Africa. Africa will conquer Europe, come the final (however convoluted the reasoning behind that is).
Meet Blaise Matuidi, African prince and European King
The Guardian provides much needed background information to the star that French player, Blaise Matuidi is. His father moved to Toulouse in the early 1980s to escape the Angolan Civil War before settling in the capital, Paris. Blaise Matuidi and his four siblings grew up in the suburb of Fontenay-sous-Bois. In 2006, he was approached and asked if he would consider playing for Angola. It is then that he chose the French team.
Speaking on this decision, he said, “I had to make a difficult choice to opt for the French team. I have never forgotten my Angolan roots. I attached great importance to them, especially as I still have family there. I went there once during the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations tournament that was organised there and I really enjoyed the welcome. They are proud of my career there. If I am French, I feel just as Angolan.”
Is it safe to say, if France wins, Angolans will celebrate just as much? Most likely.
Numbers do not lie
11 players in the French squad are of African heritage and this is excluding Dimitri Payet while Portugal has 6 players with African roots. That translates to 37% of the two squads and not only that but 12 of the competing 24 countries at the soccer showcase had at least one player of African heritage. It might be easy to claim these are the results of the colonial past but the reality is most of the players are a reflection of the migrations that have occurred lately. According to the International Organization for Migration Report of 2008, during the period of 2000-2005, an estimated 440,000 people emigrated from Africa to Europe. In 2014, some 784.8 thousand people acquired citizenship in EU Member States. Of this number, 29% were from Africa. Could it be that among this 29% are the future Matuidis who will one day wreak havoc on the European stage and maybe on the World Cup too against their African countries of origin?
Is this an African Invasion?
Before France played Iceland, a Danish far-right political party posted a message on Facebook with images of Paul Pogba and Patrice Evra with the Iceland captain Aron Gunnarsson. The message read, “If you don’t think that Europe and Denmark should be transformed into an African backyard, then enter your email address at www.stemdansk.dk so the Danes’ Party can be allowed to run for parliament.”
In response, the Iceland Football Association issued a statement against the post saying, “The common interest of a large chunk of the human race in the sport of football which we so love brings people together. We use sport to bring people together, not split them apart.”
The reality of the matter is not everyone likes the current developments but not everyone should.
Is this the first time that players of African heritage have propelled Western teams to soccer glory? Not at all! The Guardian says, “More than a decade before Mozambique-born Eusebio took them to the 1966 World Cup semi-final against England, Benfica signed his compatriots Hilario, Matateu and Mario Coluna and began a long-tradition of naturalising African talent for the national team.” Players like Nani, Eliseu and Renato Sanches are said to have a Cape Verde heritage. It is however, sad that the Cape Verde is not as prolific on the continental stage and maybe if Nani was playing, the story would be monumentally different. Whatever the case may be, the Euro Cup will also highlight African footballing gains over the years.
Image credit: AFP