EUROPE. That one word evokes the romanticisms of football players and fans around the globe. Europe, of course, is where the big money is, and the glamour that comes wrapped in the package of professional football.
Because of this, the continent of Europe has long dominated the affairs of world football, on the field and in the boardroom. A lot of big decisions, and regulations, are centred around Europe. For instance, the game’s biggest event, the World Cup, is held when European domestic competitions are on the off-season break.
Same as the continent’s major competition, the European Championship. No club-versus-country clashes, no unnecessary tug-of-wars. In contrast, the flagship tournament on our continent, the Africa Cup of Nations, will be kicking off in Cameroon in January, as always at the beginning of the calendar year, at a time the best leagues of Europe will be nearing the business end of the season.
It means a club like Liverpool — who are in strong contention for England’s Premier League title — will be deprived of three of their key players in Mo Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita. The trio will be on international duty at the Nations Cup for their respective African national teams. Representing your country in a big tournament is a childhood dream of many footballers.
But for many African stars playing in Europe, going to a tournament in the middle of the season, when the stakes are soaring, can be bittersweet. It may well certainly be the case for somebody like Zimbabwe’s Marvelous Nakamba (pictured), who is refreshingly hitting the right momentum lately for Aston Villa under new manager Steven Gerrard.
A few weeks away at the Afcon finals could derail that momentum. It is quite unfortunate. All these examples tend to leave Africa weaker on the roundtable of world football, with considerably less clout in decision-making, despite the numbers that this continent possesses in terms of Fifa membership.
To correct this lopsided state of affairs, African football needs visionary leadership, after decades of Issa Hayatou’s dictatorship and the brief era that was Ahmad Ahmad’s.
You get the encouraging feeling that Patrice Motsepe is that kind of leader we have been yearning for, and the South African has not wasted time in trying to give Africa a voice in shaping the affairs of world football. But can Africans be heard anytime soon, and can that voice be respected when other continents still hold sway over us on many fronts?
Already, there has been discord between the Confederation of African Football (Caf) and the governing body of European football , Uefa, the p r e m i e r continental bloc in the sport.
While Uefa has shot down the idea of a World Cup every two years, backed by South American body CONMEBOL, Caf last week emerged in full support of a biennial World Cup at a meeting in Egypt. Can Africa successfully go against the best two footballing continents on the planet and enforce the two-year World Cup in place of the present four years?
What would be the significance, or cost, of such African victory? Whether one supports a biennial World Cup or not, you would imagine that an African-backed major reform, if successful, could mark a turning point in this continent’s influence on world football.
A World Cup very two years was not the only proposed reform that was embraced by the African football bosses in Cairo last week.
And again, Europe has rallied against such – a Super League of the continent’s best clubs. While Europe’s proposed Super League of the continent’s biggest clubs was abandoned after widespread protests against it, Caf reckons an African version is long overdue and will boost coffers of the clubs.
I deduce two things from this scenario: either African football leaders really believe they can pull this off, or they are just trying to shake everybody a little bit by making their presence felt.