There is a generally held belief that most players endure a bad second season following a great season. While a few of them overcome this syndrome, ominously names “second season-ities” (I have no idea who came up with that name), in subsequent seasons, others have had their great performances filed under the “one season wonder” title in the great museum of football under-achievers.
Prior to the world cup draw, there was talk of an African team winning the world cup in South Africa, but with tough draws handed to hopefuls- Ghana, Cameroon and the Ivory Coast, such talk has all but disappeared. Before Dec 4th, 2009, the belief was almost unanimous among experts on the continent.
Haven't we heard all that before? Pele has famously stopped sharing his thoughts as far as predictions go, following his much vilified predictions about an African World Cup win before the end of the last century. Unfortunately we swallowed his thoughts hook, line and sinker. After all who in his right mind will doubt the words of the most famous footballer on the planet?
So what was the basis of Pele’s prediction? He was not so stupid as to take stabs in dark when making these predictions. Clearly he based his predictions on the potential he saw in young players coming through in the 1980s.
To put his thoughts into perspective, Africa won two of the Olympic gold medals on offer in last two decades as well as providing a team for the medals ceremonies in the football event in all the games bar the 2004 games. So why hasn’t an African team gone all the way at the FIFA World Cup? One word, “second-season-ities”!
After Italia ’90, there was talk of Cameroon making the step up to the high tables of world football, but it all went belly up and their record since has been near catastrophic. They have won just the one match in three tournaments since, against almighty Saudi Arabia!
The records of the other African teams who’ve been to the world cup are somewhat similar to those of the Indomitable Lions. Like Children of lesser god(s), most have fallen by the way side, while others are right behind them in the queue waiting to jump into oblivion.
So how did Senegal, quarter-finalists at the FIFA World Cup eight years ago, fall from such heights to their current situation of non-qualifiers for even the CAN? Why do African teams lack consistency? It all boils down to indiscipline, by all concerned- from players to the FA officials, all the way down to the public (fans and the media).
After these one-off performances, the public becomes unreasonable and makes impossible demands from the teams; the players allow their modest successes to cloud their judgment. The decision by three Ghanaian players to skip their friendly match in Angola, without the coach’s permission, leading to Sulley Muntari being left out of the squad to Angola (and possibly SA), sums it up.
The FA officials focus their energies on milking the surprise and unplanned “successes” of these teams for political gains. They end up abandoning their primary responsibility, which is to work towards developing football on the home front.
Many people forget a rejoinder to that famous prediction by Pele, albeit made with the benefit of hindsight in 1998. He said that African teams will not perform better than they had at the World Cup if their leagues do not become stronger. Contrary to form this has rang true. In two tournaments since, only Senegal’s quarter final run at a freak world cup in 2002 counts for something.
Half of the Cameroon squad at Italia ’90 came from the domestic championship, including captain, Stephen Tataw, while most of the players in the even stronger team of 1982, the one that earned the “Indomitable” tag, came from giants Union, Tonnerre and Canon etc.
Many will argue that going by Pele’s words, an African team will have to pass through the proverbial needle’s eye to win the World Cup, since finding a strong African Championship is akin to looking for a virgin in a maternity ward, a near impossibility. But then others will argue that his words aren’t worth the paper they are written on.
So as Egypt, Africa’s best team sits out the next Mundial, what should we expect from the “gang of six”? Get to the quarter-final? Been there, done that, worn the T-shirt and so forth…! Semi-final? Maybe. Win the trophy? I don’t think so!
We need to have an African team that contains players with Samuel Eto’o’s rabid desire to win, Didier Drogba’s power and mental strength, Michael Essien’s skill and drive and the enthusiasm Osaze Odemwingie shows whenever he puts on the Nigerian green. The team must also be able to draw strength in depth, from the domestic championship and organization as shown by Egypt and lately Mozambique.
At the moment no team ticks all the boxes. Once again we will have to depend on the X-factor going into the world cup and to be honest apart from Algeria (they have the momentum of a sensational qualifying campaign going for them), South Africa (they have the white knight, Matthew Booth!), and possibly Nigeria (you can never predict that lot!), that quality is absent from the members of Danny Jordan’s “six-pack”.