Africa pays the price

FIFA development officer Ashford Mamelodi believes African teams finally paid the penalty for their failure to invest in youth football when five of the continent’s representatives performed poorly at the just concluded World Cup in South Africa.

Mamelodi has spent the last 10 years working for Fifa to try and help develop the game with his brief mainly centred on the Southern African countries.

But the seasoned administrator and former secretary-general of the Botswana Football Association this month noted with concern the lip service that African countries often give to identifying and nurturing young talent and said such lack of investment manifested itself when five of the six continental representatives — Algeria, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria and hosts South Africa — failed to go beyond the group stages.

Despite the World Cup being staged on African soil for the first time in the tournament’s 80-year history, the continent’s teams turned on a poor show, bowing out in embarrassing fashion, with Ghana’s Black Stars the only African side to advance to the second round, and beyond.

The Black Stars outfit, the youngest team at the World Cup, ran shoulders high facing Uruguay seeking a historic place in the semi-finals.

Mamelodi revealed that he had not been surprised by the African teams’ failure at the World Cup.

The Gaborone-based Fifa official said all the football associations on the continent needed to draw major lessons from their teams’ performances and put more resources into development.

“For me, the disappointing performances of the African teams have not been a total surprise but I am hoping that it sends a strong message home that we cannot have short cuts to success.”

“We have to take deliberate steps as a continent to develop the youth and that is why for me what we saw in the group stages did not come as a surprise.

“With the exception of Ghana, I don’t think all the other countries had structured development of their players,’’ Mamelodi said.

According to Mamelodi, countries like Nigeria, Cameroon and Cote d’Ivoire appeared to have lapsed from developing more young players as they relaxed on the back of the success of a golden generation of players that had done well in professional leagues abroad.

It appears to be the same story with South Africa who made history for the wrong reasons with Bafana Bafana becoming the first World Cup hosts to be eliminated at the group stage.

The fact that Bafana Bafana — for all their glamour and glitter — have struggled to find a natural successor to Bennie McCarthy in their line of attack highlights the shortcomings that are easily exposed when a country fails to identify and develop the talent in its ranks.

It was the same tale with the Super Eagles of Nigeria, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon and Cote d’Ivoire’s Elephants, who arrived at the World Cup with much of the attention being focussed on their reputation than the fact that some of them had struggled even in qualifying.

Mamelodi, however, lauded the Ghana Football Association for providing a refreshing side to the African game and noted that their development programme had been a process which did not just start on the eve of the World Cup.

“Yes, there might be some development programmes in all the countries but with Ghana it has been cultivated even if it might have taken some time for people to see the fruits.

“But we are going to see Ghana reaping the fruits of that investment in the youth development and the rest of Africa has to take a cue from them.”

The Black Stars also sent a young side to the African Cup of Nations in Angola in January that was just edged out for the title by Egypt in the final.

Before travelling to Angola for the Nations Cup, Ghana’s starlets had been the toast of the continent when winning the West African U-20 championship, African U-20 championship and World Under-20 championships beating Brazil in the final, becoming the first African nation to achieve such a feat.

Mamelodi said despite showing a lot of potential, Southern African teams were also pegged back by their failure to develop young talent and observed that the region could have easily failed to find a representative at the World Cup had Bafana Bafana not qualified by virtue of being hosts.

Bafana Bafana also failed to secure a place at the Nations Cup, but that shocking statistic was overshadowed by the country’s preparations to stage the much bigger World Cup.

Ironically, Bafana Bafana was lauded ‘for making the country proud in 2010’ by many yet the current squad achieved the same results as the World Cup squad of Korea-Japan 2002.

That 2002 squad coached by Jomo Sono and with less than a tenth of what the 2010 squad had in preparation for this year’s World Cup, won one match, lost one and drew one, finishing on four points, just like the 2010 squad.

Jomo Sono’s squad was regarded a failure and he was fired after the 2002 World Cup campaign.

“The reasons for failure are the same whether it is in West Africa or Southern Africa…And probably if we were not hosting the World Cup in South Africa we would not have had a team from the region progressing to the finals.’’

Mamelodi said problems related to the governance of the game remained a big challenge for his office which was trying to use Fifa resources to build the capacities of national associations and help end perennial boardroom squabbles.

Fifa has set aside funds through the Goal Project which many countries have used to build facilities such as association head offices and technical centres and schools of excellence.

But sadly African football administrators have failed to capitalise on these Fifa resources and most Fifa Villages or football headquarters build for African football remain a sorry sight, more than a decade after the association purchased the property using the Goal Project funds.

Fifa have also invested US$70 million (N$550 million) in the Win in Africa with Africa programme across the continent which has resulted in the construction of artificial turfs in 52 countries and the staging of a number of capacity-building courses for referees, administrators and coaches.

Namibia has benefited from this exercise with the Sam Nujoma Stadium now having the synthetic turf, while coaches, administrators and referees were involved in high-profile workshops and clinics at hotels and stadiums in Windhoek.

“Win in Africa with Africa is doing a great deal, but we now want to use the technical directorate in countries like Zimbabwe and Namibia to develop the game and bring in more professionalism.”

“Stadiums should also be more accessible to the technical directorate in the country so that they can do their programmes there,” Mamelodi said.

But it is the dismal showing of African teams on the grand stage that has set the continent on a soul searching mission and with such high profile figures like Mamelodi blaming it on the lack of development, it is hoped that the rest of the continent’s associations will review the way they handle national teams and invest more in the youth.PF