African nations should learn from Nigerian patriotism

HARARE - For years, Africa’s premier football tournament, the African Nations Cup, has failed to match its European or American version, mainly because of the timing of the tournament, which normally results in a spate of withdrawals by top players based in Europe.

Host South Africa have already been hit where it hurts most with the sensational announcement by their inspirational former captain Steven Pienaar who said he was quitting international football.

Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund even flew to England to try and persuade his talismanic skipper to change his mind with no success. News of Emmanuel Adebayor pulling out of Togo is now stale but the list of such events happening, especially towards the Afcon finals, are well documented.

I have to say up-front that the Confederation of African Football (Caf) bosses should think long and hard about the period they host this event.

It is the time when the English season and other European leagues are at their most critical stages and key players have to leave their respective clubs when they are needed the most.

There is a common theory that the reason why Manchester United is not keen on signing African players is purely for this reason. Ironically, it is during the January-February period that Man U normally pulls away from the chasing pack because the club is never affected by the Afcon tournament.

European clubs pay big money for foreign players and for them to leave when injuries start to set in and at the height of championship campaign does not make business sense.

 Fifa is unequivocal about players’ release for international duty hence the only option players and their agents are left with is to retire prematurely. This way it saves them their core bread and butter but leaves their respective countries and the Afcon tournament deprived of top talent.

But looking back at this perennial problem, one country that has remained almost unscathed by this debacle is Nigeria.

Nigerians are well known for their patriotism and the club versus country issue has never really troubled Africa’s most populous nation. Once a player has been called up for national duty there are no two ways for the Super Eagles.

To them representing one’s country is more important than the club.

For years, Nigeria has churned out quality players who ply their trade in various leagues across Europe.

And once these players are called up for national duty, there are no issues of where players’ allegiances lie.

Talk of blood being thicker than water and that paradigm is fittingly demonstrated by the west African nation’s players.

Ivory Coast is another country whose players normally don’t compromise when it comes to representing their country.

Isn’t it high time other countries’ representatives took a leaf off these two nations’ lead and take a united stand?

That said the custodians of African football; Caf can unlock this unpleasant scenario.

There is no need of holding the African fiesta after every two years.

The tournament is mostly poorly attended because it is held when people have just come off the expensive festive season and are budgeting for school fees in the New Year.

This is not helped by the fact that Africa has the lowest global gross domestic product (GDP).

The result is that most games, if they are not open to free entry, will have a few hundred supporters.

Organisers of the 2013 Afcon have promised to sell 500 000 tickets by the time the tournament kicks off on January 19 but as things stand, less than 40 000 tickets have been sold.

Maybe there might be a last minute rush but indicators are, the projected figures will fall far too short.

Time Caf head honchos took a look at their leadership. - Tinotenda Panashe

*Tinotenda Panashe is our South Africa-based columnist. He can be contacted by e-mail at Tinotenda.Panashe@gmail.com


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