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African Misery

Kennedy Gondwe/Twenty Ten

Location: Johannesburg, South Africa

An analysis of Africa's soccer failures.

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Nigerian legend Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha thinks Africa’s misery at the World Cup is because of bad administration and players’ lack of passion.

After having played two matches, all African teams are left with a single game won by Ghana. The continent’s six representatives have scored a total six goals, drawing four and losing the rest. Regular campaigners, Cameroon, are already out of the tournament and South Africa followed them on Wednesday. Ghana, Nigeria, Algeria and Ivory Coast are relying on mathematical chances to make it to the next round.

Such results have left Okocha, who has played at the World Cup three times, and won the African Nations Cup once, searching for answers: “We all had high hopes when coming into this tournament because we thought it was an African World Cup. But to be honest, that hasn’t been the story,” admits the ex-Fenerbahçe, PSG, Bolton Wanderers and Hull City star: “The players have failed to understand that they need to go that extra mile to be able to get results. They are not looking for solutions on how to win games in this level of competition; they are just waiting for things to happen. But you don’t wait for things to happen, you have to go and make things happen and for me this is where they have failed.”

Africa has participated in the tournament since 1974; a year that many would love to forget because the DRC, then called Zaire, acquired a yet-to-be-broken record of conceding 14 goals without scoring one. Sixteen years later, Cameroon became the first African country to reach the quarter-finals and Africans’ hopes were high again. However, it took another 12 years for Senegal to repeat the feat.

In the in-between years, the usual African problems of players rumbling over allowances, indiscipline of both officials and players and half-baked performances of African stars have characterised the World Cup: “The solution is to go back to the drawing board because it seems this World Cup is over for most African teams. We need to invest in youths and start planning because in Africa we don’t plan enough. We always seem to wait for an event. We have positioned ourselves as event managers instead of planning for the future,” says Okocha. “Africa must go back to the drawing board.”

The continent has been there several times, maybe drawing boards have even run out. Africa does not seem to learn from its mistakes.

“I disagree with you on that one [Africa does not seem to learn], because apart from the early stages, Cameroon upped the game by going to the quarter-final. With that, they set the standards for other African teams,” he says. “Senegal did it and we also managed to get to the second round. Where we (Africa) failed is to build on our successes. As a continent, we started growing and our players started getting better tactical wise by going to play in Europe. The reason we fail is at the end of the day we still leave amateurs to run our football. It’s like after going to Europe to improve yourself as players, you still come back to that old mentality, that old way of playing and sometimes as players, you get caught in the middle.”

The 37-year-old, who has retired from playing, believes that Africa has not built on Senegal and Cameroon’s successes due to bad administration. He calls for a change in mentality of African administrators: “These administrators don’t know that much and because they don’t want to accept that fact, they try to bring down players to their level,” he says. “And if a player doesn’t want to come to their level, it’s like you’re losing your culture, you’re losing your respect. That’s where we have failed as Africans. As we, the players, are going out to Europe to improve our careers, I think the officials should be given the opportunity to go abroad and update themselves, but we haven’t done that. We have not invested in our local coaches and for me, that’s where we have failed.”

Jay Jay concluded by saying his disappointment was exacerbated by the cluster of African stars, like Didier Drogba, who fail to replicate their club top form when donning national colours: “I don’t need to cover up for those players because they haven’t performed. They have under achieved and for me it’s all about character,” Okocha says. “I don’t think our players have shown enough passion for the game; enough character in the manner they want to play for the continent. That’s where the difference is. I haven’t seen them play the way they play for their clubs.”

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