Afcon 2017 qualifiers
Perennial powerhouses like Nigeria, Egypt and Cameroon have struggled to make it to the AFCON finals in recent years and I was interested in seeing why that happened by paying a closer look at the current qualifiers for Gabon 2017.
Was it because the divide between the big boys and so called lightweights has lessened? there are no easy games in Africa, more so in the past five years or so where anybody, and I mean anybody can beat anybody.
The poor state of playing surfaces, the hostile treatment afforded to visiting teams and to their credit, the improvement of the minnows makes travelling away a tricky affair. A decade ago your Nigeria would go to Chad and be assured of a routine win- not so anymore. My concern however is that generally, while the teams as a unit or a whole have improved, the African player post 2000, on his own and as a single unit, has not improved much from his counterpart pre millennium.
In fact, one could argue that there is a dearth of truly world class African player. Abedi Pele, Raba Madjer, George Weah, Samuel Etoo and Didier Drogba and others. We do not make those anymore. The new- age African superstar plies his trade at Levante, Rayo Vallecano, Genoa. With all respect to these clubs, one would rather have their top players playing for sides at the top end of their respective leagues.
In my view Africa is desperately crying out for a new wave of genuine superstars to carry the continent forward and at the moment no one has stepped up forward to stake the claim to being the real thing. That is not to say there is a shortage of pretenders to the throne. Burkina Faso and Chelseas Bertrand Traore is a genuine talent but one wonders whether he has it in him to propel his promising career onto the next level.
Riyahd Mahrez has been a revelation at Leicester City and his career choice, whether to stay or leave his current club, may determine how far he goes. Ghanas Christian Atsu has for me been the one player that looked like the real deal but having failed to make the grade at Chelsea and new boys Bournemouth, time could be running out for him. Take a look at the top clubs around the world; Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. There used to be a Geremi, Samuel Etoo, Seydou Keita and Samuel Kuffour at those clubs.
I am writing this piece while watching Nigeria at home to Egypt. The state of the pitch is not impressive. The grass is long and a bit heavy. On such a bumpy pitch, like many others in Africa, the ball moves slower and the game is played at a much slower pace. The advantage is thus to the smaller teams whose technique is less refined.
However, players are more likely to incur injuries on poor pitches because the boots stick on the grass and the pitches are hard. On Thursday I watched Ghana and Mozambique. The state of the pitch at the Accra stadium was in my view not the most impressive. Ghana are a big name in world football, they should play in near perfect pitches befitting their stature. So should all other national teams. But in Africa we seem to have African standards- lower standards about our playing surfaces. Good football is played on good surfaces and not in trenches.
It is high time CAF imposes far more rigorous standards for playing surfaces. To do so they must, with some help from FIFA, bankroll a project similar to Sepp Blatters Goal project because Africa needs good playing surfaces.