How Kenya Builds The Fastest Humans On Earth
July 31, 2012 | 0 Comments
By John Burnett*
The long- and middle-distance runners to watch during the London Olympics are from Kenya, a country with a rich tradition of producing elite track athletes. The country won 14 medals four years ago in the Beijing Olympics.
Many of the world’s best marathoners have come from a highland region above the Great Rift Valley. There, the famed town of Iten produces some of the fastest humans on Earth.
‘I Want To Be Rich’
Down the main road, past vendors of mangoes and charcoal, past the Zam Zam Hotel and Mama Mercy Salon and under the arch that reads, “Iten, Home of Champions,” there’s an unmarked road the color of rust.
If you turn on it and continue past fields of corn and passion fruit, you’ll see them: young men and women with zero body fat in black Lycra shorts and bright running shoes warming up for the morning run.
One of them, a woman in a pink Nike top, gives her name as Charity. What’s her goal?
“I want to be rich,” she says. “Yeah, I want to be rich.”
At 9 a.m. sharp, they’re off, 400 legs pumping uphill in loping, relaxed, efficient strides.
These are some of the 500 to 1,500 runners at any given time who come to Iten from around the world to train and be discovered.
Farmer Robert Toraitizh stands in front of his gate and watches the runners admiringly.
“We are proud of them running like this,” Toraitizh says. “Sometimes we see them live on TV, and then, after all, we see them running live … here.”
Far behind the rest of the pack, a lone white runner passes, huffing and puffing. Toraitizh smiles ear to ear.
“Yes, you see a small country like that one beating the huge America, even not America but other countries, rich countries,” he says.
Training The Next Champions
Kenyans are immensely proud of their athletes — and for good reason.
On these dirt roads pass some of the world’s fastest long-distance runners, like David Rudisha, the world record holder in the 800-meter; Mary Keitany, the world record holder in the women’s half-marathon; and Wilson Kipsang, the second-fastest marathoner of all time.
Wearing a gold-trimmed hoodie, Kipsang lounges on a sofa in the dining room of a hotel that overlooks the Great Rift Valley, which appears as a misty chasm in the green earth.
Kipsang is a local favorite here in Iten because he lets aspiring young runners train with him. The slight, soft-spoken Kipsang is captain of Kenya’s Olympic marathon team, which is scheduled to compete on the last day of the games.
Kipsang echoes Charity: He wants to make money. The runners want to live a comfortable life, buy some land, build a house, support their extended family, maybe even invest.
Most of Kenya’s runners grow up dirt-poor. They see prize-winning runners buying farms, hotels and matatus, the omnipresent Kenyan jitneys. For these young men and women, running is the only means to escape poverty, Kipsang says.
“Provided you really focus and train very well,” he adds.
Altitude is another reason why Iten produces such extraordinary athletes. They train at 8,000 feet above sea level. The idea is to strengthen circulation by creating more red blood cells to carry more oxygen to muscles.
“This valley is 6 miles down. They run up these hills every single day,” says Peter McHugh, director of Run-Fast, a British sports management company with a training camp in Iten.
Admittedly old-school, McHugh admires the elegant simplicity of how Kenyan runners train.
“My argument is, for instance, that if you want to build strength in your legs, you should do what the Kenyans do, which is to run up hills,” he says. “We are distracted enormously by heart rate monitors, by distance monitors, by very sophisticated gymnasiums, by taking blood tests, by measuring all sorts of things.”
Starting With The Basics
The Run-Fast facility here in Iten is not what you’d expect a training camp for aspiring elite athletes to look like.
The muddy compound is fenced with corrugated metal. Runners live in Spartan-like rooms with the names of famous marathons printed over the doorways: San Diego, Boston, Vienna and Frankfurt. Their coach is former champion Kenneth Kibett.
“For those who’ve got a chance to stay in our camp, we provide accommodation, provide food, provide training,” Kibett says.
Run-Fast gives team members a bed, daily training, shoes and clothes, and simple, healthy food. Forget sports drinks and nutrition bars. Here they eat corn, beans, kale and an occasional steak.
It’s pretty basic, but this is what every hungry, young Kenyan runner wants: sponsorship and a manager. Few are accepted at Run-Fast. The men must have a marathon time of at least 2 hours, 10 minutes.
A good example of a Kenya success story is Kibett’s wife, Hellen Kimutai.
“I grow up in here a place called Simara,” she says. The village is not far from Iten.
Kimutai is 35 years old with a broad forehead and braided hair. In March, she won the Rome City Marathon and the prize of 40,000 euros. The annual per capita income in Kenya is less than $2,000 a year.
Growing up in a one-room hut, she began her athletic career running back and forth to school — 6 kilometers, barefoot — when she was 15.
That was before she ever thought about running as a vocation. She ran because she had to. Eventually, she ran because she loved to.
Ethiopia vs. Kenya in London
July 31, 2012 | 0 Comments
By Martin Keino*
When the world’s best long-distance runners take to the track and road at the London Olympics this month, the fierce competition and one of the most intense rivalries in athletics between Kenya and Ethiopia will take centre stage. Ethiopian runners have dominated the 5,000m and 10,000m events on the track for many years. Kenya has won these races at the Olympics only once. Ahead of London, the tables seem to have turned, with Kenyan athletes now favourites.
The history of the rivalry dates back to 1968, when Kenya emerged to win three of its firstever gold medals at the Mexico City Olympics, challenging Ethiopia as the regional athletics powerhouse of the era and triggering its domination of the middle-distance races since then. The two East African neighbours live and train in similar high-altitude areas of the Rift Valley that cuts across their borders. Their athletes have similar physical builds, and the countries share a determination to change their socio-economic conditions that brings them to the start and finish lines almost on an even keel. What makes these runners the best in the business is the healthy competition among them, a good rapport they share with each other and, most importantly, fierce national pride. The London Olympics will usher in a new level to the rivalry. After successful 2008 Beijing games for both countries, they are looking to protect and increase their medal tallies by sharpening up in events that they had missed out on. Kenya wants to reverse the paucity of gold medals in the 10,000m, and in June controversially held some of the trials for its Olympic team in Eugene, Oregon, in a climate closer to London’s.
Having had little success in middle-distance before this year, the Ethiopians have come out guns blazing in recent Diamond League races with new athletes upstaging their more renowned neighbours, effectively changing the form-chart for the Olympics. The fierce head to-head battle for long-distance supremacy between Kenyan Vivian Cheruiyot and Ethiopian Meseret Defar will resume in London, along with Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele against Kenya’s top men in the 10,000m.
After winning every major citymen’s marathon in 2011, breaking every course record, as well as claiming World Championship gold, the top 20 places on the world ranking lists and the world record, Kenya looks set to defend its marathon title from Beijing. It won’t be as easy as it sounds, however. So far in 2012, Ethiopia has proved it can match the Kenyans’ performance, winning most of the major marathons and breaking just as many course records as Kenyans did last year. The stakes have been raised, and this fantastic rivalry between the two neighbours will provide many of the highlights of the London Olympics.
*Source www.theafricareport.com.Martin Keino a former Kenyan pace-setter, is a sports marketer.
Adebayor: A Higher Life, On A Soft Heart
July 24, 2012 | 0 Comments
By Obed Boafo*
Two years ago, on a tragic weekend in Cabinda, northern Angola, Togolese striker Emmanuel Sheyi Adebayor, together with other members of their national football team suffered an attack from unknown assailants on their way to the Angolan capital, Luanda.
The team was among 15 others who were to compete for honours at the 27th edition of the African Cup of Nations. The attack claimed the life of one member of the team and left several others injured and traumatized. The team had to exit the tournament and headed for the Togolese capital, Lome, to mourn their departed colleague.
In what saw an unpleasant back and forth disagreement between Togolese football officials and the governing body CAF on how genuine Togo’s exit had to be taken, the team made all the headlines for very repugnant reasons.
One person, who stood out in the whole controversy, and refusing to budge to CAF’s dictates was captain of the team Emmanuel Sheyi Adebayor. The 28 year old, then playing professional football for English Premiership side Manchester City, won for the team a lot of sympathy as he went on a free for all bashing of the governing body.
At a point, he described CAF as “an inhuman institution made up of self seeking individuals”. Those sentiments of his, was that of many on the continent who felt CAF was being overly naïve about the depth of grief the team, and as a matter of fact the whole continent was going through.
It’s been several months after that incident happened and the Togolese national team has since moved on. Although memories of Cabinda are still fresh in their minds, they’ve found a good reason to shake off the sad incident. The team is currently engaged in qualifiers for the 28th edition of the competition.
But for Adebayor, memories of the sad incident and the seemingly “unstable” and sometimes messy and unpredictable terrain in Togo have kept him away. Neighbouring Ghana, which lies on the West of Togo, has been the beneficiary of this football star.
In the plush and Ghana’s foremost up-market residential Trassaco Valley in Accra, sits a stunning edifice owned by the lanky football star. Trassaco Valley houses only the rich and affluent in the Ghanaian society and is also home to some of Ghana’s top A-List football celebrities. Recently, pictures of Adebayor’s long fleet of cars, and a huge residential property which he owns in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, has generated a lot of interest.
“I love Ghana. I feel very much at ease when I am here. That is not to say I don’t love my home country Togo. There is time for everything. At the moment, this is where I have decided to stay. We are all one people so it doesn’t really matter where you stay. It is the impact you can make on the people around you that matters.
“Ghana happens to be that one place where I connect with” he told me in a recent interview for the Africawatch Magazine.
“I have done a lot in Togo and this is known to all. Together with other friends of mine, I have helped communities such as Kpalime, Sokode and Aneho, with educational infrastructure for the youth and also provided the needed medical supplies to the community dispensary. So something, and a lot, is being done”.
Adebayor’s explanation of how dear Ghana is to his heart is traced to his early years as a young adult. Stories are told of how he spent part of his formative years in Ghana before finding enough reason to pledge allegiance to Togo.
These days, he’s been making the headlines for all the right reasons. In recent times, and coming before the launch of his Sheyi Emmanuel Adebayor Foundation (SEA), the lanky footballer has spent most of his vacatiosn doing charity work. He’s commissioned borehole projects in the Togolese twin town of Hamile and Koro in Lambussie-Karni district in the Upper West Region, in the northern part of Ghana.
At a grand durbar of chiefs in Hamile in Wa, the Togolese star said: “I just couldn’t believe it when I heard that the people here have to travel long distances just to get water. I have been in similar situation and I know how it feels like so it fills me with joy to see that I am able to bring some relief to these people. I am glad that from henceforth, you will no longer have to trek for long hours in search of water. We believed from the beginning that it can be done and today, we have done that”.
He was also part of another charity event where he joined other Africa and World football stars including Chelsea star Ashley Cole, to play a peace match in Accra organized by Ghana midfielder Michael Essien.
However, it’s not all about charity, long and solemn speeches and travelling distances and hours to touch the hearts of the destitute and poor in the African society. Once a while and when on vacation in Ghana, he makes the most of his time by throwing parties for some of Ghana and Togo’s A-List celebrities and football colleagues. So pomp are these parties that almost everybody in the “who is who” list in Ghana find their way there.
For many of Africa’s youth, personalities like Adebayor provide a lot of inspiration and hope for a bright and promising future that can only get better with time. He is surely a template and perfect case study that will continue to be of use to a continent that owes its young people so much.
Kenya’s investment in women pays off
July 21, 2012 | 0 Comments
By Drazen Jorgic | Reuters*
ITEN, Kenya (Reuters) – It has taken Kenya nearly five decades to gain the upper hand over its neighbour and greatest athletics rival Ethiopia, but the winning formula was staring Kenyan track officials in the face all along.
The London Games will be the next battleground between the two giants of middle and long-distance running, who have tussled for east African track dominance since the 1960s.
Kenya finally toppled Ethiopia from its perch in the medals table by going against the grain to focus on female athletes in a male-dominated track team.
It was only then that the number of gold, silver and bronze medals around Kenyan necks went through the roof.
“Kenya was shooting itself in the foot initially by not including women,” said Paul Ereng, Kenya’s 800m Olympic gold medal winner at the 1988 Seoul Games.
Ereng, a cross-country head coach at the University of Texas, said Kenya would often select three male athletes to compete for an Olympic event but only take one woman.
“Our societies are male dominated. It is said women belong to the house and all that but I think we are disturbing those ideals,” Yobes Ondieki, Kenya’s 1991 world champion over 5,000m, told Reuters in Eldoret, a town in western Kenya’s Rift Valley.
“We are giving women a chance and women are proving themselves,” Ondieki said, looking at his old friend Ereng, who nodded. “You can say it’s like an Arab Spring for women.”
After Ethiopia narrowly pipped Kenya in the medals table at the 2004 Athens Games, Kenyan athletics officials realised the majority of Ethiopian medals at Athens were won by women and decided to bring women’s athletics to the high level of men.
“We got more sponsorships (for women), we trained more coaches to focus on the women…,” said Peter Angwenyi, a spokesman for Athletics Kenya.
The new strategy started to pay off when 18-year-old Pamela Jelimo won the 800 metres at the 2008 Beijing Games to become the first Kenyan woman to win an Olympic gold medal.
But Jelimo wants even more financial investment in women, insisting: “We still have a long way to go.”
ETHIOPIA IN DISARRAY
Ethiopia heads to London hoping to improve on the Beijing Games, where Kenya won twice as many medals, eager to prove its athletics factory can still produce great champions.
But its preparations appear to have run into trouble.
Ethiopia experimented with a more conventional training approach after the Beijing Games, allowing athletes to report to camps only ahead of major competitions, but went back to stricter methods after the country’s runners flopped in two subsequent world championships.
Daegu 2011 represented a steep downfall for Ethiopia, a country used to outpacing its rivals in the 5,000m, 10,000m and marathon — it only won a single gold medal and four bronze.
Kenya, on the other hand, scooped seven gold, six silver and four bronze medals.
“What happened in Berlin (in 2009) and Daegu is a reflection of that (conventional training approach),” said Yilma.
“I’m not saying they don’t train at all in those circumstances, but the concentration levels and commitment won’t be the same if they are based on their own.”
At Addis Ababa’s stadium, Ethiopia’s elite athletes scamper in groups in a return to the old Soviet-era boot camps that thrust Ethiopia’s long distance runners to the sport’s pinnacle.
It’s eight months since the Ethiopian Athletics Federation summoned 200 athletes ahead of the world indoor championships in March and the London Olympics in July and August.
“We keep a close eye on our athletes because we want to monitor their forms at close range and to avoid a situation where they would return back burnt out from over-competing,” said national team coach Yilma Berta.
IN SEARCH OF THE MAGIC FORMULA
In contrast, Kenya favours the open-house philosophy and a desire to keep athletes training near their rural homes.
As the dawn sunrise peers over acacia trees and lush green hills in western Kenya’s Rift Valley, it is the sight of slim torsos that catches the eye in Iten, a small Kenyan town some 2,400m above sea level.
The ranks of runners jogging through the maze of trails around Iten’s gentle hills is swelled every year by foreign athletes who visit the ‘Runner’s Mecca’ in hope that the magic formula will rub off on them.
Pieter Langerhorst, Dutch national athletics coach who co-owns the High-Altitude Training Centre in Iten, says athletes from dozens of countries have trained in his camp over the past year, including the likes of Mo Farah and Paula Radcliffe.
“A lot of top Ethiopians are also training here in our place,” Langerhorst explained, pointing out that Kenyans do not go to the main training camp in Ethiopia. “You can’t compare what they have (in Addis) to here.”
But one of the biggest concerns for Ethiopia, according to local commentators, is the lack of talent coming through the ranks to replace the likes of the great Haile Gebrselassie, while Kenya is reporting one of its greatest crops ever.
“Kenya had an absolute and huge reservoir of athletes training so it was only a matter of time before the Kenyans would wear (the Ethiopians) down,” said Brother Colm O’Connell, an Irish missionary who has trained 25 Kenyan world champions and four Olympic gold medal winners in the last 36 years.
“The same as Jamaicans in sprinting — it’s only a matter of time before the cream comes to the top.”
(Additional reporting by Aaron Maasho; Editing by James Macharia)
*Culled from Reuters
Good hair, inspirational women and popular revolt in Sudan
July 14, 2012 | 0 Comments
What do the staggering billions of dollars spent on hair by black women say about them? Perhaps they should listen to some inspirational women. Meanwhile, another Nigerian wins the Caine Prize – but there are questions.
DEFINITION OF “GOOD HAIR” – RELAXED AND LOOKS NICE
Last weekend I watched the documentary “Good Hair” by black American comedian Chris Rock. He decided to make the film after his five-year-old daughter asked him: “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?” The film examines the staggering $9 billion black hair industry, including a frightening expose of the chemicals used for hair relaxing. Watching a can of soda disappear after it is left to soak in sodium hydroxide, the main ingredient of relaxers, is a frightening experience but clearly not enough to put millions of black women off straightening their hair or prevent them from doing the same to their daughters some as young as three years old. [http://bit.ly/PhAqB ]. Rock asks one woman her definition of “good hair” to which she replies “relaxed and looks nice”!
In an article “African Women and Hair Care”, Ghanian Emprezz points out that mineral based products like petroleum and mineral oil which are used daily by a majority of women prevent hair from growth. But far worse is the recycling of hair relaxers…[http://bit.ly/MiZuDp]
“With the economic status of most women on the continent, it seems prudent to be frugal with expenditure. This attitude is extended to caring for hair where most women will prefer to buy clothes rather than spend on hair products. In the end, they tend to find avenues for recycling what they have and this includes reusing already used relaxers. The relaxer works is still effective with the second application. Eventually, there is no need to buy new relaxers when one can easily use what has been used before. This economic wisdom may take a while to dispel.”
But is what we do with our hair a measure of our consciousness or courage – how important is it really? Kenyan singer Kaz Lucas’s new series on “Kenyan Woman” speaks to this. In the first episode, Lorna Irungu Macharia discusses the challenges of being ill with lupus as a teenager and a young woman. She speaks of her three support networks – her family, friends and doctors and the fact that there are thousands of others in need of a kidney transplant but whose families are maybe too afraid to donate a kidney. My sister-in-law had kidney failure and two transplants so I do have an idea of the pain and tiredness, in and out of hospital, hours on dialysis, waiting and hoping for a transplant. For Lorna one of the biggest hurdles was to live in the context of a future. In an inspirational and courageous five minutes talk Lorna provides this advice to women and to everyone for that matter:
“Whatever situation you are in right now, is the one you need to be in. It’s teaching you something. There are no accidents, there are no coincidences. One of our biggest problems is that we have been told the way in which life needs to be. If you are not obtaining particular milestones at a particular time, you’re failing or you are not there. I honestly believe every single situation you are in… Every single thing you are going through now is a lesson. And so the mantra that I stand by is God asks one request of his children. Do the best with what you have Now!”
There is a trend within African literary circles to marginalise those writers who live and work in the African disapora as if this is not also an ‘African” experience. One that is not ‘authentic’ enough as if one’s birth or childhood can speak to something as abstract as ‘authentic’ let alone an identity such as “African” or “Nigerian”. Olumide Popoola is a Nigerian/German writer and performance poet who lives in the diasporic space; so it was with great pleasure that I read an interview with her on the Nigerian queer blog SOGI. [http://bit.ly/MZKL67]
“How does your identity play a part in your writing?
“I think my life, not just my personal one but what I see on the perimeters of my horizon(s), is reflected in the characters I create. Themes that interest or disturb me in real life find their way into the story. What I can personally imagine possible permeates the work.
“What’s your opinion on the current state of queer issues in Nigeria, especially the pending anti-gay legislation? How can we work on improving the situation?
“Awareness. It takes a lot of brave people to stand up and say things, contest homophobic attitudes in public. Recently, a straight Nigerian man stated on Facebook that he wanted to de-friend all homophobes, as he was tired with their un-informed and ignorant views. The vendetta was endless and painful to follow. He had incredibly well scripted arguments, based on thorough research and quotes from the bible to defy the common same-sex un-African and un-Christian claims. Yet the hatred was potent. Again, in the end his own acceptance was explained on the fact that he no longer lived in Nigeria, which was an untrue claim.
“I think that a lot of organizing and lobbying is happening continent-wide and hopefully it’s a matter of time before more and more people to speak up and defy homophobic views. Networking and being supportive in the way that we can is important. Listening and following the lead of local activists and which direction they are taking in addressing the issue.”
Popoola is the author of “This is Not About Sadness” and winner of the May Ayim award for poetry in 2004.
THE CAINE PRIZE AND BLACKBERRY LOVES
The winner of this year’s Caine Prize, Rotimi Babatunde, is the fourth Nigerian to win the prize and whilst we celebrate this fact, the Caine Prize has its limitations not least because it is only awarded to English language writers. In “The case for African regionalism” Jeremy Weate of Cassava Republic [http://bit.ly/PQNUXI] argues for a more inclusive and decolonized mindset which goes beyond the usual few winning countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
“I believe that what is needed now are more regional prizes to nurture and reward the writing coming out of every region on its own merit. We live on a vast continent spanning geographical distances larger than Europe, the continental United States, and the Indian subcontinent combined, and sometimes I don’t think that we pay enough attention to our regional differences. …In Europe, regional differences of language, custom and culture have created markets so distinct that it is rare that French literature is judged alongside British or German literature. So why do we insist that a single prize encompass all the literature being produced by so vast a continent? …Let’s get ourselves out of the colonial mind-set that sees Africa as one monolith and begin to explore the rich individual histories and cultures that make us unique.”
I used to wonder why people write comments in text language until I realised it was because they were using their Blackberrys – the phone that reigns across the continent today. The one which brings kudos such that one of Nollywood’s most watched film is the comedy “Blackberry Babies” followed by “Babes 2, 3 , 4…” the number is endless. I have to admire Nigerian writer Tolu Ogunlesi who clearly spotted the right moment in the Blackberry craze to create the first Blackberry Twitter prize. In June he placed a call on Twitter asking for
“witty, interesting and revealing answers in not more than 140 characters to the question “Why I love my Blackberry”
And the winner is [http://bit.ly/Rdb6wj]
Q: I love my BB
A: The world is finally at my fingertips! I stand astride continents. But best of all, I love my blackberry cos I get to stalk my one true love!
Other choice reasons are…
“ love my blackberry because my friends live in it.”
“The issue is with Fruits. Apple brought us to our doom. Maybe Blackberry will end it. I have to love my BlackBerry.”
“I get so caught up in pinging n tweetin on my bb that i often get into the shower with my clothes on…” – this is why i love my BB”
SUDAN: THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES
“There’s a revolution going on in Sudan. Anybody listening” #SudanRevolts” was tweeted by Salma Elwardany a week ago – @S_Elwardany. This was after she had been deported by the Sudanese authorities; no doubt fearful of her reports. And, so it goes, the uprising in Sudan continues but still has not received the attention of the mainstream media despite hundreds of tweets by Sudanese activists. In an attempt to draw attention dallia @dalliasd tweeted
“Request to the media: STOP INTERVIEWING SADIG EL MAHDI. talk to the youth mvmts & activists they in-tune with whats gg on#sudanrevolts”
Many activists remain in detention including Boshi, Usamah Ali, a prominent citizen journalist and Girifna members Mohamed Izzelden and Rashida Shamseldin. One of the activists recently released is Maha El-Sanosi who has vividly described her time in detention. [http://bit.ly/MWNs6P]
“In my dream, I was inside a tunnel. The tunnel was jammed with cars, and I was in one of them. I was alone in the taxi, and the driver was frustrated with the heavy traffic. The tunnel seemed endless, and I asked the driver to roll down the windows because I could slowly feel myself running out of breath. My claustrophobia started to kick in, and the long queue of cars both ahead and behind me gave me a strong sense of uneasiness. The windows were now open, but I couldn’t feel any air gushing in. I poked my head out of the window in an attempt to find where the tunnel ended… to figure out if freedom was near. The tunnel was a long, endless spiral. I was trapped and there was no way out. Stepping out of the car was not an option; there was no sidewalk inside the tunnel. Death was near; I began preparing myself for it.”
Readers can follow the Sudan uprisings with the hashtag #SudanRevolts.
* Sokari Ekine blogs at http://www.blacklooks.com . Article culled from PAMBAZUKA NEWS
China football fans greet Didier Drogba at Shanghai
July 14, 2012 | 0 Comments
Ivory Coast football star Didier Drogba has arrived to a hero’s welcome in China, to take up a contract to play for Shanghai Shenhua.
Hundreds of fans of the struggling Chinese Super League team greeted the 34-year-old former Chelsea star at Shanghai’s Pudong airport.
Drogba’s reported $300,000 (£193,000) a week salary makes him one of the world’s highest paid footballers.
Drogba is among many foreign stars who have made recent moves to China.
He joins former Chelsea colleague Nicolas Anelka at Shanghai Shenhua.
Soon after his arrival, Drogba insisted he had not come for the money.
He said: “It would have been easier for me to stay in Europe, but I chose China. Money is not the most important [thing]. I am here for a whole new experience.”
The BBC’s John Sudworth in Shanghai says that Shenhua is a club with an ambition that far outstrips its modest earnings.
Drogba’s reputed salary is not far off the club’s total revenue from ticket sales and advertising combined, he says.
Like other big spending Chinese clubs, our correspondent says, the maths add up only because of the big spending ways of the owners and the multi-billion-dollar companies they run.
The hope is that the injection of new foreign talent will help to raise standards in China.
But some fans fear the signings are simply a vanity and publicity drive for the corporations behind the deals, our correspondent says, and that not enough is being done to develop the grassroots of the game.
Drogba has his work cut out. Shanghai Shenhua are one point off the bottom of the 16-club Chinese Super League.
He could be introduced to fans at Saturday’s fixture against Beijing Guoan and may make his debut in the Cup at Changchun next week.
Drogba scored 157 goals in 341 appearances for Chelsea and was on target to help them win the Champions League final this year.
*Culled from BBC
Real Madrid open football academy in Cameroon
July 11, 2012 | 0 Comments
|By Kingsley Kobo (Goal.com)|
A team from the Real Madrid Foundation will be remaining in Cameroon this week to round off a football academy project by providing educational and sports material for children in the country.
The seventh edition of the Madrid Rumbo al Sur project was presented on June 29 at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, announcing that the Real Madrid Foundation will donate sports and educational material for students in its Cameroon academy, which is near completion.
Officials said the main objective of the project was to educate and instill values such as cooperation for development, voluntary work and sensitivity.
More than 100 children from Madrid will travel to Cameroon to learn about over a dozen collaboration initiatives in the country, the foundation said in a statement.
Classes will open early September at the football academy, officials of Cameroon sports ministry have confirmed.
“This project’s values are the same as those of the Real Madrid Foundation, which educate children aged between six and 18. Participating in this initiative fills us with great satisfaction,” Enrique Sanchez, executive vice president of the Real Madrid Foundation said in a statement on the club’s official website.
“The children that will go to Cameroon will experience values such as compromise and solidarity, which we stand by at our foundation,” said Miguel Pardeza, Real Madrid football director.
“They will also visit the academy in the city of Yaounde, where we will try to educate children in dire straits. This is why the collaboration of these children from Madrid is so important to this project,” he added.
The Race To Brazil 2014 Gathers Steam
June 21, 2012 | 0 Comments
By Zelifac Asong
Brazil 2014 is already around the corner. That is the FIFA world football jamboree organized every four years. After Africa’s first ever participation as host, it is once again Brazil’s turn to host the prestigious tourney for the continent of South America.
Eliminatory rounds have already begun in all the regional confederations. The CAF region is not left out. The CAF region is now playing the group phase of its eliminatories, after the knock out rounds played last November.
Forty African teams are taking part at this level. These teams have been divided into ten groups, (A-J), consisting of four teams each. These forty teams are competing for five spots allocated to Africa in football world’s greatest competition. Already two playing days have gone by. The first playing day went from the first of June two thousand and twelve (6, 1, 2012) to the third of June two thousand and twelve (6, 3, 2012). The second day of play went from the ninth of June two thousand and twelve (6, 9, 2012) to the tenth of June two thousand and twelve (6, 10, 2012).
Though it is too early pick favorites, it is safe to say some teams have already made some very good results which give them an early advantage for the rest of the competition. Some players as well have also made good strides in the competition for number goals scored.
In group G, Egypt has taken a decisive advantage in its group which includes Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Guinea. The seven time African champion has positioned itself already as the team to beaten in the group. Already the pharaohs count six(6) points in two games making them the uncontested leaders in the group. Led by offensive duo, Aboutrika (2 goals), and Zidan (1 goal) they are already showing how determined they are to take part in this world cup.
Four time world cup participant, Tunisia has also taken the lead in group B. Edging out Sierra Leone which is second position with four points. The Eagles of Carthage have proven to prolific on the offensive, scoring five goals in two games .Jemaa, the lead scorer netting one for each game. The Tunisians seem set to walk over their rivals which include Equatorial Guinea and the Cape Verde Island.
Recent African champions, Zambia are placed together with Ghana, Sudan, and Lesotho. Sudan leads the group with four points. They will find worthy contenders in the black stars of Ghana, whom on the first day of qualifiers gave inexperienced Lesotho a lashing (7-0). With the same number of points (3), as the as the Ghanaians , the Chipolopolo of Zambia are equally to watched in this group. They are young and eager. Coming off great African Nations Cup, which they won, their morale should be very good for the rest of the eliminatories.
Group A is led by Ethiopia with four points. This puts them ahead of the Central African Republic. South Africa is third, and Botswana cushions the group in the fourth and last position. Certainly the fight in this group will be between South Africa and Ethiopia.
The elephants of Cote D’ivoire sit comfortably at the top of group C with four points. Led by Drogba, the Ivorians are determined to appear in their second only World cup before this generation of very talented players quit the stage. Tanzania trail them in second position. Sitting in third place with 2 points, the Atlas Lions of Morocco is mostly likely the team that will give “Les Elephants” a run for their money. Gambia is placed last.
In group E, we have the Congo (Brazzaville), Gabon, Burkina Faso and Niger. The Congolese lead the group with four points. They are followed by the Gabonese with equal number points. Burkina Faso and Niger are third and fourth place respectively with a point each.
With four points after the second day of play, the super eagles of Nigeria top group F with four points. Coming a close second are the Namibians, with three points, followed by Malawi with two points after two draws. At the bottom of the group lie the Harambee stars of Kenya, with a single point won. This might just be an interesting group to watch, as there seems not to be large difference in quality between the top three teams.
Group H is made up of Benin, Algeria, Mali and Rwanda. The squirrels of Benin top the group with four points. ‘les fennecs’ of Algeria and the Eagles of Mali occupy the second and third places respectively. The Wasps of Rwanda are seated at the fourth and last position. The battle in group H will most likely be between the Malian Eagles and desert foxes from Algeria. However, the Beninese might just spring a surprise if the others sleep on their laurels.
Group I is being led after two days of play by Libya, with four points. Coming second and third respectively are the Simba of the DR Congo, and the indomitable lions of Cameroon. At last position is Togo. Six time world cup participant and four time African champion Cameroon do not seem to have solved the internal issues that have been plaguing the team now for many years. Though observers believe that they dominated the game against Libya during the second day of play, the lions were not able to conserve a draw, as the let in a goal in the last minutes of the game. The absence of captain, and goal getter Eto’o, seems to be having a negative effect on a young Cameroonian team which might just need experience. Then again the lions are never out until they really are. The DR Congo are having issues of their own, with some European based players, among whom are star player Lomana Lua Lua, refusing to go on camp in the country. They cite issues of insecurity.
Finally there is group J, made up of Senegal, Uganda, Angola and Liberia. The Teranga lions lead the group with four points. They are followed by Uganda and Angola with two points each. Liberia comes last with a point to their credit.
Some of the players who have stood out after these two days are Mohamed Aboutrika, Isaam Jemaa, Salomon Kalou and Choupo Moting. The veteran Egyptian forward showed that at age thirty-three, he has still got what it takes. Against Guinea on the second day, he scored two of the Pharaohs’ three goals as the won to make it two victories for on two matches. If his partnership with Zidan remains what it has been in the past, then Egypt are sure to qualify for Brazil 2014.
The Tunisian Isaam Jemma is also proving to be the force in the offensive play of the Eagles of Carthage. The Brest based striker netted in one in each of Tunisia’s matches. Defenders are warned. Cote d’ivoire’s English based player Salomon kalou equally two goals. In each against Tanzania and Morocco.
In the absence of star striker, and world’s highest paid player, Samuel Eto’o, who is out on suspension until august of 2012, a new generation of indomitable lions seem to be slowly assuming the responsibilities at the helm of the team. German born Cameroonian striker is proving to be player that will lead the lions attack in the years to come. The Mainz 05 forward has already netted in two for Cameroon. The lone goal in Cameroon’s match against the DR Congo, and Cameroon’s only goal as they lost two goals to one against the Libyan national squad.
It must be emphasized that these are the second round of qualifiers for the African region. The first round was played in November 2011. It pitted the 24 lowest ranked African teams playing knock out matches in a home and away format. The twelve teams which qualified joined the other 28 teams in the second round which will be played from the month of June 2012 to the month of September 2013.
At the end of second round, the first team in each group will qualify for the third round. This will round from the month of October to the month of November 2013. The first ten teams will play a 5 legged knock out round and the five winners will represent the African continent at the Mondiale in Brazil.
The next day of play for these ongoing qualifiers will be on the 22nd of march 2013.
Beyond The Pitch: Insight Into The Lives of Former African Football Stars
May 12, 2012 | 0 Comments
By Zelifac Asong
Remember the world cup in 1974 and that record 9-0 bashing of the Zaire now Democratic Republic of Congo from the then Republic of Yugoslavia or the time when African countries were rated the under dogs at major international tournaments? Remember the time when there was no African name listed amongst the global stars of the game of football or when only a handful of professional players were able to ply their trade as professionals in the hugely mediatised and competitive European scene? Well football has taking the lead in the transformation of Africa. Africa is yet to win the world cup but African countries are today dreaded and Africans rank amongst the best talents in the world today. Hard to know of any soccer adept in the world today who does not know the Cameroonian Samuel Eto’o Fils or the Ivorian Didier Drogba. These two and many others from Africa competing with the best around the world today owe their fame in part to the exploits of their illustrious elders like Roger Milla,Thomas Nkono and Francois Omam Biyick of Cameroon, Stephen Keshi of Nigeria, Kalusha Bwalya of Zambia, Abedi Pele of Ghana, George Weah of Liberia and many others. So what became of these glorious pace setters once off the pitch? The article takes a look at some of the activities of the old stars.
Talk about African football stars and one of the first names that comes to mind will be Roger Milla of Cameroon. The old lion mesmerized the world not only with his goals but with the dazzling dance in celebration at the 1990 world cup in Italy. Called from retirement, Roger Milla ended the tournament with four goals which saw an African side reach the quarter finals for the first time. He starred in a coca cola advertisement for the 2010 world cup as the originator or dancing when celebrating a goal. Roger Milla is today a Roving Ambassador in Cameroon appointed by President Paul Biya.He is an honorary member of the International Football Federation FIFA Executive body. He is also honorary President of the Cameroon football Federation and runs an NGO which helps to cater for the interest of retired footballers in Cameroon. Where there is near unanimity on his talents on the pitch, the same does not hold true for his off the pitch contribution trailed with layers of controversy. Not the most eloquent of speakers, he is constantly at logger heads with the football authorities in Cameroon. He has been vocal, sometimes too vocal of the management of football in the country and has been a thorn in the flesh of foreign coaches from Pierre Lechantre, to Winfried Schaffer, Otto Pfister and Denis Lavagne.
At the Seoul Olympic games of 1996, Zambia walloped Italy 4-1. It was a first of its kind victory especially in terms of goal margin for an African side over a European country. The main architect of this victory was Kalusha Bwalya. Lucky to escape the plane crash that decimated the Zambian National Team in 1994, Kalusha Bwalya is today the President of the Zambian Football Federation. After making Zambia a respectable football nation on the continent as a player, Bwalya continues to lead with brio as under his tenure as President of the football Federation, Zambia today boasts of its first continental title. It was an emotional sight when Zambia lifted the African Nations cup this year co-hosted by Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. With the finals played in Libreville Gabon, the victory was a befitting tribute to Bwalya’s team mates who died in the 1994 plane crash, coincidentally over the coast of Gabon. Bwalya is also a standing Committee member of the Confederation of African Football as well as the world governing body FIFA.
Big boss Stephen Keshi was a dreaded defender in his days as a player. The former Super Eagles of Nigeria Defender plied his trade amongst others with Belgian and European giants Anderlecht. As a coach, he earned further acumen when he qualified little fancied Togo for the 2006 world cup. The exploit however had a bitter ending as the Togolese fired him and brought in the German Otto Pfister to take the country to the world cup. The outing was a fiasco but many believed that with Keshi still at the helm, the Togolese will have had a better tournament. Keshi went on to coach Mali and qualified them for the 2000 Nations cup. He is today the coach of the Super Eagles of Nigeria where he is quietly working on a revolution with local talents getting the kind of chance that has been systematically denied them under previous coaches who relied solely on foreign based players.
Abedi Pele the emblematic Ghanaian footballer who was the first African to win the champions league trophy in Europe with French elite side Marseille today runs his own foot ball club. The club called Nania .F.C is designed with future hopes of nurturing the young talent to augment the fledging league of the country. Not long ago it was embroiled in a promotion play off –bribery scandal for which he was found guilty by the football association of Ghana. The allegations stemmed from a 31-0 victory of Nania Fc over Okwawu United. The guilty verdict attracted fines and suspensions for Abedi and others but were quashed by the Appeals Committee following irregularities in the initial judgements. The scandal aside, Ayew commands great respect across Africa for a career emulated by many. Africans were full of pride to see him shine in the Marseille side of Papin, Chris Waddle, Mozer, Boli; etc which was the best in Europe in the early 90s.In appreciation of his devout services to the country, the Ghanaian government awarded him the country’s highest honour the Order of the Volta. The first Ghanaian sportsman to be so honoured.
Nominated in 2001 to serve as Chairman of the football association .He later on passed on the opportunity to a more experienced person so as to gain some more experience he says. He is a member of FIFA’s football committee and of the players status committees of FIFA and CAF. The South African football Association had him as a spokesperson during its bid to host the 2006 world cup.
George Weah remains the first and only African till date to be named as FIFA World Footballer of the year in 1995.At the pinnacle of his career, King George starring for French side Paris St Germain was one of the most feared attackers on the planet. Weah who later starred for Italian giants Milan AC was a tremendous source of succor for his compatriots caught in the viciousness of a civil war. He ran unsuccessfully for Presidential elections in 2005 and lost to Ellen Johnson in the second round. Perhaps buoyed by the critique from some that he was not sufficiently educated, Weah went back to school and earned college degrees in the USA. In the 2011 elections, he ran for Vice President on Winston Tubman’s ticket. Watch out for Mr. George when he makes a third run when Ellen Johnson ends her last term in the next couple of years.
He just might be the first former footballer to become a Spresident. Weah has been known to be heavily involved in humanitarian courses and is UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.
In 1992, Ivory Coast won the Nations cup hosted by Senegal. At the time, the country was a strong and prosperous country free from the ethnic cleavages and sinister politics that later plunge it into civil war. The man who had the honour of lifting the trophy for the Ivoirians was Gadji Celi Alain. Today a household name in music, many forget that before music, Gadji was a soccer star. His compatriot Francois Zahoui is today the coach of the Ivory Coast National Team. At the recent Gabon/Equatorial Guinea 2012 Nations Cup, the Zahoui led Ivorian National Team emerged runners up in what was considered a very disappointing outing .
Arguably the greatest goalkeeper Africa has ever produced; Thomas Nkono remains a reference for many in the continent and beyond. Juventus and Italian National Team Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, also a goalkeeper, declared he decided to play in that position after seeing Nkono’s performances at the 1990 World Cup. In addition, he named his son Thomas in the Cameroonian’s honour. Nkono has had stints serving as Goalkeeper Trainer for the Cameroon National Team and was at some point Assistant Coach.
He continues to be associated with Espanyol Barcelone of Spain, a side where he spent the bulk of his professional playing career.
Many other stars who graced the game in Africa have served or still serve as coaches, Christian Chukwu, Austin Eguavon, and Daniel Amokachi of Nigeria. François Oman Biyick of Cameroon whose header brought the Argentina of the legendary Diego Maradona back to planet earth at the opening game of the 1990 world cup was until last year the Assistant coach of Cameroon. The stint did not go so well as for the first time in recent memory, the Lions failed to make it to the Nations Cup.
It was not always easy for the African stars of yesteryears .Serious challenges were faced from racial barriers, to cultural differences and the general believe that African footballers could not be as good as the Europeans or South Americans for instance. These factors ultimately impacted on wages earned. Today, Eto’0 Fils is the highest paid footballer in the world. It is heartwarming as well to see that the same zeal with which some of them defended the colours of the continent is been emulated by their sons. Andre Ayew the son of Abedi Pele was instrumental in Ghana’s Quarter Final run at the 2010 world cup in South Africa. At the 2012 Nations Cup, he and his brother Jordan were part of the Ghana National team that made it to the last four. In a rare twist of history, both Andre and Jordan play for French side Marseille, the club which their father excelled in the 90s. In Gabon, Pierre Aubame Yaya has about three sons who have earned calls to the National Team. One of them Aubameyang was a major revelation at the recent Nations cup.
These monuments still have so much to contribute to the game and do not only need to be revered but also given the opportunities to be of share their knowledge and experience. Most of the top clubs in Europe are coached or managed by those who made the game what it is .From Platini who heads the Federation to Rummenige heading Bayern ,Blanc coaching France, Guardiola until recently serving as Coach of Bayern etc, . Without necessarily copying everything wholesale, even off the pitch African stars must be given the opportunity to continue to be of service to the continent. How about Kalusha Bwalya running CAF someday, how about Bell Joseph Antoine serving as Coach of Cameroon? Lucas Radebe serving as a club President in South Africa? If Africa is a power house in the world today, it is thanks to them and perhaps at the local level, their expertise will only help lift the continent to even greater heights.
Hard to wrap this piece without a word on the passing of two monuments within a week, Rashidi Yekini of Nigeria and Jules Francois Bocande of Senegal.
Both were players of the same generation and were amongst the best in their days with incredible goal scoring prowess.
At the 1994 world cup in USA, Yekini became the first player to score a goal for Nigeria at that level. There may be gone but the glorious contributions towards the international image of African football would remain a lasting legacy.
.Marrackechgate & The Downward Spiral Of Cameroon Football
February 21, 2012 | 0 Comments
By Zelifac Asong*
Once upon a time football was the pride of Cameroon. It brought solace to the people, the exploits of its clubs in the continent were legion, and the glory brought by its national team was aplenty. The name Indomitable Lions was amply justified and opponents dreaded prospects of playing with Cameroon .Every football loving Cameroonian will honestly admit a love affair with the indomitable lions, the Cameroonian senior national football squad. My love affair with the lions started in 1981, during the African eliminatory rounds of the 1982 world to be held in Spain. It was the first time I remember being aware of our national team, and of the pride and joy the team brought me and many other Cameroonians who love the game of football. Mine began with the qualifying match against morocco.
Like in most, if not, every love relationship, there have been ups and downs. There have been times when the lions have rewarded my loyalty with sweet victories and impressive results. I will never forget Mbida Arantes holding the 1984 African cup of nations high above his head as the lions paraded the streets of Yaoundé on a one sunny March afternoon. Who could forget the repeat of the performance in 1988, together with the memorable semis against Morocco? The long and hard shot from Makanaky? We all still talk about the stellar performance of the lions at mondiale 1990, especially Omam Biyik’s miraculous header against no other than Maradona’s Argentina. Who does not remember the pride he or she felt when the lions made Africa proud by winning the Sydney Olympics in Australia. The Indomitable Lions
Despite all these great moments there have equally been moments of frustration, sadness and almost certain divorce. The abysmal performance in 1996 Nations cup in South Africa, when an emerging South Africa, led by Dr. Khumalo and Mark Fish trounced the lions three goals to zero (3-0). A competition for which there were so ill-prepared that there arrived late in South Africa. Hard as well to forgot the 1994 mondiale in the USA. The coach Henri Michel was punched by Pagal for not including him in the list. There had to be a protest march in Yaoundé for Ndip Akem and Louis-Paul Mfede to be included in the list. At the competition itself, the indomitable lions were flogged six goals to one (6-1) by Russia’s Salenko. To crown it all, moneys collected for the players through so called “Coups des Coeur” got missing between Paris and New York according to then Minister of Communications Kontchou Kogmeni. During world cup organized by Korea and Japan in 2002, the same problems resurfaced. Players arrived in Asia with tired and heavy legs, and not enough time to rest before their opening match. Reason? The players had threatened to forfeit the trip if their match bonuses were not paid. As a result, one of the best teams the lions ever boasted of came out of the competition in the first round. In the South African world cup in 2010, Cameroon had its worst performance ever in its six participations at a world cup event.
The indomitable lions of Cameroon where in invited to four nations tournament in Marrakech, Morocco, from the 13th to the 15th of November 2011. The tournament was organized by South Korean based electronic giant LG Electronics. Equally invited were Sudan, Uganda, and host nation Morocco. The Lions lifted the trophy beating host country Morocco. The victory was tonic for disenchanted fans after the failure of the Lions to qualify for the African Nations Cup hosted by the neighbouring countries of Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. The celebration turned sour with when yet another storm brewing within the team over match bonuses became uncontrollable. The result was a decision by the players to refused traveling to Algeria for a scheduled friendly sparking a row which went beyond the confines of football.
The scandal was a stark portrayal of the poor shape of Cameroon football. Beyond the mere aspect of sports, there were strong indications that diplomatic relations between Cameroon and Algeria could be strained. No amount of damage control could mitigate what became a humiliating moment for Cameroon football. The Cameroon Football Federation –FECAFOOT was forced to part with circa $ 500.000 in settlement of damages to the Algerian Federation.
Meanwhile the captain of the indomitable lions, Samuel Eto’o, was summoned to appear before the arbitration committee of FECAFOOT, alongside vice captain, Eyong Enoh, on charges that they were responsible for Marrakech fiasco. Also summoned was Tottenham based defender gone rogue, Assou-Ekotto for refusing to honor call ups for the national team on various occasions. On the 17th of December 2011, sanctions were handed down to the players. These sanctions were at the same time serious and controversial. Serious because there were heavy, and controversial because there did not go to the root of the problem, but seemed instead to target a particular group of players, and could therefore destroy the unity that was slowly returning to the team after the complete breakdown of team harmony during , and after the South African world cup. Samuel Eto’o was suspended for 15 matches with the national team, vice captain Enoh was sanctioned for 2 matches, while Assou-Ekotto was handed a fine of FCA one million.
FECAFOOT came under severe criticism from virtually all quarters with disgruntled fans threatening to take to the streets of Yaoundé and Douala. There were even fears that these marches, if held, could turn into a Cameroonian Arab spring. Very vocal in their criticism, were former players of the indomitable lions. The outspoken former goalkeeper of the Lions Bell Joseph Antoine condemned the sanctions as misguided, and partial. Said Bell “this is not an Eto’o problem that is why I find the sanctions unjust. The problem does not concern him personally; therefore, there is no reason for him to be singled out.” Bell felt that as captain, Eto’o had acted in the name of the team, and ought not to be singled out for sanctions. The legendary Roger Milla no stranger to controversy himself and not a big fan of FECAFOOT felt the punishment was uncalled for. Milla threatened to march himself if it was the last thing he had to do.
Also adding his voice to chorus of criticism aimed at FECAFOOT was Kalkabar Malboum, chairman of the Cameroon Olympic committee. Mr. Malboum said of the decision “this affect the future career in the national team of one of our greatest footballers of the moment.” He went to say that even on the football pitch, referees always protected the star players. Many agreed with him. Other former star players like, Makanaky , Mayebi, Mvoumin, Massing,Libiih, all agreed that FECAFOOT was hasty in its decision to mete out punishment without due consideration for justice. There was near unanimity that the sanction did nothing to address the endemic problems of match bonuses and the cacophony which have resulted in the National Team losing its fangs.
No Prophets in Their Homeland
FECAFOOT and the Ministry of Sports which has an over bearing attitude have over the years engaged in a cat and mouse game with the result been the unenviable position that Cameroon football occupies in the world today. The most recent rankings by the world football governing body FIFA place the Lions at the 56th position. A lamentable position for a country which used to compete with the best in the world. Each time there is a crisis; there has always been a scapegoat. At the 1990 world cup in Italy, it was goalkeeper Bell Joseph Antoine who was almost excluded from the Squad by the football authorities but for the solidarity of his team mates. In 2004, it was Coach Henri Michel who bore the brunt. At the 1996 Nations Cup in South Africa, it was Coach Jules Nyonga. At the 1998 Nations Cup in Burkina Faso, it was coach Manga Ougene and Goalkeeper Jacques Songo. After the non qualification for the 2008 world cup the scape goat was Pierre Wome Nlend. In the Ghana 1998 Nations Cup, the culprit was emblematic Captain Song Bahanack. The abysmal performance of the Team at the 2010 Nations Cup was placed on the shoulders of Goalkeeper Kameni, Alex Song and Achille Emana.Today it is Marracketchgate and the blame is dumped on Eto’o.
After the 1990 world cup where the Indomitable Lions became the first African Team to reach the Quarter Finals, Bell Joseph Antoine sensationally opined that what the Lions did to make Cameroon known around the world was a feat decades of diplomacy could not achieve. He probably was very right. For a long time and even today, tell anyone around the world you are from Cameroon and the first response will be Roger Milla or Samuel Eto’0. Milla was voted best African player about twice. Manga Ougene, Thomas Nkono, and Patrick Mboma equally were voted as Africa’s best in the past. Samuel Eto’o holds the record having been voted best footballer in Africa about four times. He is today the most expensive footballer in the world after winning all that Europe has to offer as trophies with elite clubs like Barcelona of Spain and Inter Milan of Italy.
Despite their talent, the players certainly have their fair share of short comings but the management of football in Cameroon has been at best chaotic. How comes that for all its stars, glory and stature, there is no International Stadium worthy of the name? How comes that Cameroon has not been able to host the African Nations cup since 1974? Many find it that the country of origin of Issa Hayatou who heads the Confederation of African Football since 1988 is unable to host the Nations Cup. Even President Biya who has used the glory of lions for political gains does little to encourage the sport. Recently he had to keep finalist of the Cameroon challenge cup waiting for months just to set a date for which he could be present at the final. In 1990 he claimed credit for the inclusion of Roger Milla in the world cup squad. At the 1992 elections which almost flushed him out of power, the Lion was the symbol he used .In 2002, of all the dates available, he timed the Legislative and Municipal elections to coincide with the world cup in Korea and Japan. Some thought the political calculus was to cash in on the anticipated good performance of the Lions. The strategy backfired as against all odds; the Lions could not go pass the first round. Why are FECAFOOT and the Ministry of Sports always at logger heads? Money is the answer. Everyone is fighting to get a chunk off the huge revenue generated by the National Team and putting in place structures that will facilitate the emergence of talent and sustain top notch performance is secondary. FECAFOOT has cover in the autonomy that FIFA accords its member Associations. The skeletons within the closet of Cameroon football are mammoth.
Although the 15 match sanction on Eto’0 was later reduced to an eight month suspension, kicking the can down the road is a stop gap measure which will not provide lasting solutions. Cameroon has produced enough stars whose experience could be used in moving the game to the next level. From the Federation to Coaching Assignments, the former players have at best a peripheral role. A perfect example of what they could bring to the table is the goal medal obtained at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000 under Coach Jean Paul Akono. Toying with football could have political fallouts. Football has for a long time shielded the regime from its severe short comings. When the Lions, Cameroonians tend to forget that they have problems. When the National Team does not do well, it seems to dawn on many that things are not going right for the country.FECAFOOT President Iya Mohammed and his group may be stirring the hornets’ nest and better be ready for the consequences that may eventually come with that.
In the midst of the ineptitude of Football and sporting authorities, the Lions remain very popular and continue to fly high the flag of Cameroon all over the world. Some of them have football academies in Cameroon to fine tune budding talents. Bertin Ebwelle, Samuel Eto’o just to cite a few run football academies. Eto’o recently launched a telecommunications company in Cameroon. Roger Milla runs a Foundation in Cameroon through which he has sort to dignify former International Stars with activities which stop them from fading into obscurity. Marrackechgate may have been swept under the rug for now but it is safe bet to say beyond the damage it has had on the aura of Cameroon, there likelihood of the same problem or similar ones resurfacing remains pretty high.
Heroes, villains, flops, upsets aplenty as AFCON 2012 ends
February 21, 2012 | 0 Comments
By Tana Aiyejina*
The 2012 AFCON co-hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon ends today but the memories of the competition will linger on for years to come with players and teams creating a lasting impression, reports ‘TANA AIYEJINA
Yaya Toure (Cote d’Ivoire)
The current African Footballer of the Year has been inspirational in the midfield for the Elephants. The big player has combined technical ability with raw physical skills to help propel the Ivoirians to the final of the competition.
The Manchester City star is the engine room of the team holding back opposing players, winning tackles and helping the team get the ball forward with his surges up the field. He grabbed a goal in the 3-0 quarter-final defeat of co-hosts Equatorial Guinea; a ferocious free kick to crown his displays.
Seydou Keita (Mali)
Keita, Africa’s second best player, showed class at the competition as he inspired the Malians to the last four of the competition. The Barcelona star grabbed the crucial winner against Botswana before he again held his nerve to convert the all-important penalty kick that sent the Malians to the semi-final ahead of co-hosts Gabon.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon)
The Nations Cup is known for unearthing new talents from the continent and in Gabon’s Aubameyang, a new African star is born. The ‘Gabonese Neymar’ was the major reason the co-hosts reached the last eight of the tourney, notching three goals in four games.
The 22-year-old ex-France U-20 international may have missed the penalty that cost Gabon a place in the semi-finals, but Aubameyang lit up the tournament with a series of scintillating displays, as he almost single-handedly pulled Gabon to the brink of a historic first-ever African Cup of Nations last four.
Aubameyang, who joined Ligue 1 side Saint-Etienne from AC Milan, was the heartbeat of virtually every Gabon attack throughout the tournament.
The Mohican-haired player is the son of former Gabon star Pierre Aubameyang. His brothers, Willy and Catilina, only just missed the final squad for the tourney.
Christopher Katongo (Zambia)
The Chipolopolo captain and Army Officer was instrumental in helping Zambia reach the final of the tourney for the first time in 18 years. He has scored three goals and has led by example scoring the equaliser in the 2-2 draw against Libya. He struck a wonder goal that helped the Zambians beat Equatorial Guinea 1-0 and seal qualification to the last-eight of the prestigious African competition. He scored another in the 3-0 demolition of Sudan in the quarter-final.
In recognition of his impressive showings at the tourney, President Michael Sata elevated him from the rank of Warrant Officer Class Two to One in the Zambia Army. He sure deserves it. He was also named Goal.com’s World Player of the Week for his efforts.
The big Real Valladolid striker was instrumental in helping the Palancas Negras qualify for the finals at the expense of Uganda and Kenya. And in Equatorial Guinea, he scored three goals in three games, including a brace against Sudan, as the Angolans were painfully eliminated in the group stages.
The Mediterranean Knights qualified for the finals despite civil war in the North African country. In fact, some players in the squad actually fought the war on the side of the rebels. In Malabo, they improved with every game, losing their first game to Equatorial Guinea 2-1 but bounced back to earn a 2-2 draw against finalists Zambia before an emphatic 2-1 win over a disappointing Senegal side. They failed to reach the quarter-finals but they left the tournament with their heads held high.
First it was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the Gabonese top striker. The ex-AC Milan player fired his country to a record-equaling last eight of the competition but he was again in the spotlight, missing the crucial penalty that sent Mali to the semi-final. It was a sight to behold as teammates and officials tried to console the sobbing 22-year-old.
Then came Asamoah Gyan, the Ghanaian striker. He was in the news again after missing the penalty that denied Ghana and Africa a first spot in the semi-final of the World Cup two years ago. This time Gyan again missed a penalty that would probably have helped the Black Stars reach the final.
Zambian keeper Kennedy Mweene read Gyan’s pose well and he dived to the right to stop the unfit striker’s tame effort. It got fans angry back in Ghana as some called for the player’s head.
Demba Ba (Senegal)
Ba is unarguably the biggest flop at the tourney. The Newcastle striker along with the Teranga Lions was highly tipped for glory at the tourney but Ba ended up as a massive flop. The second top scorer in the English Premier League failed to find the back of the net in his side’s three defeats in Equatorial Guinea but he was back to scoring ways on his return to club duties along with national teammate, Papiss Cisse, helping Newcastle to a 2-1 win in the EPL.
Jonathan Pitroipa (Burkina Faso)
Hailed as Stallions’ “Cristiano Ronaldo,” Pitroipa faded into oblivion as early as the first game. Pitroipa was largely anonymous as Burkina Faso surrendered meekly to Angola and later against Sudan as they slumped to a 2-1 defeat to the Nile Crocodiles.
The Rennes man could not rise to the occasion as his teammate Moumouni Dagano also performed below expectations.
Marouane Chamakh (Morocco)
Chamakh was probably hoping to use the Nations Cup to relaunch his career after two painful years in Arsenal but he hardly had any impact as he was not even part of the four goals scored by the Atlas Lions as they exited the competition in the group stages.
Several upsets were recorded in the tournament as the underdog teams tried to prove a point in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. The first major upset was recorded on match day 2 when Zambia defeated highly favoured Senegal 2-1. The West Africans eventually proved to be the worst team at the tournament, losing their other two games to Equatorial Guinea 2-1 and Libya by the same margin.
Zambia’s Chipolopolo were not done yet as they overcame another favourites Ghana in the semi-final to reach the final. Co-hosts Gabon were in ninth heaven when they defeated North African giants Morocco and Tunisia 3-2 and 1-0 respectively in the group stage. Sudan also got the better of Burkina Faso 2-1.
*Courtesy of Punch Newspaper Nigeria,illustrations by PAV