Matthew Monk

Matthew Monk is a school teacher from the UK who has the World Cup as one of his greatest passions. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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What chance an African World Cup winner?

    One of the most famous football related predictions is often wrongly said to originate with Pele. He once said that by the end of the 20th Century an African nation would win the World Cup, but as he often does he was merely repeating a remark from elsewhere - in this case the real source of the quote is Sir Walter Winterbottom, England's first national team manager. He became England manager before the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, continued in the job for a further three tournaments until Chile in 1962 and then became a youth coach of some repute, travelling much of the world and continuing the English tradition of spreading the game to all corners of the globe.

    He worked extensively in Africa (especially the former British colonies - Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa) and became convinced that it was only a matter of time before one of its nations became World Champions. We are still waiting, and it is already the 21st Century. So what went wrong?

    Historically, African nations have been accused of na´ve and undisciplined defending, poor tactics and a lack of European style 'strength and resolve' - most of which are myths. European teams are just as likely to have na´ve defenders (think of the 1982 West Germans being ripped apart by Lakhdar Belloumi and Rabah Madjer of Algeria) and how much spirit and resolve did the Greeks show in USA 94? An allegation that cannot be overlooked though is the one of poor tactics - African teams have been badly hindered by weak coaching from a succession of European journeymen and have really suffered from a crippling lack of funding. Simply put, how can a country that cannot afford to pay for schooling its children find the funds to turn raw ability into international football champions?

    I am not surprised at all that no African nation has won the World Cup or even reached the semi-finals. And it is still going to continue to be the case after Japan and Korea. I will make a clear prediction - there will be no African involvement in the quarter-finals, let alone the semi-finals. In fact, if Tunisia play as badly as they did this month in Mali there will not even be a single African team in the Second Round. Now, if I had said that no African team would have qualified for the Second Round of the 2002 World Cup after Italia 90, USA 94 or France 98 I would rightly have been ridiculed. But who now will stand up and say that I am wrong? And once we have again looked at this summer's groups, I think the incredibly difficult situation the African nations will find themselves in will become even clearer.

    Let's start with the continuing African Champions, Cameroon. To become the first team to defend the African Nations Cup for over forty years shows that they are a good, strong team, with a high number of squad players from many of Europe's big teams. Yet they are not going to qualify for the Second Round this summer. The recent African Nations Cup was poor - it was definitely the worst international tournament of the modern era, with particularly weak attacking play. One of the biggest culprits of this were Cameroon. In the summer Cameroon will face Germany, Saudi Arabia and the Republic of Ireland - on the face of it an open, even winnable group. But looking at the pointers from Mali, Germany and Ireland will have little to fear.

    So if Cameroon will not be the African team to make the big breakthrough, what chance have the other nations got? South Africa (the nation with the best overall infrastructure and resources) have landed in an even tougher group than Cameroon and have no chance at all. Senegal, recently crowned the second best side in Africa will have to beat France, Denmark and Uruguay to even get out of their group, while Nigeria have been handed the toughest draw of all against England, Sweden and Argentina. That just leaves us with a side that went out of the African Nations Cup without scoring a single goal, Tunisia.

    Group H is the weakest of the World Cup by a long, long way. Belgium and Russia are Europe's representative here, but they are far from being serious contenders for the title. The fourth side Japan would normally be seen as just making up the numbers, but at home they will be desperate to qualify, and will raise their game accordingly. So it was imperative that Tunisia put up a good performance in Mali - and they absolutely stunk!

    The outlook for African success at the World Cup has only been bleaker once than it is now - and that was in 1974 when only Zaire represented the continent. From 1978 to 1986 the African teams progressed to the point whereby only a late deflected goal by Lothar Matthaus stopped Morocco reaching the quarter-finals. And then along came Roger Milla and Rashidi Yekini and Cameroon and Nigeria, and the rest is history. So what has gone so wrong?

    I believe the answer is the poor coaching offered by all the European journeymen (like Henryk Kasperczak and Philippe Troussier) - these are people who could not get a job managing a middling European league side, let alone a Champions League team, but they go from job to job, country to country and tournament to tournament without really improving the teams they manage.

    Think about the raw material the king of the travelling coaches Bora Milutinovic had in 1998 when he managed Nigeria. Remember in 1996, Nigeria had become Olympic Champions, and the first African side ever to win a 'worldwide' championship. He had players of the calibre of Taribo West, Sunday Oliseh, Jay-Jay Okocha and Nwankwo Kanu and duly made the second stage with a particularly exciting victory over Spain. But what happened next? They were totally outplayed and out-thought by Denmark in the Second Round and have gone backwards since.

    Milutinovic did little to make Nigerian football better in the long term - he simply performed his usual trick of qualifying for the second stage and sitting back to take the plaudits. Never once has a Milutinovic side looked anything like winning the World Cup - in 1986 Mexico blustered past a weak group and Bulgaria before losing a boring quarter final to West Germany; 1990 saw his Costa Rica team beat Scotland and Sweden before being thrashed by Czechoslovakia, and in 1994 the USA team he coached relied on Andres Escobar's fateful own goal to put them into the knockout stage against Brazil, were they were disposed of at a canter.

    Not one of these teams have ever troubled one of the big South American and European teams, yet pundits worldwide think Milutinovic is some sort of miracle worker - and that goes for Kasperczak and the rest of the washed up coaches touring African and Asian football teams like some long winded (and highly paid) round-the-world holiday. Even some European teams are joining in the process - Scotland's recent appointment of failed German (and ex-Kuwaiti) coach Berti Vogts smacks of desperation.

    This type of coach brings nothing new to a nation - what can Henryk Kazperczak or Bora Milutinovic offer a seriously ambitious country like Mali or Senegal when their ideas and tactics were not enough for them to get a big European job in 1990, let alone in 2002. Look at the coaches of Europe's top club and national sides. Fabio Capello, Roger Lemerre, Gerard Houllier, Sven Goran Eriksson, Vicente Del Bosque, Hector Cuper and Ottmar Hitzfeld constantly innovate and move their tactics forward - so do their South American counterparts like Marcelo Bielsa of Argentina. So how is African football going to be able compete on the biggest stage of all until they get some decent coaches? And don't feel that a country like Ghana or Algeria is going to have to go and get Cuper or Lemerre to compete. On the contrary why don't these countries use the coaching talent available at home? I simply cannot believe that a country the size of Nigeria or South Africa does not have one homegrown football coach of equivalent or better ability to Henryk Kasperczak.

    Africa has some amazing football talent - Sammy Kuffour of Ghana and Bayern Munchen is one of the best central defenders in Europe, while the likes of Song, Lauren and Geremi of Cameroon have played for (or do play for) some of Europe's top teams. But the lack of money and coaching talent available in Africa is going to stop any national team winning the World Cup for the next fifty years, never mind the next four. Europe is moving ahead so fast that even South America is struggling to keep up - so what chance does Africa have?



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