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
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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
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
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
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
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