To join global elites, African football must invest in youth

Posted on December 8, 2014 10:13 am

The roller-coaster of African football appears to be zooming upward at the moment despite the uncertainty that characterized the withdrawal of Morocco from hosting 2015 African Cup of Nation.Fans across the continent had been complaining bitterly about the poor performance of their national teams in World Cup. Many of them lost faith in the game’s management and the domestic professional league, while the notion that African footballers could make a career out of the sport seemed fanciful with exception of West Africans and handful of North Africans. But now, to the fans’ delight, the jigsaw-puzzle pieces seem finally to be falling into place, with African countries climbing the global FIFA rankings and showing the world they can play at premier stages like English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A and French League. Come next year in Equatorial Guinea, football fans in the continent will be raring to get behind their teams at the tournament. Manchester City midfield maestro Yaya Toure and his Kenyan counterpart Victor Wanyama’s leap onto the English football stage would have been next to impossible without the young talent academies which spots the continent’s finest young footballers and grooms them with regular training before they make the grade as fully fledged professionals playing week in and week out.

If national league continues to develop along the right path, Africa could soon graduate from merely a football-crazy continent to a global powerhouse with players as strong as those boasted by South America and Europe.Your blogger thinks Africans are getting there.Continental league begun to attract foreign stars and coaches many years back. The presence of foreign stars in local leagues signals that, not only are African domestic leagues doing well financially, but they are gaining the international recognition to attract big names.Good example is Vodacom Premier League in Tanzania. Though it might not be the top league in Africa, the Tanzania Premier League is receiving increasing attention with traditional rivals Dar Young Africans and Simba Sports Club buying players from as far as Brazil.But while the Vodacom Premier League has got off on the right foot, the country’s football showcase still has plenty of room for improvement. First and foremost, every club needs to set up a youth academy like Azam,mainland Tanzania reigning champions has done together with Msimbazi based Simba and Jangwani’s Young Africans to scout for young talents and give them high-standard training. As it stands, some of our most talented young players are stuck at clubs whose lack of international-standard facilities is holding back their progress.

In countries like Uganda dominated by Express FC, Sports Club Villa and Kenya where the trio of Gor Mahia, Tusker FC and AFC Leopards, clubs need a solid foundation, which requires that all clubs invest serious money in their football academies and consider founding a national youth league. Training young talents could be a waste of time and resources unless they can play regular competitive games. Once the system is in place, Africa could produce more stars like Yaya Toure, John Obi Mikel, Victor Wanyama, Didier Drogba not just for the national team but also to export to the biggest leagues in the world like English Premier League.Countries like South Africa and Nigeria are already seeing the results of heavy investments in youths.In line with the establishment of youth academies is increased investment in the coaching system. To meet international standards, all clubs need to invest more in coaching so as to improve their ability to spot talent and guide young players towards technical excellence. Great stadiums and foreign stars can only “supplement” the healthy growth of the country’s league. For African football to make a great leap forward what we need most is a solid foundation. In soccer there is no such thing as overnight success. African countries must play the long game, and start by investing now in the future in our young, home-grown players.

Contador Harrison