By Fredrick Nadulli,
Football is considered the opium of the masses.Its a source of entertainment,a strong unifying factor that brings people together and is also big business the world over.Whenever its played,even warring communities at civil war momentarily lay down their weapons to unite in national pride and solidarity.Politicians know this and have been quick to jump onto the bandwagon,often times for selfish gains and/or as a springboard to greater things.During election campaigns they organise tournaments at grassroot levels in a bid to attract numbers they hope will propel them to their coveted positions.
In Kenya for example,Alfred Sambu,Peter Kenneth,Titus Kasuve etc have all vied for political office,and succeded,after making their names running football at national level.Its interesting,nay sad,that their impact was felt more in politics than around football circles.
NB:Fredrick Nadulli is a former Kenyan International and Mathare United player
Until recently Africa was considered a cheap exporter of talent to Europe and other continents.Steadily however this notion has been reversed,thanks to sterling perfomances by some of our national teams at the world stage.Cameroon took Italy by storm at the 1990 World cup,Nigeria continued where they left off at USA 94 and went on to win the Olympics in 96 in Atlanta.Cameroon retained the title in 2000 in Sydney.
A Diouf inspired Senegal exceeded expectations in Korea/Japan 2002.Players of the calibre of Austin Okocha and Samuel Eto’o have won accolades and thrilled European crowds.Our pros are now some of the most recognisable accross Europe and whenever they come back their mentality rubs off on the local based players.Africa had arrived and was pushing for a place,deservedly so,among the football elite.
All this while,there have been unsung heroes who may have gone unnoticed but who certainly deserve recognition as true sons of Africa.
For decades this country was devastated by civil war that almost brought it to its knees.There was no central government to effectively run the country,never mind support football.And although they had other high profile pros in Europe like Kelvin Sebwe and Christopher Wreh,it was George Oppong Weah who singlehandedly financed the national team.
Coming from a modest background in Monrovia,Weah kitted the Lone Stars,bought air tickets,paid allowances and organised
training camps for Liberia ahead of crucial fixtures.Some may argue he had the resources having made his fortune playing in France,Italy and England,but it takes an extraordinary soul to do half of what he did for his country.
He definitely carved a niche for himself in their hall of fame,a true son of Africa.
Whenever this country is mentioned,one of the names that easily spring to mind is one Didier Drogba.At a time when Cote d’Ivoire was facing a do or die world cup qualifier at home,and with his country divided along ethnic and religious lines,Drogba against all odds managed to convince the FA to switch the match from the safer Abidjan to the rebel held north of the country.It was a risky undertaking but one that got the whole nation firmly behind the Elephants.
They won and made their maiden appearance at the world cup.The move also softened the rebel hardliners to put down their weapons.To cap that,Didier,using his own funds built a referral hospital in his native city Yamoussoukro.
Nwankwo Kanu,after close to two decades in Europe,and his career almost brought to a tragic heart by a defective heart and numerous operations,put up a Paediatric wing in a Lagos hospital.Further,with assistance from his networks abroad set up the Nwankwo Kanu Foundation to nurture young Nigerian talent.
Further afield,his former fellow internationals Samson Siasia,Augustine Eguavoen,Daniel Amokachi and Stephen Keshi are all involved with national teams at all levels,and the results can be seen on the evidence of Nigeria’s recent exploits.
Patrick Vieira,French but tracing his roots to Senegal and former Ghana captain Abedi Pele have both built soccer academies in West Africa that have partnered with top European sides.If this is not opening doors,surely I dont know what is.These players will form the backbone of their respective national teams for years to come.Down in Zambia Kalusha Bwalya has breathed new life into Zambian football.
As president of the FA,he has ensured smooth running of the Chipolopolo after years of mismanagement,the Copper Bullets conquering Africa in 2013 under his helmsmanship.The league has also secured sponsorship thanks to transparency at the top.
In North Africa Hassan Mido left Europe after a playing career that was at times shrouded in controversy,and is now back in his native Egypt trying to revive the dwindling fortunes of one time powerhouse Zamalek.
Here at home,Musa Otieno spent all his pro life at S.African side Santos.He established a soccer academy at Camp Toyoyo,the place that made him.And although it has not developed fully fledged wings,the initiative was a noble one and will grow with time.
Recently Kenya travelled to S.Sudan for an international friendly.Logistical confusion meant the Harambee Stars refused to play ball and the match aborted.The home side was stranded after a bitter spat between the FKF and SSFA,neither ready to take responsibility.
It was refreshing that Europe based professionals Dennis Oliech,McDonald Mariga and Victor Wanyama stepped in and pooled together resources to buy airtickets for the return flight.The incident left FKF with egg on their face.
WAY TO GO:
Professionals based abroad,especially Europe,earn mind boggling wages and bonuses,coupled with lucrative endorsement deals,but it takes a big heart to give back to society.Coming back to the continent and helping develop the sport is the hallmark of a great patriot.
We salute these,and many other great sons of Africa.Their work surpasses that of the whole race of politicians put together.Their reward is definitely due and generations will sing their praises long after they have existed the stage.
/ 12 months ago
Sierra Leone FA President who also doubles up as CAF Executive Council member Madam...