African Players Deep in European Football
Deeply embedded in the game: African footballers in Europe’s big leagues (Ryan Johnson’s list). You wouldn’t think so to see it now, but England’s Premier League (the most popular in terms of viewership around the world), was late in getting into the game. No, not the game of football; the English will never tire of telling us they invented it. A fact they are rightly proud of.
They were late in getting in to their clubs signing African players. Some research by a young Sierra Leone-UK football fan, Ryan Johnson shows exactly how entrenched African players are now to the game. In fact, Ryan’s research goes wider and looks at the spread of African players across Europe’s leagues. The research makes interesting reading, particularly if one tried to draw a comparison with other professions. Sport, it seems does go some way towards breaking or crossing racial barriers. Even in countries with strong, official (including parliamentary) representation by racist political parties, there are significant numbers of African players plying their trade.
England is significant for a number of reasons. Whether or not one wants to agree, talk of a ‘British Empire’ largely is talk of an ‘English Empire’. As such, it may surprise many that once European football teams started casting their nets wider (both at club and national level), the English did not lead the way in recruiting from what was a significant post-colonial sporting ‘database’. Footballers from the former British African colonies had long been successes in the rest of Europe before England’s clubs deigned to start signing them. It could be argued that even some of the early successes, were, with all due respect, were past their best when they signed for English clubs. No one is saying that George Weah, JJ Okocha and Tony Yeboah were not good players when they came to play for Chelsea, Bolton Wanderers and Leeds United, respectively. Nevertheless, it would take a brave soul to claim that they were at their best when they came to England. In the case of Weah, he holds a unique first that may never be equalled, while playing for AC Milan, he was named World, European and African Player of The Year. As for Augustin Azuka (who for some reason prefers to be known as ‘Jay-Jay’) Okocha, he had won various cup honours with Eintracht Frankfurt in Germany, Fenerbahce in Turkey and Paris St Germain in France before landing at Bolton, where he lit up the Premier League with some scintillating displays. With all due respect to the clubs he did play for, he deserved to have plied his trade at one of the giants of world club football.
What of Anthony Yeboah? Who can forget his net bursting goal that won goal of the season while at Leeds United? Like Okocha, he also played for Eintracht Frankfurt and returned to a German club (Hamburger SV), after his stint in England.
I mentioned these in particular because the landscape has utterly changed in terms of English club sides recruiting African players. These days, they sign ‘em young, though not too young as the rules forbid this.
Ryan Johnson’s list shows that there are some 45 African players currently in England’s top division and are mainly young and ‘at the top of their game’. The list shows that almost every club is represented.
What might surprise many is that Ryan’s list shows only Manchester United England’s biggest club, does not appear to have an African player on their books!!! In fact, let’s not beat about the bush, they don’t have any. Bet you never saw that one coming! What’s keeping them? Arsenal had looked to be going the same way until their recent signing of Alex Iwobi, nephew of…Jay-Jay Okocha.
How long will it be before we get, in the English Premier League, to the position in Belgium, where, in 2004, Beveren’s team that contested that country’s cup final were described as ‘Ivory Coast’ after fielding seven players from that country in their side?
Reporters: Ade Daramy and Ryan Johnson