If we’re ever going to see a time when black nations become a genuine threat at World Cups, it’s up to players in position to take it upon themselves to really represent
For the first time since 1982 no African teams made it past the group stages of the World Cup. Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia all tried, some putting up more of a fight than others, but ultimately every African nation that turned up in Russia failed to progress.
Before the tournament there were high hopes for Mohamed Salah’s Egypt. It was quite literally a pointless World Cup for the Pharaohs who finished bottom of Group A with no points. Morocco gave a good account of themselves in a group that included Portugal, Spain and Iran, but they too finished bottom.
Nigeria, Tunisia and Senegal all managed to win once in Russia, but each side ultimately came up short in their respective groups. To be fair, yellow cards, farcically, were the undoing of Senegal who were harshly eliminated on the fair play rule – a World Cup first – after finishing level on points, goals scored and goal difference with second-placed Japan.
Being half Nigerian, I was devastated to see the Super Eagles fall at the hands of Argentina. Although I have no ties to Senegal, I felt similar heartache for Aliou Cisse’s men. Their defeat left me pondering how things would be if players with African heritage represented said nations internationally, regardless of where they were born or raised?
The same could be asked of players with Caribbean roots too. Imagine if the likes of England’s Ashley Young, Danny Rose, Kyle Walker, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Raheem Sterling, all of Jamaican stock, chose to represent the Reggae Boyz internationally? Jamaica’s last World Cup appearance was 20 years ago at France 98. Jamaica – my other half – failed to qualify altogether, but when I looked at this England squad and the aforementioned names, I couldn’t help but feel like a little bit of the island was well and truly alive and kicking in Russia.
Only eight nations have ever won the World Cup since its inception in 1930. Past winners hail from just two continents – Europe and South America. Brazil have won it on five occasions; Germany and Italy have both won it four times; Argentina and Uruguay twice; while England, France and Spain all have one World Cup title. From a confederations point of view, UEFA leads the way with 11 wins to CONMEBOL’s nine, and either France or Croatia will take UEFA’s total to 12 after the final.
But what of the nations from the AFC, CAF, CONCACAF or OFC confederations? Will we ever see a country from one of these regions lift football’s greatest prize? While you can never say never, the answer is probably not in the near future, which is not only due to a lack of resources and poor infrastructure. Immigration, particularly from African and Caribbean nations, has left many countries from these two continents bereft of talent.
After Africa’s early exit, a lot of Africans took to supporting World Cup finalists France due largely to the makeup of their squad. 15 of the French 23 have African roots, including the hottest property in the game right now Kylian Mbappe, the son of a Cameroonian father and Algerian mother.
Would things have worked out differently for Senegal if the likes of Benjamin Mendy and Ousmane Dembele, who’s father is from Mali, chose to pledge their allegiances to the Lions of Teranga instead of Les Bleus? Imagine a Congo side made up of Steve Mandanda, Presnel Kimpembe, Blaise Matuidi and Steven Nzonzi, all of whom have Congolese heritage.
Paul Pogba, one of the world’s most expensive players, has roots in Guinea thanks to his parentage. Before committing to France, Mali attempted to persuade N’Golo Kante to pledge his international future to them. Kante’s parents were both born in Mali. Djibril Sidibe also has links to Mali. Thomas Lemar, who also has roots in Nigeria, was born in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, where many black French players from years past have hailed from as well as neighbouring Martinique.
Belgium also had a healthy number of second-generation African players among their 23-man squad. Five members of the Red Devils have roots in Congo – Vincent Kompany, Dedryck Boyata, Youri Tielemans, Romelu Lukaku and Michy Batshuayi. Add that to the four in the France squad and you’re just two players shy of a starting XI.
Mousa Dembele’s father is from Mali. Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli both have North African roots thanks to Moroccan parents. Chadli actually has one Morocco cap to his name. While Axel Witsel has roots in Martinique.
No other sport embodies the ethos of being a global game. Footballers hail from all corners of the world and ply their trades in various continents. Europe dominates as far as the club game is concerned – 379 of the 736 players (51%) at this summer’s tournament all play club football in England (124), Spain (81), Germany (67), Italy (58) and France (49) – but imagine if European players with dual nationality opted to represent the country of their heritage?
Look at the likes of Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Wilfried Zaha – all born in Africa, brought up in the UK, even represented England at various youth levels before committing to Nigeria and Ivory Coast respectively.
Nigeria’s Bryan Idowu, Leon Balogun, Tyronne Ebuehi and William Troost-Ekong were all born in Europe – Russia, Germany and the Netherlands respectively – but have chosen to represent the Super Eagles. All four were included in Nigeria’s 23-man squad. The same could be said for 17 members of the Morocco squad. Hakim Ziyech, M’barek Boussoufa and the Amrabat brothers (Nordin and Sofyan) were all born in the Netherlands, but were in Russia representing the Atlas Lions. Several players in the Senegal squad were also born abroad, like Kalidou Koulibaly, Salif Sane and Youssouf Sabaly, all French by birth but to their credit, Senegal internationals.
Players with dual heritage who were born in Europe should have the option to represent either their birth country, or the country of their parent’s birth, as is the current rule. But, if we’re ever going to see a time when black nations become a genuine threat at World Cups, it’s up to players in position to take it upon themselves to really represent like Ebuehi, Koulibaly, Ziyech and co.
When that happens, African and Caribbean teams will be among the main World Cup contenders resulting in less heartache. CAF and CONCACAF confederations will also get in on the action too which can only be a good thing for the game.
Words by EugeneOEA