ON THE BALL
‘LEG DRAIN’ FROM AFRICAN FOOTBALL: OF WHAT VALUE IS IT?
Football events as the FIFA U-17 World Cup taking place in India at the moment, have come to be proven fields for the scouting of new talent in the game and not a few African players have been ‘discovered’ and signed on to ply their trade as professionals on the European and global stage in this manner. But there are ‘costs’ for the players, their nations and indeed the ‘raw materials producing continent,’ our Sports Contributor, CHIOMA UZOIGWE notes. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org
‘Leg drain’ like it’s counterpart – the intellectual property flight called ‘Brain Drain’ has continued to rob Africa of some of its best talents in the game of football. Sometimes you watch inter-national competitions to discover that a lot of the players plying their trade for one European country or the other were originally of African descent. Now and again also, there is jostling between origin nations and ‘adopted’ nations for one star or the other. How did this ‘scourge’ come to permeate Africa so vastly?
Obviously one answer to this question stares directly in our faces: with the world becoming a global village, access to satellite TV and lately social media have contributed immensely to opening up the world. From my living room, I can watch live action football going on at the Emirates, Allianz Arena, Camp Nou and even as faraway VEB Arena in Moscow, Russia.
To be sure, almost all incidents of relocation across cultures in general more often than not always has an economic undertone. Football in itself cannot be an exception. For a player to leave his or her country, sometimes at a tender age, to pursue a football career outside of our African shores is of immense advantage to the player and his or her environment although it may have it’s drawbacks. In this writer’s view however, the advantages outweighs the drawbacks at the moment. Young players on the African continent are always hopeful to play in leagues abroad even if it is a ‘lesser league’ as we would term it. The achievement and prowess of audacious players who have gone ahead of them provides great encouragement for the younger potentials of today to also move abroad. Nwankwo Kanu, Didier Drogba, Yaya and Kolo Toure, Lucas Radebe, late Stephen Keshi, Kalusha Bwalya and others wore ‘big shoes’ that our current young players will like to wear and emulate.
Playing in top and viable leagues abroad creates immense value to an African player. On the economic level, he begins to earn the kind of wages that would put him at par with those who are termed to have ‘arrived back in the homeland’. In turn, these finances, if properly managed would put him in the right pedestal for investments which in turn creates employment for his fellow countrymen back home and also a stable career for a period of time as football careers do not generally span too long periods especially if plagued by injuries.
It is also noteworthy that African players in these leagues are equally exposed to the high technicalities of the game. They are in leagues where they are exposed to better training facilities; good medicare; the required sports diet and tourism which culminates into developing and obtaining some level of sophistication which they would not have had if they were playing in our yet-to-be-developed local leagues.
One of the major drawbacks of the Leg Drain syndrome however is that our own local leagues indeed do not get to tap on these talents to further develop the game back in the continent except for a few countries like South Africa and Egypt. More often than not, facilities that are a lot less than world standards are applicable in our leagues. Stadia that are of low standards; inadequate medicare for players when they fall sick or are injured; irregular payment of wages or low wages; and poor diet are part of the bane of playing in our local leagues. These facts resonate with us due to poor funding and government’s undue interference in football.
Also notable is the fact that, in their quest to hurriedly sign foreign contracts and play in leagues abroad, several players have sometimes signed what has amounted to ‘their doom and undoing.’ A few cases have cropped up every now and then, of players who signed draconian or ‘slave contracts’ without being well informed, and now would rather opt out than continue in such inhumanity. And at another level, ‘home sickness’ is another drawback for players. When they are out there, and often without any family members around them, it could really be quite challenging.
Be that as it may, the dream of many an African player is to play abroad and earn huge wages to change their fortunes in life and acquire the attendant exposure and sophistication that goes with playing outside Africa. And this is likely to continue until the managers of the sport on the continent, resolve to, and put in everything that they need to, into properly growing and building the local leagues.
After all, even the much celebrated Premiership was once upon a time, only the local league of the British!