Saturday, February 2, 2008

State of African Football

Today's BBC World Service's African sports program Fast Track featured three legends of the African game debating the state of African football before a live audience.

Host Komla Dumor spoke to Segun Odegbami, 1980 Cup of Nations winner with Nigeria (nicknamed "Mathematical", for his precision in front of goal), Ghanaian three-time African Footballer of the Year Abedi Pele and Zambia's Kalusha Bwalya (pictured, left), who captained his team to the runners-up spot in 1994.

Here's some of their discussion as it took place today ...

HOW DO YOU RATE THE STANDARD OF PLAY NOW AND THEN?

Odegbami: "The game is more technical now, but we had some terrific individual players in those days. I think there's too much passing in the game these days and that buries individual expressiveness on the ball. I see us lamenting the absence of so many of yesterday's stars, like Jay Jay Okocha (Nigeria) and Kalusha Bwalya."

Abedi Pele: "He's said it all. There were greater players before, I don't believe that technically the players of today are better than us. But Africa is showcasing itself on the continent and globally, and things are changing for the best."

Bwalya: "The game has come very far, and we're glad for that. The platform was set by the older players. Like types of cars change, we are the old models and they are the new models, a new generation of African players."

YOUR GREATEST NATIONS CUP MEMORIES?

Bwalya: "Just reaching the Nations Cup finals used to be an achievement, there used to be only eight teams that qualified. Then of course, losing the 1994 final to Nigeria is my greatest memory, after the team died off the coast of Gabon a year before. We rebuilt the team and came back."

Abedi Pele: "Good memories or bad ones? My worst memory is watching my team-mates lose the 1992 final on penalties to Ivory Coast, when I was suspended. The best is from 1982, when I was just 17. I tormented the Tunisia defence and dribbled from our 18-yard area to theirs and gave a pass for a goal."

Odegbami: "It must be 1978. You know, we Nigerians like to beat Ghana! Ghana had a very big reputation then, but I was given so much respect and I did whatever I liked on the field, and I scored. Then of course, winning the 1980 Nations Cup - we almost walked through the tournament."

YOUR PERSONAL AFRICAN LEGENDS?

Odegbami: "Mohammed Polo, Abdul Razak (both Ghana) and Philip Omondi (Uganda) were all great. Then if you want a demonstration of how to play central midfield, Adolf Armah of Ghana is one of the greatest footballers I've ever seen."

Abedi Pele: "I remember watching Segun Odegbami and Philip Omondi back in 1978 when I was 12 years old, and I was amazed. Then there was Tarek Diab of Tunisia, a magician. But there are too many to mention, Africa is blessed with so much talent and we're going to make it big in the future."

Bwalya: "Just to mention one of today's legends, Samuel Eto'o of Cameroon is the quintessential striker. He's supremely confident and his Nations Cup scoring record justifies his place in history. And it's a pity that Stephen Appiah of Ghana hasn't been playing here."


FOREIGN COACHES OR LOCAL COACHES FOR AFRICA?

Bwalya: "The future is in our own hands, it's our responsibility as we develop football. The calibre of foreign coaches is important, they have to be able to add something and understand the culture. But I think that sometimes in Africa we have little patience with our own coaches, and also our coaches can be unprepared to learn, and to do coaching courses."

Odegbami: "I disagree a little, I think that our administrators don't respect African coaches, so the great players don't want to coach, and the game loses. These players, the likes of Stephen Keshi of Nigeria can take African football to great heights."

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