I chatted about the 2014 World Cup with Assumpta Oturu on KPFK Pacifica Radio‘s Spotlight Africa program.
We analyzed Brazil’s historic collapse, Germany’s youth development policies, club versus country loyalties, African teams’ performances and what can be done to improve their results in global football.
Radio talk show host, author, and political analyst Eusebius Mckaiser spoke with Robin Petersen, CEO of the South African Football Association’s development agency, about what is going wrong and what needs to be done about the future of Bafana Bafana—the South African men’s national team.
Peterson has an unusual background for a South African football administrator. He owns a construction company and holds a PhD in Religion and Ethics from the University of Chicago Divinity School. Since 2001, Peterson has held important positions, including as CEO of SAFA and the domestic Premier Soccer League. In his new role at the helm of SAFA’s Development Agency, Peterson’s job is to ensure that the football development plan known as SAFA Vision 2022 is implemented.
In conversation with Eusebius and his listeners, Petersen touches in general terms on a 7-point plan that includes a national football philosophy; youth teams and academies; coach education; football infrastructure; and sports science. The complete absence of a sense of history in his remarks underscores a serious problem within South African football: an unwillingness to deal honestly and productively with what has already been said, tried, and failed in the two decades since the end of apartheid and the birth of democracy. (For two different, but complementary, critiques of South African football development, click here and here).
Despite Petersen’s best intentions and SAFA’s more sophisticated packaging, it seems that, once again, the latest development plan amounts to little more than a public relations campaign.
36 hours have passed since millions of Italians watched the national team get eliminated from the World Cup after a 1-0 loss to Uruguay.
Here in Italy, the media and the pundit class have joined ordinary fans in criticizing the team. First in the line of fire is Cesare Prandelli, the coach, rightly taken to task for dubious roster selection, poor match management, improvised tactical changes, and an inability to bind together a group of “senators” (i.e. veterans) and relatively inexperienced youngsters. His resignation in the aftermath of the Uruguay loss, came not a moment too soon for many Italians.
Balotelli, the only player in the squad with potential to be a game-changer, has also come in for plenty of criticism. Reading the papers, watching endless debates on TV, and talking with fans, it appears that many Italians, including vocal defenders of Super Mario, are disappointed with the star striker’s weak performance. Sadly, some racist Italians have taken to the web and social media to insult Balotelli for his blackness.
But I wouldn’t go so far as saying that Balotelli is being blamed for the World Cup debacle. Honest observers recognize that the failure of Italy’s 2014 World Cup campaign has multiple causes, not least the pathetic 0-1 loss to Costa Rica last week. As historian John Foot explained in an excellent column, there is a structural rot in Italian football that needs to be addressed. From corruption and mismanagement to suffering youth systems, club rivalries, and outdated stadiums; the list of major problems is quite long and vexing.
While this analysis is legitimate, there seems to be a consensus among Italians (and not a few neutrals) that the loss to Uruguay was an outright robbery perpetrated against an ordinary team.
The first half of Tuesday’s match was played evenly, with Italy rarely in trouble. Pirlo had a dangerous free kick saved by Muslera and Verratti distinguished himself as the best player on the pitch, weaving in and out of Uruguay’s workman-like midfield with creativity and dynamism. With a draw enough to see the Azzurri through to the next round, Italy was in control.
Then, a few minutes into the second half, the Mexican referee, Rodriguez Moreno, decided the match. In an inexplicably absurd decision, he sent off Marchisio with a straight red card for a normal tackle that showed no malice and, at best, deserved a yellow. What made this refereeing decision so outrageous is that previous Uruguayan fouls of a similar ilk had not been punished with any cards.
Moreno’s call transformed the match. With nearly the entire second half still to play in the heat of Natal, the Azzurri were a man down, less able to deal with fatigue, and psychologically shaken. Uruguay, on the other hand, seized on the opportunity and began dominating the match. Even so, only two goal-scoring chances came out of this advantage.
Perhaps dissatisfied with the outcome of his earlier outrage, Moreno then took center stage again. Suarez, the recidivist, sunk his fangs into Chiellini’s shoulder and then fell to the ground, theatrically, as if felled by a sniper’s bullet. The referee awarded a free kick to Italy, but did not send Suarez off despite Chiellini showing Suarez’s dental mold chiseled into his shoulder area. Surprisingly, the assistant referee provided no assistance.
Two things happened at this point. Instead of playing the final 12 minutes or so 10 vs 10, the Azzurri had to labor on a man down with players cramping and visibly tiring. Then, 100 seconds after the Suarez bite, the Italians lost their concentration defending the corner kick that produced Godin’s winning goal.
Most Italians recognize the 2014 national team was an ordinary one. Fans and pundits admit that Balotelli, Immobile, Cassano, Thiago Motta, De Sciglio and others put in sub-par performances. But people also know a robbery when they see one. And the culprit was Rodriguez Moreno. Curiously, another referee named Moreno (from Ecuador) also sent the Italians home from the 2002 World Cup. He is currently serving a long prison sentence in the United States for smuggling drugs.
The day before the magic kingdom opens in São Paulo, WKAR’s “Current State” host Mark Bashore interviewed me about the politics of the World Cup. We discussed FIFA profits and institutional reform, special World Cup laws and extraterritoriality, nation-building, development, civic protests, and what the future holds for Brazil, on and off the pitch. Originally broadcast live on June 11, 2014. Take a listen!
“Afri Can” is a charity single by Replay GH, a Ghana-based group featuring Zed Ay Kay (Replay GH), Fuji, Farid, and Gustav. It brings together inﬂuence from the ﬁve African countries that have qualified for the Brazil 2014 World Cup: Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Algeria, and Ivory Coast.
According to the artists, “the different inﬂuences, and styles are seamlessly woven together to produce a modern Afro Beats song for the enjoyment of all football and music fans.” To find out more about Afri Can, visit: http://www.outofafricacampaign.com/afri-can/
The data reveal that nearly nine out of ten Africans likely to be in Brazil next month play for European clubs. 127 out of 142 players, or 89.4 percent, to be exact. Just over half (52.1 percent) of these players come from Big 5 leagues (England, Spain, Italy, Germany, Spain).
Four years ago, the percentage of Europe-based players in the final 23-man squads of the six African nations was around 80 percent (click here for data). This lower figure stemmed largely from South Africa’s use of players from its domestic Premier Soccer League, ranked among the Top 10 richest leagues in the world.
The 2014 numbers also reveal that nine of the fifteen Africa-based players on the preliminary lists are goalkeepers. In other words, a minuscule 0.42 percent of “outfield” players are on the books of African clubs.
The export of talent from Africa to Europe, as the academic research demonstrates, has produced winners and losers. In strictly economic terms, benefits accrue to individual players who make it into European football, as well as to African coaches, scouts, and other local stakeholders in this global commodity chain. But in the end the lion’s share of the financial rewards in this relationship go to European clubs and leagues, usually at the expense of the sustainability and quality of domestic leagues and clubs in Africa.
Addendum (4pm ET, May 23, 2014)
In response to @TonyKaron’s comment on Facebook about the similarities of Africa with Latin America, here are the numbers for foreign-based players on South American team lists:
I was recently interviewed by BBC Brasil‘s João Fellet and asked to compare the hosting of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa with the preparations for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Below is the Portuguese text of what transpired [translate] and a link to read the full article.
15 May 2014
BBC Brasil – Quatro anos depois da Copa de 2010, o que ficou do torneio para os sul-africanos?
Peter Alegi - Há um tipo de nostalgia por aquele período, por aquela sensação de unidade, solidariedade, de estar no centro do mundo. Os estrangeiros que foram para a Copa perceberam que os estereótipos negativos sobre a África do Sul não eram verdadeiros, e isso ainda faz o país se sentir bem. As emoções de um carnaval como a Copa são difíceis de bater.
BBC Brasil – Houve outros legados?
Alegi - O legado emocional foi importante de diferentes maneiras. Ele fez as pessoas sentirem um senso de unidade num país ainda muito dividido quanto a raças, classes e gêneros. Nos estádios sul-africanos, as pessoas cantam o hino abraçadas ou de mãos dadas, como nas igrejas. Num país onde o povo não tem muitas oportunidades de estar junto, a mágica do nacionalismo explodiu de uma maneira positiva.
Isso aconteceu só 16 anos após o apartheid. Sediar um evento bem sucedido fez com que os sul-africanos se sentissem muito orgulhosos.
O torneio também despertou sentimentos de panafricanismo. Por um ou dois meses, os sul-africanos se sentiram parte do continente africano. Isso foi encorajador, levando em conta os problemas do país com a xenofobia.