By Editor | January 15th, 2012 9 Comments
By Andrew Guest (drewguest AT hotmail DOT com)
It’s that time again; the biennial opportunity for Africa’s best national teams to compete for the continental championship, and European club management to complain about the audacity of former colonies holding a tournament smack in the middle of the league season — extracting labor in a reverse flow that might promote some useful self-reflection, if not for the blinders fused on most of the professional football world.
It always good fun to watch the machinations, even from a distance — the actual football starts January 21 in Bata, Equatorial Guinea, and ends with the final on February 12 in Libreville, the capital of co-host Gabon. As in 2010 in Angola, most of us will be watching from a distance: the oil-rich states that CAF has recently favored in its hosting decisions are note easy places to get to.
According to trusty web travel agent “cheaptickets.com,” if I wanted to get from my current sabbatical home in Michigan, USA, to Equatorial Guinea in time for the first round my “lowest fare” would be a cool $2506.00; getting to Libreville Gabon, on the other hand, would only set me back $1517—of course then I’d have to work on the visa, the accommodations, and the game tickets . . .
So, as might by now be obvious, I tend to think of the tournament as much as a chance to polish my armchair socio-historical geography as it is a chance to enjoy some good football. A few years ago, when I was regularly writing for the web-site Pitch Invasion, the armchair hobby led me to speculate on a slight but significant “Francophone advantage” thanks to the complicated interactions of football talent flows, colonial history, and post-colonial immigration patterns. Of course, the fact that Egypt and its contingent of mostly domestically-based players and coaches have made a habit of claiming the Cup of Nations for its own (having won the last three in a row) doesn’t help my hypothesis.
But this time Egypt failed to qualify, Anglophone power Nigeria won’t be there, and the socio-historical power dynamics might once again find some space on the pitch. My somewhat miscellaneous tabular preview is below — this time without much commentary, leaving most of the hypothesizing to you (for now). I would just observe quickly that the French influence this year seems ubiquitous; 9 of 16 teams have Francophone history, the largest delegation of foreign coaches are French (4, compared to 7 locals—which is a fairly significant local contingent compared to recent tournaments), and 8 of 15 squads draw more players from French professional teams than from any other foreign league system (the 16th squad — Sudan — has an entirely domestic roster). Whether that proves an advantage or not, we’ll soon see.