WINNERS: France may well have won the World Cup on paper, an honour no African nation has yet achieved, but their squad would look a lot different – and smaller – if you took away the players who declare themselves to be Africans
SO, BACK to Pele’s prediction that an African team would win the World Cup before the year 2000…
Well, you can imagine the number of football pundits who scoffed at the Brazilian footballing legend when the new millennium came around and the name of no African country was on the trophy.
They laughed and they laughed and they laughed and they pointed their fingers at those ‘naive’ African defenders, not to talk of African football federations which were not fit for purpose in fighting the rearguard action against the dominance of the European leagues which every self-respecting football fan in Africa was following.
In some unpalatable way, these occidental so-called footie experts had a semblance of a point in their dismissals of the notion that the black man could ever (to paraphrase the infamous and toxic Enoch Powell ‘rivers of blood’ speech) have the upper hand over the white man on the football pitch.
To be honest with you, I and many football fans of African origin have, for most of our lives, bemoaned the omission of a world-beating African nation in the football world championship.
For years and decades and generations we have waited for another Moses to set our people free from the slings and arrows of only ever making it as far as a semi-final.
And, every four years, we go through the same ritual, praying to God or to the gods, placing offerings on makeshift shrines in our living rooms to the deities of football imploring them to smile on us this once.
We have begged for an Obama of football, a god-given miracle. Indeed, it would be a greater
miracle if an African nation were to win the World Cup than the miracle of a black man becoming the president of the United States. And it would undoubtedly have a greater impact.
A greater impact? Yes, because at the end of the day the election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States the first time around in 2008 made us all feel good about ourselves.
It was like “come on, baby, let the good times roll – all night”. And, yes, it lasted all night – for many nights – but it didn’t fundamentally change the lives of the street boys and girls of West Africa who are going along just kicking stones, and minding their own business in their bare feet and their tear-up pants.
Well, here’s the joke: France’s victory in Moscow last Sunday in the final of the 2018 World Cup begged the question of whether it was France wot won it, or whether it was really Africa wot won it.
And with good reason. When you look down the list of players in the French team, it was hard to find one – apart from goalie Hugo Lloris and midfielder Griezmann – who isn’t from Africa.
Check this list of ‘French’ players out: Presnel Kimpembe, Congo; Samuel Umtiti, Cameroon; Paul Pogba, Guinea; Ousmane Dembele, Senegal/ Mali; Corentin Tolisso, Togo; N’Golo Kante, Mali; Blaise Matuidi, DR Congo/Angola; Steve Mandanda, DR Congo.
And, of course, the star of the French team is 19-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe, who is half Nigerian and half Cameroonian. So, if you don’t mind I’ll claim him as one of ours and conclude it wasn’t just an African team that won the World Cup but, arguably, it was a Nigerian kid wot won it.
Okay, let’s not get carried away here. The record shows it was France wot won it. And that is how history will remember it. Just as history records Brazil to be a south American team, even though not one of its footballers over the many times that they have won the World Cup could not say that they are not of African blood.
There are those such as Pele, who have been kissed by the African sun in complexion, and those who have African blood coursing through their veins like the great Ronaldo (the original) does.
Arguably, then, Africa has won the World Cup several times – posing as Brazil. So in a way Pele, with that twinkle in his eye, may have been right all along and no doubt knew that he was when he teased his prediction for the new millennium all those years ago. Even so, nobody could have prepared the world for the French Africans’ glory.
Because, unlike the Brazilians, most of these French players, if not all of them, self-declare themselves as Africans. That is the fascinating thing about French colonialism.
It has never regarded the French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique as colonies but as ‘departments’ of France. Or, if you like, counties of France. Indeed, if you watch the evening news in the French Antilles, as these Caribbean islands are known, it is exactly the same news as you watch if you’re in Paris.
So when the weatherman says it will be snowing tomorrow, Guadeloupians and people from Martinique have to wonder at this ‘neige’ – the cold white stuff. But while people in the Antilles were rejoicing on Sunday like football was coming home to their part of the Caribbean, in French Africa there were not many people who felt like France winning was some- how reflecting on them.
They are not French and most of their children living in, and even some who were born in France do not see themselves as French. Some of their country-men may play for France in a marriage of convenience, but because of the way they have been treated in France from birth, they invariably see themselves as being other than French.
That used to be the way my generation saw ourselves in Britain when we were treated like scum by all and sundry, including the government.
If it’s any measure we can rely on, we must be being treated better nowadays because our younger generation, unlike their French counterparts, continually declare for Britain and England more times than not when it comes to football.
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