How can African teams improve at the World Cup?
The story of Africa at the World Cup has been similar to the general African story. Endowed with natural talent, all that is required to achieve greatness. Somehow, that achievement never arrives. From Egypt representing the continent in the competition in 1934, Africa has come a long way. But as it has been on the social, political and economic front, the continent can do much more.
Every African nation that qualifies for the World Cup enters the tournament with the ambition to win, or at least do well. None have come close. Yet there are nations elsewhere who have won it over and over again.
What must be done to change Africa's fortunes?
As the saying goes, success leaves clues. There is always a way to accomplish a goal, even if it has never been reached before. When it comes to winning the World Cup, others have done it and not by accident. It is the result of several factors working seamlessly together.
Africa needs to learn the winning strategy and follow it to the letter. Brazil, Germany, Italy, Argentina, even Spain are not on top of their game at the moment. But that should not blind us to their long-standing success. They may not win every time, but they have won enough times to become exemplary. England and France have also won the trophy. Both remain alive in the current competition.
The first lesson Africa can learn from the collective is that charity begins at home. These nations have vibrant home leagues that continuously produce world-class talent. Young players are given a conducive environment to develop and progress through the ranks. With the use of top-notch facilities, good welfare packages and the right management, these players produce high-level performances that win games and even competitions.
African countries such as Nigeria have produced quality youthful talent that has won international competitions. Nigeria are the most successful country at the U17 level, even ahead of Brazil, having won the World Cup five times. Winning at youth level has not been a problem for Africans. Ghana and Cameroon have also tasted success. It is at the senior level where the tables turn.
While it can carry you through the youth level, talent is not enough in the end. Where are the golden boot and ball winners from those tournaments? Can anyone name them without Google?
To have a long and successful career you need more. These players need support to develop and reach the maturity required to win at the top level. European and South American players receive it. Africans do not. Do you know Macaulay Chrisantus? He won both the Golden Shoe and the Silver Ball in the 2007 FIFA U17 WC, 2007. Where is he today? Toni Kroos won Golden Ball. I'm sure you know where he is.
Football associations in African countries need to learn from their more illustrious counterparts around the world. They need to implement strategies that include grassroots development, and plans for the long-term growth of their players. The teams should be provided with top-rate management that knows how to go about this. If that management is foreign, it should also mandate that support staff includes Africans who can learn and teach the next generation.
The attitude and approach to competitions must change, as well. The usual fire brigade approach simply does not work. Early preparation for major competitions is a necessity. You must not only want to win, you must prepare.
African players must learn the requisite discipline, work ethic and knowledge of the game to build successful careers. Isaac Success was a successful youth international for Nigeria. Off-field activities are threatening to destroy his career.
When at major tournaments, African teams must adopt the right tactics to win games. Each team should adopt a style of play that suits its players. Sometimes you also need to change your tactical approach according to the opponent. What works against one foe may not work with another. Making the right adjustments requires experience and knowledge that is sorely lacking at present.
Egypt, Morocco, Senegal and Nigeria all conceded late goals that cost them progression beyond the group stage in Russia. This is clearly poor game management. At the time the goals were conceded, staunch defending like the Russians put up against Spain could have saved the day.
For Africa, the 2018 World Cup was over a long time ago. It's now time to prepare for the next. Otherwise, the status quo will remain come 2022.