With the defeat of
Ghana by penalties to Uruguay in the quarterfinals, the mood in Africa has been
somber. Few expected an African nation to win the Cup, but a semi-final did
seem possible, especially since the tournament was being played for the first time
on African soil in South Africa. Somehow, according to traditional beliefs, the
ancestors would show their pleasure by ensuring the victory for us.

What’s wrong with
African soccer? Five of the six African teams fizzled in the first round. African
players are stars in Europe, so why not here? More importantly, what’s wrong
with African coaches, asks Uganda’s Saturday Monitor. Most African teams are
coached by expatriates – well-paid elderly white guys, who don’t deliver. Why
not hire locals who understand the local conditions and know the players
better? According to a former coach, Moses  Basena, the “problem is the skin.
Naturally we still look at whites as a superior force”.

Well, if not
superior, at least objective. An outsider is more likely to be listened to.
African coaches are more easily dragged into arguments. Africa is not Europe. In
Africa decisions are reached taking into account spontaneity and consensus, and
that even includes soccer.

Besides, personal
pride is at stake, and it is shameful here for a man to be publicly corrected.
An African coach needs extra qualities to the foreigner. He must combine a
strong personality with patience, discipline and professional prestige. On the
plus side, he already knows how the players’ minds work. Once, that is, he gets
them to work as a team – easy in the African social context; but difficult too,
when the vanity of star performers has to be contended with.

In Europe the mood
is already one of discipline and focus on achievement, so African players can
thrive there. But in Africa no one will ever believe we can win the World Cup
until we actually win it. This year’s finals prove it again. Soccer, with all
its rules, is another importation of the white man, and the whites are the ones
who will fight it out in Johannesburg on Sunday.

That’s why an
African team had to get through to the semis this time. South Africa was our
great chance to promote the sport on the continent. It’s much harder to work up
fanatical enthusiasm for Spain or the Netherlands than for Ghana and Nigeria or
for South Africa itself. Now we’ve got to wait for at least four more years.

For most African
men soccer is virtually their religion. Now that European matches, with their
catchy combination of discipline and versatility, can be watched live at home
or in a social hall or bar, who wants to follow poorly filmed local fixtures
played in empty stadiums? Besides, local soccer politics is tiresome and
frustrating, a stepping-stone to national politics for the managers, and good
local soccer players and coaches are certainly not dished out either the royal
treatment or the hefty salaries of the international celebrities playing for
Manchester United or Real Madrid.

This World Cup has
received heavy publicity throughout Africa before and during, and has
captivated huge audiences. It has been the topic of conversation. The time
distance between South Africa and the rest of the continent is no more than three
hours at most, and many countries have managed to show games live after people
leave their work places.

Brazilian soccer
legend Cafu, who played on two World Cup-winning sides in 1994 and 2002, was
optimistic when he
spoke to the media
last week: “”I can see an African country winning
the World Cup in the future. But it is going to take teamwork, team spirit and
players taking responsibility. It also takes a lot of determination to win the
World Cup.”

African soccer is
yet to take off. The talent is there and the drive, and potential performers
get an early start. The kids in the ghetto don’t wait for their first trade-mark
soccer ball; rags and papers wrapped into a ball shape can do just as well. No
need for a clearly-marked pitch either; a dusty alley-way is good enough.
Weather is perfect throughout the year.

What is lacking is
proper organization, honest management, real teamwork, moral encouragement from
the top and financial incentives, and access to world-wide media. So let’s kick
off! The 2014 World Cup in Brazil is only four years away.

Martyn Drakard
writes from Kampala, Uganda.

Martyn Drakard is a retired teacher of languages who lives in Kenya.