Soccer colonialism at play

2010-06-24 11:20

Former colonial masters continue to plunder

African football’s finest gems. It is an indictment met with vehement denial

from the likes of Britain, France and Portugal, but it is a charge hard for them

to refute.

Perhaps the most sparkling pearl Europe ever looted from Africa was

Eusébio.

Eusébio was plundered from Mozambique by colonial masters Portugal

in 1960. He had been born in Maputo in 1942.

As dictated by the harsh colonial laws in place then, Eusébio

wasn’t regarded as Mozambican and he never held a Mozambican passport. At that

time all residents of Mozambique were denied their rights of heritage and had

Portuguese citizenship foisted upon them as soon as they were born.

Eusébio left for Portugal at 18. His air ticket to Lisbon was the

most lucrative investment Portugal had ever made.

The Black Panther, as he became known, joined the Portuguese

national team within a year of his arrival and won the European cup with Benfica

the next. As Mozambique attained its independence, Eusébio was being crowned the

European Footballer of the Year.

A year after Mozambique came into existence, his compatriots were

forced to watch as he propelled Portugal to the semifinals of the 1966 World

Cup.

So cherished was Eusébio that when European clubs flooded Benfica

with offers for his signature it became a matter of national pride. Then

Portuguese dictator Oliveira Salazar swiftly declared him a national treasure

forbidden from being sold outside Portugal.

Portugal and other colonial powers might have used colonialism to smuggle out Africa’s greatest talent, but

the end of colonialism didn’t signal an end to the

practice. As incontrovertible evidence at the 2010 World Cup proves, the end of

the colonial era just made European powers adopt new, more politically correct

ways to do it.

The 2010 World Cup showcases players who would otherwise be playing

for African teams ­representing European ones.

A cursory look at the teams gathered in South Africa convicts

France as the most shameless of the guilty parties. Europe’s representatives in

Group A, France, can easily pass for an African team. Les Bleus’ defence alone

features two African talents.

Right back Bacary Sagna was born to Senegalese

immigrants in France while Patrice Evra, the left back, was born to a Senegalese

father and a Cape Verdean mother. Unlike Sagna, France’s captain was born and

bred in Senegal’s capital, Dakar, before relocating to France.

That decision wasn’t well received back home: “I came in for lots

of abuse in Senegal. I was ­labelled a money-obsessed traitor to the

nation.”

France’s team is littered with other African exports. Second-

choice goalkeeper Steve Mandanda was born in Kinshasa in the DRC. In 2008

Mandanda played for his adopted nation against that of his birth. However, what

made the entire affair such an international farce was the fact that Mandanda’s

younger brother, Parfait, kept goal on the opposite end for the DRC.

The elder Mandanda’s decision to play for France predictably earned

him the dubious nickname, “Frenchie”.

There are many more among Raymond Domenech’s ranks with African

roots. Alou Diarra hails from Senegal; Abou Diaby and Djibril Cissé have Ivorian

roots; Sidney Govou is from ­Benin while Andre-Pierre Gignac has Algerian roots.

Gignac is a reserve forward and it is doubtful he will leave the same imprint as

Les Bleus’ last Algerian import, Zinedine Zidane.

Zidane inspired France’s most dominant spell atop global football –

one only shattered by a loss to Senegal eight years back.

Zidane’s partners in crime back then were Marcel ­Desailly, Patrick

Vieira and Claude Makélelé, whose birth certificates were all issued in Africa.

Desailly was born Abbey Odenke in Ghana. He changed his name when

his mother married the head of the French consulate in Accra. Desailly and his

siblings were all adopted before the family relocated to France, when the future

defender was a four-year-old.

Vieira was born in Senegal to Cape Verdean parents.

Makélelé, whose given name means “noise” in Lingala, is a native of

Kinshasa whose father even represented the DRC.

Les Bleus’ reliance on easy-to-pillage African talent only came to

the world’s attention after their 1998 World Cup triumph. But the French have

been at it for quite some time now.

From the great Just Fontaine (Morocco) through to Jean Tigana

(Mali) to Basile Boli (Ivory Coast), Les Blues are repeat offenders of this

offence. Not that France is the only 2010 World Cup finalist guilty of such

player plunder. That Portugal and France have benefited from African talent

where Britain hasn’t is all down to the divergent colonialist policies the

latter pursued.

The French pursued an assimilation policy, where colonial citizens

were treated as fully fledged French citizens. This ideology meant that the

French weren’t reluctant to take players from the colonies on their national

team, as in the case of Larbi Ben Barek from Morocco, who represented France in

the ’30s and ’40s.

France even kept a close association with its colonies after they

attained independence. Britain pursued no such ideals during colonialism. The British had a relatively hands-off

approach that tended to favour indirect rule. This is perhaps why Britain did

not betray as naked an inclination as France in relying on colonial citizens or

their descendants for football glory.

However, it is not just colonialists reaping African talent these

days. Germany never colonised Ghana but coach Joachim Löw arrived in South

Africa with Ghanaian Jérôme Boateng in tow.

Born to a Ghanaian father who emigrated to Germany in 1980, Jérôme

has a half-brother called Kevin-Prince who decided to represent his country of

descent. In a bizarre twist of fate, Germany and Ghana were drawn against each

other in Group D.

To Africans still bitter over the exploitation under European

­imperialism it will provide further evidence that years after the colonial era,

Africa has yet to stop the plunder of its best gems by the West.   – The New Vision/Twenty Ten


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