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20.05.2019 Football News

Why African Players Are Dominating European Leagues

By The Guardian
Why African Players Are Dominating European Leagues
MAY 20, 2019 FOOTBALL NEWS

Sadio Mane scored from close range after 17 minutes and again after 81 to join Liverpool team-mate Mohamed Salah and Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as the Premier League's top scorer on 22 goals.

The goals, however, were not enough to crown Liverpool's bid for a first Premier League title and a first top-flight triumph in 29 years with success because in Brighton on the same day, the Anfield side's closest rivals, Manchester City won 4-1 with Riyad Mahrez one of the scorers.

Manchester City won the title by the meanest of margins (98 to 97 points) but Liverpool did not end totally empty handed as they had the player of the season, Virgil Van Dijk, two of the joint top scorers, Sadio Mane and Mohammed Salah, as well as four members of the team of the season, Van Dijk, Salah, Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum.

The 2018/2019 English Premier League season witnessed the influence of African players and players of African descent more than ever before. These are players whose presence contributed to the successes recorded by their teams.

According to German website, Transfermarkt, more than 42 African players are contracted to English Premier League clubs with Nigeria and Senegal leading the pack. Most of these players have grown so dominant in their clubs that fans become jittery each time they, for one reason or another, are not able to take to the field.

The most popular of these stars are Salah, Mane, Alex Iwobi, Naby Kaita, Wilfred Zaha, Wilfred Ndidi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Victor Wanyama.

But there are others, who are silently pushing their clubs to success in the most competitive league in the world.

Six of these players are from Senegal including, Mané (Liverpool), Idrissa Gueye (Everton), Cheikhou Kouyaté (Crystal Palace), Oumar Niasse (Cardiff City), Mohamed Diamé (Newcastle United) and Pape Souaré (Crystal Palace).

Nigeria has more players in the English Premiership than any other country, but only five of them represent the Super Eagles. They are Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City),

Alex Iwobi (Arsenal), Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City), Isaac Success (Watford) and Leon Balogun (Brighton).

The Ivoirians in the EPL are Wilfred Zaha (Crystal Palace), Jean Michaël Seri (Fulham), Eric Bailly (Manchester United), Serge Aurier (Tottenham Hotspur) and Sol Bamba (Cardiff City).

Ghana's four players in the EPL are Jeffrey Schlupp (Crystal Palace), Jordan Ayew (Crystal Palace), Daniel Amartey (Leicester City) and Christian Atsu (Newcastle).

The DR Congo has three players, Mali (two), Guinea (two), Algeria two, including Mahrez, who was the best player in the EPL in the 2016/2017 season, while Benin has one.

Morocco and Togo have one each, while Kenya has two, including Victor Wanyama and Divock Okoth Origi, who will square off for Tottenham and Liverpool in the UEFA Champions League final respectively.

According to a recent survey, the number of African players playing for teams in Europe has gone up since the days when Jean Amadou Tigana and John Chiedozie were the only recognizable presence in the French and English leagues.

While Tigana played for the French team, which won the bronze medals in the 1982 and 1986 FIFA World Cups, John Chiedozie represented Nigeria up till 1985.

Today, apart from playing for European clubs, players of African descent dominate the major world football powers.

Writing for Ozy.com, Eromo Egbejule, who is an OZY author, said the recent rise in the number of African players in European teams is because "these players represent a cadre of potential stars trained with the world's best coaching and facilities and groomed in intensely competitive European leagues."

Riyad Mahrez became the first African player in Premier League history to win the PFA Player of the Year award in 2016, while Mohamed Salah's success in 2018 made it twice in three years a player from the continent had been crowned as the division's finest player.

Manchester City won the English Premier League and they have many African-born stars to thank for their success.

Among these players are their captain, Vincent Kompany, a Belgian international of Congolese parentage, Leroy Sane, whose father captained Senegal to the 2002 World Cup, Raheem Sterling, the speedster, who plays for England but also qualifies for Jamaica, and of course, Mahrez.

Chelsea's third position in the league owes as much to the efforts of their Belgian talisman, Eden Hazard, as to the guile of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ross Barkley, a midfielder, who also qualifies to play for Nigeria through his parents.

Tottenham will contest for the UEFA Champions League trophy this season against Liverpool owing mainly to the heroics of Moussa Sissoko, who hauled them from an imminent defeat at home to a sweet victory against Ajax Amsterdam in the semifinals.

In Tottenham's ranks are also Victor Wanyama of Kenya, Dele Alli, who was born in Lagos to a Nigerian father, the 'black mamba' Lucas Moura of Brazilian- Salvadoran heritage and of course, defender, Davinson Sanchez.

Arsenal, which will contest the UEFA Europa League final against Chelsea, have perhaps the highest number of African players in their ranks.

Apart from first-teamers like Alex Iwobi, Alexandre Lacazette, Maitland-Niles, Eddie Nketia, Elneni and Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang, Arsenal have more than 17 players of African descent in their rank from the U-15 cadre to the U-23 team.

Perhaps, the African dominance is more pronounced in the French Lique 1 than in other competitions because the ratio of blacks to whites is almost 50-50.

The current most influential player in the French league, Kylian Mbappe is of Cameroonian heritage. His parents migrated to France when he was a kid. Today, Mbappe is one of the most important players in the French national team and also for his club, Paris St. Germain.

In his work, The migrations of African football players to Europe, Dr. Raffaele Poli of the Sport Science Institute, University of Lausanne International Center for Sports Studies, University of Neuchâtel states that in "October 1, 2009, 571 players imported from Africa were employed by 528 clubs of 36 top division leagues of UEFA member countries (1.08 per club).

"They were present in 33 out of the 36 leagues (no presence only in the three Baltic countries). They are over-represented in France (3.4 players per club) and Belgium (3.3)."

Since that study was published, African players' presence have been felt even in the Balkan states and such obscure leagues as Afghanistan and Cambodia. Recently, China became a mecca for these fortune seekers.

One phenomenon in all of these leagues is that African players almost always play prominent roles in successful teams.

Explaining the recent exploits of African players in world football, Dr Sadiq Abdullahi, a retired professional tennis star, who represented Nigeria at the 1988 Seoul Olympics Games, said: "There is absolutely nothing ordinary in the genes or DNAs of the Africans in European Football Leagues.

"There may be physical advantage for those players from West African shores because of how they are built. They seem to be physically stronger than their European counterparts. This is deeper than genes and DNAs.

"There are several factors that contribute to this seeming dominance. They are classified in two categories: Nature (Biological) and Nurture (Environmental).

"The first category is the area of psychology of the African footballer going abroad to play. They are highly motivated and prepared to take advantage of all the opportunities that come their way. They overcome all adversities and guided by agents appropriately.

"The second category is environmental. This is a big factor. This is also cultural. These African footballers may have received a weak training but they are highly gifted and talented. The successful clubs in Europe, France and Germany are aware of this and are willing to pay for productivity and outcome."

Dr. Abdullahi is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning at Florida International University (FIU) and recently became a visiting professor at the Federal University Kashere, Gombe State. He has written extensively on issues pertaining to education and sports in Nigeria.

He said: "When African footballers produce on the field, their value and TV ratings increase. They become marketable and accessible to fans and national football federations. They strive to meet expectations and fulfil contractual agreements. They receive first class coaching and training as well as good advice from outside.

"They also receive a well-crafted insurance and welfare package that guarantees and safeguards their careers for the short time. As a result, they have the feeling of superiority and domination. They also know there is the fatherland to return to if they wish."

He believes the superior facilities "in these countries appear favourable to the African footballers and they enhance their performance and dominance."

Sports marketer/lawyer, Sabinus Ikewuaku believes the African sportsman is naturally more gifted than his European counterpart and always excel given conducive environments.

According to Ikewuaku, most African footballers know that success in their careers amounts to economic salvation and therefore they strive even more than their foreign counterparts to excel.

"Every gifted African footballer wants to play in Europe and so they work hard to achieve their ambition.

"Television has also made it possible for African youths to watch great football games and learn fresh skills that serve them well. So, it is no surprise they work so hard to excel.

"When an African boy plays football, he is not playing only for himself, but he represents the dreams of so many relations back home. That is why they work so hard to success."

Professor Ken Anugweje of the University of Port Harcourt attributes the recent dominance of African players in European leagues to a combination of factors, adding, genetics ranks high among these factors.

He said: "Certain abilities make a successful footballer and these are strength, speed, endurance, agility and skills. Except for skills, the rest are inherited.

"Blacks are endowed with these abilities in the right proportions required for certain positions in football. They don't fare too well in goalkeeping. These traits are almost important in the 100m, 200m and 400m races."

According to Prof. Anugweje, a sports medicine expert, who is the director of sports at the University of Port Harcourt, "another factor is motivation. Football is a sport for the working class. Most black footballers belong to this class. For them, it is an escape from poverty and under privilege.

"You may have observed that a large majority of them are of Francophone descent. The French colonization policies make migration easier for them. Most of these footballers are children of immigrants. For those who were born in Africa, France is usually their first destination. Their careers start there."

He acknowledges that the most important factor in success in football is skills, saying, "children in Europe have an early start in football education and learn basic skills earlier than those in Africa.

"Players of African descent from English-speaking countries who are lucky to have early starts are as good as those born in Europe."

He added that footballers based in Africa are not as successful as their Europe-based counterparts because of circumstances beyond their control.

"Many Africa-based players are self-taught, picking up skills from the streets. Some of these skills are poorly learned and difficult to unlearn.

"The few success stories we have are products of the numerous "academies " that groom footballers."

Founder/President of Football Coaches Association of African Nations (FCAAN), Dr. Terry Eguaoje advances several reasons for the successes recorded by African players in the European leagues this season.

He agrees with those who point at genetics for successes, saying, "research shows that genetic certainly have something to do with how athletic a player is or will be and also his or her body structure - tall, short, etc."

He adds, however, that "other factors like quality of training, nutrition, equipment, facilities, family environments - for example having other siblings that play football or other sports at a high level - also account for the successes African players are having in Europe.

"Finally, for African players, there is also this intrinsic motivation to succeed in order to be able to help their families and friends back home in Africa.

"They want to be able to lift their families out of poverty back home, as well as make them proud. We all know that when African players are playing very well in Europe it automatically gets them into the national teams of their countries."

Arsenal striker, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang typifies the success story of the African footballer in Europe.

Aubameyang, alongside Sadio Mane and Mohammed Salah shared the Premier League Golden Boot award this past season and he says, the award is evident that Africans are succeeding in the Premier League.

"It means a lot, I am really happy and proud of it," Aubameyang was quoted by the Guardian.

"I am sharing this trophy with Mane and Salah. I like these two guys. We are representing Africa, so it is a good sign for the continent.

"I am really proud and I have to thank my teammates for helping me to get it."

Aubameyang will not join Salah and Mane to participate in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations as Gabon failed to qualify for the tournament.

He will, however, hope to help Arsenal claim the Europa League title when they face Northern rivals Chelsea in the final in Baku, Azerbaijan on May 29.

Chelsea's third position in the league owes as much to the efforts of their Belgian talisman, Eden Hazard, as to the guile of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ross Barkley, a midfielder, who also qualifies to play for Nigeria through his parents.

They want to be able to lift their families out of poverty back home, as well as make them proud. We all know that when African players are playing very well in Europe it automatically gets them into the national teams of their countries."

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