Arsene Wenger weighs in on the necessity of supporting player development in Africa
Legendary former manager Arsène Wenger has leaped to the defense of African football recently after weighing in on the lack of developmental support the continent receives when it comes to player development.
In quotes sourced from ESPNFC, Wenger cited French star Kylian Mbappé‘s African roots as a banner for Europe to rally around when it comes to the need to support Africa in its efforts to develop players rather than the best and brightest having to leave for Europe in order to realize their dream(s).
“Mbappé has African roots but was trained in Europe. If he’d been born in Cameroon, he wouldn’t have become the striker he is today. There’s Europe and there’s the rest of the world. The latter needs help, otherwise, we’re going to miss a great deal of talent.”
Wenger, who once nearly signed Mbappé for Arsenal when the French footballing sensation was breaking through the ranks at Ligue 1 side AS Monaco, certainly strikes a chord with his analysis of the situation when it comes to the state of African football.
A continent with a population of ~1.2-billion (2016), Africa boasts a roughly estimated population that is over 400-million more than Europe (~746-million as of 2018), it is easy to suggest that with almost double the population of Europe, Africa boasts massive potential when it comes to the development of young talent that could rival all other parts of the world with relative ease.
The issue, as ever, comes down to a lack of funding and inconsistent infrastructures that are in place for local clubs to take the lead in player development rather than many jet-setting off to clubs in nations like Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and indeed France, in order to complete their footballing education.
But that pathway has certainly not failed many African players who have carved career pathways that have led them to the very pinnacle of achievement in Europe.
Stars the likes of Liverpool attacking duo Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané, as well as famous names of years past such as Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o, Jay Jay Okocha, and George Weah all navigated their way from Africa without the necessity of having been born in Europe like Mbappé and many others.
It was once quipped that without Africa, France would not have won the World Cup in 2018 after no less than seven key players were either born to immigrant parents or immigrated from Africa themselves.
The current French national team squad boasts an even greater African influence, with thirteen of the recent twenty-four-man squad having direct ties either through their parents or direct birth.
Much the same can be said for European nations like Belgium, the Netherlands, and England, but most clubs across Europe have failed in creating direct links with the footballing infrastructure in Africa. Those that have, such as Danish outfit FC Nordsjælland and its Right to Dream Academy, have reaped the benefits while national teams in Africa can thank European clubs for developing their players in a manner that many would struggle to emulate consistently.
Still, with a lack of financial resources to develop its developmental network, many players in Africa will continue to fly under the radar or outright miss the opportunity to train among the youth ranks befitting their abilities.
Though the many success stories that have currently and historically graced Africa’s footballing journey, one must wonder how that book would read if the continent received even greater support across all facets of the beautiful game.
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