Something in the water

Africa's best football players come from West Africa. That's just facts.

Kehinde Wiley's painting of John Mensah, Samuel Eto'o and Emmanuel Eboue.

Right after New Year’s, on January 10 to be exact, FIFA will announce its World XI 2011. The result, they remind us, will be based on voting by over 50,000 professional soccer players from around the world. “Every voting player selects one goalkeeper, four defenders, three midfielders and three strikers.”  True, the 3-year-old award feels like another one of those endless FIFA awards created to showcase sponsors’ products. But I’ll take it. Now comes the news that FIFA just announced a shortlist of 55 players from which the final 11 players for the World XI 2011 will come from.

A quick “analysis” suggests no surprises:

The bulk of those shortlisted play for European clubs in three countries: Spain (18 players), England (17) and Italy (15).

The rest on the shortlist play either for German clubs (4) or in the French first division (1).

Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United and Chelsea dominate the list with the most players.

Finally, Spain has 10 players on the shortlist, with the second largest national representation coming from the largest African country in South America, Brazil–with 9 players.

As for African countries on the continent: only four players made the shortlist:

Yaya Touré (Cote d’Ivoire and Manchester City);

Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon and Anzhi);

Didier Drogba (Cote d’Ivoire and Chelsea); and

Michael Essien (Ghana and Chelsea).

Of the four, only Touré, Drogba and Eto’o still regularly turn out for their respective national teams.  And Touré and Drogba will be in action at next year’s African Nations Cup (ANC) in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. Cameroon has not qualified for the ANC and Eto’o is the subject of a disciplinary procedure for leading a recent player revolt in the national team and is playing–and cashing a huge paycheck–in Russia’s top league. Essien, who has been injured, hasn’t played for Ghana in a while–he did not make the 2010 World Cup squad–though he recently expressed an interest in playing again for his country.

I was surprised at the omission of Kevin Prince Boateng, (Ghana and AC Milan) from the list. He is arguably the most exciting player of this generation of African players. (Boateng recently announced his retirement from international football.)

I am not sure if this poor showing is another sign of the poor health of continental African football. In fact, all four players left their homes early and are really products of European, mostly French, youth club systems.

But perhaps, we can agree on one thing with the world’s professional players: the best African players come from West Africa.

Here’s the full list.

Further Reading

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After losing its parliamentary majority for the first time, the African National Congress is scrambling to form a coalition government. The options are bleak.

Heeding the call

At the 31st New York African Film Festival, young filmmakers set the stage with adventurous and varied experiments in African cinema.