If more players of African heritage decided to pledge allegiance to Africa, then perhaps the Africa Cup of Nations might actually become as big as the European Championship, writes BBC journalist and Focus On Africa presenter PETER OKWOCHE.
We are now into week two of Euro 2016. I actually prefer to call it Euro-Africa 2016.
That’s because nearly a tenth of all players at the tournament could have been playing for African countries. Take the lynchpin of France’s midfield, Paul Pogba, for example, his older brother Matthias plays for Guinea, the country of their parents’ birth. Or Austrian striker David Alaba; he has revealed that he would have played for Nigeria if he had been asked to.
Or for an even more remote example, Swedish striker John Guidetti; he could have played for Kenya, given the amount of time he spent in the East African country as a youngster. As a matter of fact, the 24-year-old credits the time he spent having kick-abouts with kids his age on the streets of Nairobi as the foundation of his career.
Seeing players of African heritage turn out for European, American or Asian clubs is no longer a big deal. However, what is astonishing is the number of players thrown into the international wilderness because they chose to represent a European country.
Take Gabriel Agbonlahor for instance. The talented striker was courted by Nigeria, but he chose England instead. He only managed three games with the Three Lions, but that meant he could never play for the country of his father’s again. Or even Scotland – his mother’s country – for that matter. It’s not that he was a bad player; his misfortune is that he plays in an era when England has a plethora of players up front – Wayne Rooney, Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane, to name a few.
His case is bettered (or is it worsened?) by Carlton Cole, who should have represented either Nigeria or Sierra Leone, but also chose England. He’s only had seven caps, the last being in 2010, even though he’s only 32.
Saido Berahino is another player who seems to be going down that route.
He’s chosen England ahead of Burundi – the country he and his family fled from when was just ten years old. But even though he’s been called to the senior England squad on two occasions, he’s yet to kick a ball.
But we are also witnessing the reverse.
If you look at Algeria, arguably Africa’s best team at the moment, more than half of their squad at the last World Cup were born in France.
It shows that if more players of African heritage decided to pledge allegiance to Africa, then perhaps the Africa Cup of Nations might actually become as big as the European Championship.
– Peter Okwoche presents Focus on Africa on BBC World News. Tune in Monday to Friday at 19.30 on DStv, channel 400.
Photo: Sergio Perez/Reuters