It has been more than weeks since that spectacle of football called the FIFA World Cup took over, not just our television screens, but most of our social lives as well. Whether or not you are into football (at one point known as sokker by the New York Times) the ongoing World Cup has been just, everywhere you turn.
Anyway, I am a football fan, and I was digesting the exit of Nigeria and Algeria, from the competition at the first knockout level, it struck me that when seen from a certain angle, the level of performance of a nation’s football teams can be a mirror into the wider issues of how well (or badly) that nation gets things done. I am not talking just plain score lines here. I am referring to things such as squad selections, match preparedness, even dispute resolutions
Stay with me here as I run through some parallels. Let us take Nigeria for example. They have been one of the more exciting to watch African teams at any FIFA World Cup with several second round exits to show for it. They are a large footballing nation with lots of raw talent that was one of the first nations which the European leagues started to really scour with their talent scouts.
Many of the national teams’ players have been playing in Europe since their teens. On the other hand, since its independence Nigeria has been one of Africa’s more resource rich countries with big multinationals like Shell moving into to pump crude oil out of the country and the import it back as refined petroleum products. Where’s the connection there. Oil goes out crude, comes back refined, footballer goes out raw and untrained talent, comes back a professional.
Here’s another parallel that got me thinking. Since the 1990 edition, the World Cup has steadily been increasing the number of teams that participate in its finals tournament. The main beneficiaries have been Africa and Asia, whose allotted number of places has gone up from 1 each (I think) to 5 and 4 places respectively.
Let us take a look at what teams from these continents have done with these slots. In 1990, Africa had Cameroon’s miracle run to the quarterfinals, while all of Asia’s representatives got drummed out of the tournament at the first hurdle.
In 1994, Nigeria showed up and played some beautiful football, on their way to an agonizing second round exit, which sort of covered up for the fact that none of Africa’s other participants really did much to write home about. Asian teams also went out in the group stages, but Iran won a game. 1998 same story for Africa, Nigeria into the second round.
By 2006, it was the same story for Africa. One team (this time Ghana) being respectable, pretty much for the rest of the representatives, whereas, the Asian Teams, two made the 2nd round and all four looked like they belong*. How much does this sound like that anecdotes the economist like repeating about how, in 1963 Kenya was ahead of South Korea, yet nowadays it is so very different. What is it about them that they seem to learn and get better at whatever they set out to do well, yet Africa it’s the same old same old?
Anyway, maybe I am reading too much into some random football tournament that comes around every four years. Maybe I should just enjoy the football for what it is, just football and let the other issues be. Pity that I probably won’t
DISCLAIMER: I am aware that 2010 was not a good year for the Asian teams, but I reckon my point stands