Where are the African guardians at?

Long considered the weak point of many African teams, the continent’s goalkeepers are changing dimension thanks to goalkeepers who have imposed themselves in Europe. However, it was not won.

What if the CAN 2021 was that of the goalkeepers? The monumental performance Tuesday against Algeria Mohamed Kamara, the goalkeeper of Sierra Leone, proves that the era of messy dumplings during the tournament is over. Nicknamed “Fabiański” in the country and named man of the match after making seven saves without conceding a goal, something that had not been done since Felipe Ovono in 2015, he burst into tears when receiving his trophy. Alongside the 22-year-old, trained in Sierra Leone and who still plays there with the East End Lions FC jersey, other goalkeepers are reviving the image of African goalkeepers. André Onana, Édouard Mendy, Alfred Gomis, Yassine Bounou … Rarely has the African Cup of Nations known so many goalkeepers of excellence in a single edition.

The idol of young people

If the continent is widely recognized for all the talents it has given to football in almost every position, the last bulwark until recently seemed to be Africa’s Achilles heel, if not downright a subject of mockery. “I think it’s a bit dated. I think we mocked the African goalkeepers about fifteen years ago with a few videos. Having been in Africa for a little while, I can tell you that we have more and more quality in this position ” , analyzes Sébastien Migné, who has followed Claude Le Roy for a long time in his African itinerary and who, more recently, has been at the head of selections such as Kenya, Congo and Equatorial Guinea. “We make caricatures, with clichés that persist, like “The African guardians, they are a bit folkloric” » , estimates Alain Giresse, passed on the bench of Mali, Gabon, Senegal and Tunisia.

In addition to the videos showing the balls or the eccentricities of some African gatekeepers, it is the lack of examples that have emerged in Europe and formed on the continent that penalizes the credibility of the current gatekeepers. Even today, when we take the four ramparts mentioned above, the Cameroonian has experienced a large part of his training at Barça and Ajax, Mendy is a pure Norman product, and his compatriot quickly went into exile in Italy. . Bounou, author of a sublime parade against Ghana on Monday, is the only one to have known an African education from start to finish, having left the Kingdom for Spain only at 21 years old.

“Obviously, a young person will think more of Samuel Eto’o than of Badou Zaki, Thomas Nkono or Toni Silva. ” Apoula Edel

Apoula Edel, who would have worn the colors of Cameroon if the president of his first European club, Pyunik Yerevan, was not so close to Armenian power, is one of those goalkeepers who learned their trade on the other side of the country. Mediterranean. However, like many African children, it was not keeping the goals that made him dream. “In my neighborhood, I started out as a field player. Well, it was not terrible, and one day, a guard was needed, so that’s how I arrived at the station ” , he recalls. So why such disenchantment on the part of this continent for gloves, dives and balls in the niche? It is first and foremost an idol problem, according to the former PSG goalkeeper: “Because we have Samuel Eto’o, El-Hadji Diouf! All these great players are forwards. Obviously, a young person will think more of Samuel than of Badou Zaki, Thomas Nkono or Toni Silva, for example. This is first of all. We love all these attackers who left their mark on Africa. ” Alain Giresse admits that African youth may be less tempted by the post, even if he is less categorical that it is a uniquely African specialty. “We promote the position of attacker more than that of goalkeeper. But it is somewhat true everywhere. We always put the worst in the goal (laughs) » , assures the former French international. Especially since for him, Onana and Mendy will inevitably arouse vocations, just as they were inspired in their youth. And so it is not the talent at the root that is lacking.

A lack of facilities and coaches

For Giresse, the problem lies elsewhere: in training. An observation shared by Edel: “I think we start with a handicap due to not being trained very young. We arrive in Europe, where the majority of young athletes in general have already been in training for a while … It starts from there. When an African goalkeeper arrives, we tell ourselves that technically, that’s not it. They no longer have the time to train us, to teach us to dive, to catch a ball. It’s those little details that cripple us a bit, I think. ” Obviously, with infrastructures clearly below what is done in Europe, Africa is lagging behind. But this problem tends to change more and more, while major continental football countries, such as Senegal or Cameroon, are equipping themselves with decent facilities.

“Today, all the selections have a specific coach for the position. The gap with European nations has undoubtedly narrowed. ” Sébastien Migné

Another glaring lack for the local goalkeepers to progress is the presence of specific coaches. You may have promising youngsters and decent lawns, if you have no one to teach them their trade, it’s complicated. But as with infrastructure, large engines have seized the problem and are in the process of filling the gap. “Today, all the selections have a specific coach for the position. The gap with European nations has undoubtedly narrowed ” , details Sébastien Migné, for whom the “TP Mazembe has nothing to envy a European staff” .

Idols? Check. Facilities? Check. Specific trainers? Check. What is missing ? “The requirement and the homogeneity of the championships, Migné replies. Onana, he has big games every week. Or two or three times a week. The goalkeeper who will evolve in the championship of Togo or Kenya, he will have three to four big games in the season. This is the biggest difference today. ” However, all the nations present at the CAN do not have the chance to have a goalkeeper who plays in a European championship, or in a competitive African championship, as in South Africa or Egypt. But other Mohamed Kamara will always be able to prove that the African guardians benefit from the aspiration created by their compatriots exiled in Europe.

By Léo Tourbe
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