Zambia’s Triumph – The Real Story
The Buzz and UCL’s resident East African Football Agent gives us his low down on Zambia’s recent African Cup of Nations triumph.
The way most pundits have described Zambia's victory at the recent African Cup of Nations, you could be forgiven for believing that their squad consisted of a group of novice players who arrived in Gabon after trekking from their wattle and daub huts on the Zambezi; where in between herding their cattle, they occasionally played a bit of football. The reality is rather different.
Zambia’s triumph was met with shock throughout the Western media. Unsurprisingly, most media outlets focused on the romantic narrative of banishing the ghosts of 1993, when the Zambian squad died in a horrific plane crash, instead of giving the young team the praise that their football deserved.
When first looking through Zambia’s squad list, it's hard to criticise their reaction. There are few very few household names, unless you live in a house of Football Manager addicts. Players play for teams as obscure as Power Dynamos, Henan Construction and Ural Overdblast, who seem more at home in the East Acton Power League than a home to one of Africa’s top players. As for the The Green Buffaloes, the club of the side's midfield lynchpin Sinkala, they sound more like a hallucination than a professional football team.
This has prompted many "football fans" to question just how Zambia managed to beat the "star studded" Ivory Coast. It wasn't all due to the so called tactical genius of Frenchman Herve Renard, who was sacked by Cambridge United after a disastrous spell in charge. Zambia's players showed that, contrary to what some pundits appear to believe, decent footballers do actually exist outside the confines of our Champions League obsessed world.
Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of European football would acknowledge Emma Mayuka as one of the world's best young strikers. He plays for Young Boys who currently sit second in Switzerland’s top division. The strength of the Swiss league has been highlighted by FC Basel’s recent wins over European giants Man Utd and Bayern Munich. Mayuka is not alone in enjoying a successful career in Europe, Chris Katongo, Zambia's captain, and a General in the Zambian army, had a decent stint in Denmark and the Bundesliga.
The backbone of Zambia's squad still play in Africa and, no, in most cases not on dirt pitches in bare feet. English ‘football experts’ express shock at African based players competing with the likes of Kolo Toure and Gervinho, a player who despite having the scoring ability of a misguided fresher is seen as one of Africa's best players simply because he plays for Arsenal.
Zambia’s best African based players ply their trade in the Congo; a country more synonymous with child soldiers and civil war than top quality football. However, if you look beyond the images of poverty and war, most of which are promoted by the multimillion pound charity industry, you will realise that the DRC has a recent history of footballing excellence.
TP Mazembe, Congo’s biggest team, have won the African Champions League 4 times. They are a modern club that owns 2 private planes and pay wages that rival European teams. Under former Senegalese international Lamine Diaye, they even beat Internacional of Brazil in the World Club Championship. Not conforming to the Eurocentric narrative that African teams play with heart but are no match for the tactically superior European and South American teams, this was subsequently dismissed as a freak result.
Kennedy, one of Zambia's African Nations heros, plays in the cash rich Premier Soccer League (PSL) of South Africa, where because he's a black goalkeeper and has a funny name, he is yet to be linked with any European team. Any interested team would have to place a very attractive offer to persuade Kennedy to leave, as the PSL is currently ranked as one of the top leagues in the world.
Nathan Sinkala and Felix Katongo are two players still playing in the Zambian league whose performances throughout the tournament proved that they can more than live with their more decorated contemporaries.
The reaction to Zambia's win at the African Nations is typical of the West's patronizing view of Africa. The consensus is that Africans cannot thrive without being moulded and taught by the superior Europeans. Hopefully, Zambia’s victory has gone some way to dispelling this myth, proving that African players playing outside of Europe can still be top class footballers.
All this doesn't fit well with the media's neat narrative but Zambia and Africa are going places, and no Europe, they don't need your sympathy or your help.