We here at CultFootball have been kicking around the idea of doing a series of post focusing on African football: its players, its nations, its history, its future.
For a quick start, note that today’s highly anticipated Premier League clash between Arsenal and Chelsea will prominently feature a number of African players:
Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast) and Michael Essien (Ghana) are among Chelsea’s stars, and keys to their success; John Miel Obi (Nigeria) is also starting today, while Salomon Kalou (also Ivory Coast) may come off the bench.
Arsenal’s Bacary Song and Abou Diaby are both of French nationality, but are of Senegalese and Ivorian descent, respectively. Emmanuel Eboué is also Ivorian, while Alex Song is Cameroonian. Both Samir Nasri and Marouane Chamakh were born in France but of North African descent (Algerian and Moroccan, respectively)–Nasri has chosen to play the French national team, while Chamakh opted for Morocco.
The biggest star among this group–and perhaps the biggest star on the pitch today, perhaps the best African footballer currently playing, and perhaps top striker in the world–is Didier Drogba. Take a look at this Guardian profile of Drogba, which follows Drogba on a visit back to Levallois, “the tough suburb to the north-west of Paris that he once called home,” when he left the Ivory Coast as a teenager to play for Levallois Sporting Club:
the semi-professional team he joined at the age of 15 to take the first small steps towards stardom. The club have decided to name their stadium after him, to mark not only his status as their most inspirational son but also as their modern benefactor.
When Drogba joined Chelsea, Levallois received a percentage of the fee, which equated to about €700,000 (about £469,000 in 2004). It allowed them to upgrade the facility to its present gleaming levels. Together with the football pitch, where the first team train, there is an athletics track, six tennis courts and two squash courts.
This points towards the financial interest small European clubs have in identifying young African talents, bringing them to Europe and developing them in the hopes that they will sign with one of the big European clubs.
This profile ran prior to this week’s match as it interestingly points out that Arsene Wenger passed on signing Drogba from Le Mans (the French club he played for after Levallois)–and of course Drogba has gone on to hammer Arsenal:
Didier Drogba can sometimes offer the impression that he is keen to remind Arsène Wenger what he missed. When the hulking Chelsea striker was a red raw hopeful at Le Mans, Wenger, whose knowledge of talent in the French leagues is encyclopedic, scrutinised his progress. Drogba could have been had for £100,000 yet Wenger and his Arsenal scouting staff “felt that he might not be completely ready”.
Drogba’s performances against Arsenal in the six years since his £24m move from Marseille to Chelsea have progressively twisted the knife. In 12 meetings in all competitions, he has enjoyed nine victories and three draws. Moreover, he has scored 12 goals, his favourite being the second of his double in the 2-1 Carling Cup final win of 2007. Wenger must now brace himself once again for the wrecking ball that is the Ivorian at Stamford Bridge tomorrow. Drogba is on a run of nine goals in six matches against Arsenal, each of which has ended in Chelsea triumph.