Arsene Wenger opens up on the need to support the development of African players

Legendary former manager Arsene Wenger has recently come to the defense of African football after weighing in on the lack of development support the continent receives when it comes to player development.

In quotes from ESPNFCWenger cited French star Kylian Mbappé’s African roots as a banner for Europe to rally when it comes to the need to support Africa in its efforts to develop players rather than the best and brightest. have to leave for Europe in order to fulfill their dream(s).

STRASBOURG, FRANCE – APRIL 29: Kylian Mbappe of PSG celebrates scoring their second goal during the Ligue 1 Uber Eats match between RC Strasbourg Alsace (RCSA) and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) at Stade de la Meinau on April 29, 2022 in Strasbourg, France. (Photo by John Berry/Getty Images)

“Mbappé has African roots but was trained in Europe. If he had been born in Cameroon, he would not have become the striker he is today. There is Europe and there is the rest of the world. The latter needs help, otherwise we will miss a lot of talent.

Wenger, who came close to signing Mbappé for Arsenal as the French football sensation broke through the ranks of AS Monaco in Ligue 1, certainly strikes a chord with his analysis of the situation regarding the state of African football.

A continent with a population of around 1.2 billion (2016), Africa has around 400 million more people than Europe (~746 million in 2018), it is easy to suggest that with almost twice the population of Europe, Africa has enormous potential for developing young talent that could rival any other part of the world with relative ease.

The problem, as always, boils down to a lack of funding and inconsistent infrastructure in place for local clubs to take the lead in player development rather than a lot of flight departures to clubs in countries like Belgium. , the Netherlands, Switzerland and even France, in order to perfect their football training.

But this path has certainly not disappointed many African players who have charted career paths that have taken them to the pinnacle of success in Europe.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – APRIL 10: Sadio Mane of Liverpool celebrates after scoring a goal to make it 2-2 with Mo Salah during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Liverpool at Etihad Stadium on April 10, 2022 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

Stars like Liverpool attacking duo Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané, as well as famous names from years past such as Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o, Jay Jay Okocha and George Weah have all sailed from Africa without needing to have been born in Europe like Mbappé and many others.

It was once joked that without Africa, France would not have won the World Cup in 2018 after no less than seven key players were born to immigrant parents or themselves immigrants from Africa.

The current France national team enjoys even greater African influence, with thirteen of the last twenty-four men having direct ties either through parents or direct birth.

Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku celebrates after scoring the 1-3 goal during a soccer match between Estonia and Belgian national team Red Devils, Thursday September 02, 2021 in Tallinn, Estonia, match 4 in qualifying group E for the FIFA World Cup 2022. BELGA PHOTO BRUNO FAHY (Photo by BRUNO FAHY/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

The same can be said for European nations like Belgium, the Netherlands and England, but most clubs across Europe have failed to create direct links with African football infrastructure. Those who have, like Danish side FC Nordsjælland and its Right to Dream Academy, have reaped the rewards, while African national teams can thank European clubs for developing their players in a way that many would struggle to consistently imitate.

Yet, with a lack of financial resources to grow its development network, many actors in Africa will continue to fly under the radar or miss the opportunity altogether to train among the youth ranks to match their abilities.

While the many success stories that have currently and historically graced the course of African football, one has to wonder how this book would read if the continent received even greater support in all facets of the beautiful game.