By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (January 18th 2021)
A few years ago, Zambian and African great, Kalusha Bwalya, suggested a change in eligibility for the African Nations Championship (CHAN). He wanted players who plied their trade in other African countries to be eligible for the tournament.
It was an important opinion as it offered African supporters in the host country the opportunity – scarce enough anyway to see African football icons in person. This is very important as it boosts attendance at the stadiums and also through television – such rights would be worth more to CAF and African FAs. That could be invested in local football.
Unfortunately, his suggestion fell on deaf ears.
The CHAN 2020 – 2021 actually – has produced some interesting football. But imagine if Bwalya’s suggestion had been adopted. Cameroon’s first CHAN could have boasted AFCON winners, Nathan Sinkala, Clatous Chama and Rainsford Kalaba for the Chipolopolo if Zambia’s coach Milutin (Micho) Sredojević wanted them in his squad.
Sinkala currently plays for South African PSL team, Stellenbosch. After a distinguished career in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with TP Mazembe Sinkala moved to South Africa. He had been a teammate of Kalaba at Mazembe who remains with the Congolese giants.
Kalaba distinguished himself for Mazembe and Zambia. He is approaching the end of a fantastic career. Few Cameroonians have seen him playing in their country. Chama recently extended his stay with Tanzania’s top team Simba. All three still play their trade in Africa. As such they are still helping to highlight African football.
Lazarous Kambole is a notorious late-bloomer. He made his debut for Zambia at Morocco’s CHAN in 2018, after taking his time to shine at Zesco United. The following year he moved to Kaizer Chiefs, which made him ineligible for this CHAN. It applied to other Zambian players too.
Their skills and experience would surely be beneficial to younger Zambian players at the CHAN.
There could be a limit of say five in the squad and only three on the pitch at a time. But it is not just Zambia.
Money, Money, Money
The CHAN is essential in this context. Years ago there was precious little investment in football, especially African football. It was a short career at top level – something that applies in sport in general.
Now that has changed – at least at elite level – but that poses challenges. Players know that they have to take their chances. By 30 they are approaching the scarp-heap and breaking through takes time. Both limits earning potential.
The CHAN offers a unique opportunity for African players to sell their talents to a wider audience – a second chance. The very best African players don’t need it. A CHAN involving the likes of Cameroonian great Samuel Eto’o or Ivorian legend Didier Drogba would defeat the point.
They never needed it. Nor did some others.
Uganda’s captain, Dennis Onyango, is a CAF Champions League winner and a stalwart of the Cranes and South Africa’s Premier Soccer League (PSL) champions, Mamelodi Sundowns. Does he need the CHAN?
Absolutely not. Would it benefit from his presence? Would the Cranes benefit from his experience? How could it not? But it would come at a price. Would he play? Whose place would he take?
If he played it prevents a player having the opportunity to shine and earn the right to follow him into a more lucrative career. If he doesn’t play, isn’t that wasting a spot in the squad and denying his club his services without great benefit to the Cranes or Mamelodi Sundowns?
Wouldn’t that defeat the point of the CHAN?