Africa has many good footballers, but because of the key role played by politics, national teams are performing way below their potential. Lack of trust among stakeholders has hampered progress, said coach Volker Finke.
DW: Mr. Finke, for several years you worked as a trainer in Africa. How do you assess the situation and development of football on the continent?
Volker Finke: For more than 20 years it has been repeatedly said that “it will not be long before Africa catches up in terms of infrastructure, there are better training opportunities and African teams can achieve success in major tournaments.” But so far this has not happened. When you look behind the scenes, the reasons are always the same: organization and infrastructure.
Can you explain that in more detail?
Football is a reflection of social and political conditions. There is usually no transparency. Many of the financial resources that are initially made available disappear. As a result, for example, the training pitches are in such poor condition that you would rather not let the players train on them so they don’t hurt themselves. Bonuses are not paid, and there’s no trust between the government, the association and the players. These are the reasons why I do not believe that an African team will get very far at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
So that means the problems in football are not very different from those in politics. What would have to happen so that African teams can celebrate success at an international level?
In my experience, the biggest difficulties come in the final stages of preparations, even though there are smaller problems during qualification stages as well. When you qualify, the fight for big budgets begins. As a rule, in African countries, everything that has to do with the national football team is paid for by the government. The federations do not have enough sponsors and other sources of income to pay the coaches and players’ bonuses. As soon as the government provides the money for a big tournament, everybody wants to have a big slice of it. Then a large part of the funds simply disappears. Once the government disburses the money to those responsible for the team, the many people who deal with the cash all feel they have the right to siphon off something before it is sent on.
There are things I have experienced over and over again. For example, after three to four days in training camp, suddenly the hotel closes its doors because the bill has not been paid. Or the bus will not come to the training camp because there is no money to buy fuel. And these are not isolated cases. I flew to Brazil with Cameroon two-and-a-half days later than planned because the payment arrangements were not yet sorted out and the team did not want to set out before things were negotiated. Every country that qualified for Brazil received $8 million (€6.8 million). The government should set up a new transparency program so that this money is used for good preparation comparable to the kind the competition from Europe enjoys. Trust between players, federations and the government needs to be built up. But I find it hard to believe that this is possible.
There has been much talk in recent years of corruption in the football world. Several officials from the World Football Federation FIFA were arrested. The longtime association president, Sepp Blatter, had to resign. The lack of transparency at the international level is hardly helpful for the development in Africa …
Civil society in Asia and Africa has not developed in the same way as in Europe. In many countries, there are no functioning democratic structures and no separation of powers. Blatter and company built up their power using these countries. Anyone who sends payments to the right functionaries can be sure that the 54 African countries are on their side. In FIFA, each of the more than 200 members has one vote — but very few national associations come from democratic countries. Football officials there are often expected to use their positions to raise money. We in Europe call that corruption. If you know Africa well, you might say: Everyone takes their share.
What does the lack of transparency in the associations mean when working as a trainer?
One works largely next to the sports field. You have to find out quickly how certain hierarchies function: Who is being sponsored by whom? To whom do you have to talk before dropping a player from the list? But at the same time, you have to be careful that you do not get caught up in dependencies. When you give priority to one player, others come who are being backed by someone else. I myself was 50 percent diplomat, 50 percent football coach. It is crucial whether you get a team together that actually acts as a team. This cannot be done overnight. And you also have to have the backing of the association when certain players are sometimes not invited.
How is African football doing from a sporting perspective?
In the five big leagues of Europe — England, Spain, France, Germany and Italy — players of African descent regularly make a decisive impact on the games. Ivory Coast, for example, has produced some of the best players in the world in recent years. But it’s always about things other than team performance. It’s about things like the fight between the players Yaya Toure and Didier Drogba with their respective followers. One striking thing is that among the five African teams that have qualified for the World Cup in Russia, three are from North Africa. There are never as many football talents in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco as in West Africa. Ghana, Cameroon and Ivory Coast have the better player material without any ifs and buts. But the North Africans are more organized and structured, for example, in associations’ work or training camps. In my opinion, these are the reasons why they have prevailed over the more talented teams from West Africa.
Volker Finke trained for almost 16 years the SC Freiburg in the 1st and 2nd Bundesliga. From 2013 to 2015, he was the national coach of Cameroon and led the team to the World Cup tournament in Brazil. Today he works in coach education in Japan, Europe and Africa.