AFCON deserves more respect say Manchester’s African football fans 

The quarter finals of AFCON 2024 kick off this Friday with three-time winners Nigeria facing Angola in Abdijan.

There’s been no shortage of footballing drama in the tournament so far and local fans of the African game in Manchester have been lapping it up.

It’s had it all. Ex-Manchester United flop Bebe’s stunning 40-yard free-kick for Cape Verde. Ghanaian journalists booing their own team after their shock exit in the group stage. Hosts Ivory Coast sacking their manager Jean-Louis Gasset mid-tournament and then trying to poach the French Women’s national team coach Herve Renard on loan.

Despite all the drama the tournament has thrown up, local fans of African football in Manchester believe the competition doesn’t get the respect it deserves.  

It is a sentiment echoing the now ex-Gambia boss Tom Saintfiet’s comments last week, who told the Associated Press: “Europe must open its eyes.  [AFCON] deserves all respect, not only from the clubs or the coaches, but also from the media.”

Although 32 Premier League players have competed in this month’s tournament, the key narrative in the UK press has often focused on the length of absence of key players at a critical time of the domestic season. When Egypt legend Mohamed Salah suffered a muscle strain against Ghana, the media reaction was that he should return ‘home’ for treatment.

Despite a perceived lack of ‘respect’ for AFCON in England, every match has been available to watch live on Sky Sports. 

Femi, 39, a Mancunian of Nigerian heritage said: “Living in England, [inevitably] there’s so much more focus on the Euros.

But there is a massive Nigerian community in Manchester. We’re all over the place, Moston and Salford particularly are very Nigerian heavy. 

I am enjoying this tournament. Number one all of it is on TV, on Sky. So I can watch any game I want to watch. If I want to watch Namibia versus Zambia I can watch that, so that’s good.

Despite the TV coverage, Bouba, 42, a Senegalese Manchester resident said: “There is not enough media attention here.  People say it’s just the AFCON. There is nowhere near as much as with the Euros or World Cup. You don’t hear about it or see it in pubs.” 

The Senegalese community in Manchester is small. There are only around 3000 in the whole country. As a former French colony many who migrate abroad live in France rather than Britain.  

For Bouba, following the tournament in England is a far cry from watching in Senegal. He added: “In Senegal everyone watches it. At school there is a special break. The streets are packed and everyone watches the game, young, old, women.

Here I watch the games by myself or with family. The Senegalese people in Manchester is not many. I used to go to a Senegalese restaurant in Cheetham Hill but they closed it.” 

One of the more controversial stories from the tournament involved Manchester United’s Cameroonian goalkeeper Andre Onana. He missed his country’s pre-tournament preparations and only linked up with with them one day before their opening fixture. He started against Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League the day before. 

Bouba said: “That wouldn’t happen in a World Cup. Onana wouldn’t have done that.” 

Femi added: “All my friends support different countries, but we all agree it’s not respected enough. I grew up with Kanu, Okocha – those players came from humble beginnings. When they played for Nigeria they really tried.  

The problem is players who play well in Europe, who make a lot of money, they don’t have the same passion.  We have one of the most dangerous players in Europe, Osimhen. He doesn’t play to the same level at AFCON.

“It’s not like Copa America, where you can’t mess about passion wise.“

European club officials have also been accused of devaluing the prestige of AFCON. Tuchel requested Morocco rest Noussair Mazraoui due to injury concerns whilst Portuguese club Portimonense pressured Cape Verde winger Hélio Varela to miss the tournament. 

“The European coaches have no clue about African football,” Saintfiet told the Associated Press. “They still think we play on a s*** pitch in a s*** stadium. But Africa is developed, Africa is top.”

Last week Cameroon manager Rigobert Song was forced to downplay the influence of the Cameroonian Football Association President Samuel Eto’o, after suggestions that the legendary striker had too much control over the team.

The lack of transparency has left some AFCON fans feeling distrustful of their own sporting bodies. 

“If you look at Cameroon, Eto’o has too much influence over Rigobert Song,” Femi said.

“I don’t know if I would trust a Nigerian manager, they might be influenced [negatively] by others. Foreign managers aren’t prone to nonsense.” 

In the past, the standard of refereeing in the tournament has also been questioned. A notable blunder occurred in AFCON 2022 when the referee in the Mali-Tunisia fixture stopped the match 10 minutes early. “Things like that never happen in the World Cup or in the Euros,” Bouba said.

But poor refereeing was not to blame as Senegal crashed out on penalties on Monday in the against Ivory Coast. 

Bouba said: “At first I thought we could have gone all the way, and we played well in the group stages, but I knew as soon as we drew the hosts that it was going to be difficult.

Sadio Mane wasn’t at 100%. I don’t think there was a lack of effort from the players. They were eager to bring another cup back again, but it didn’t show on the pitch.”

Although Manchester’s Senegalese fans won’t be keenly watching the final on February 11, there is still hope for Nigeria. 

As the Super Eagles look to become champions of Africa for the first time in eleven years, Femi has mixed views. 

“I think we’ve been shocking this tournament but we have a good chance against Angola.

We should be winning this tournament on a yearly basis. Every year we don’t win it is embarrassing. We’re Nigeria, the population is over 200 million, we’re one of the main footballing nations in Africa. 

We have a strong squad, many other teams only have one really good player – a Mane or a Salah. We have Lookman, Iwobi, Iheanacho, Ndidi, Osimhen, Bassey. We should be winning.” 

One thought on “AFCON deserves more respect say Manchester’s African football fans ”

  1. Great read, I agree that AFCON should definitely be more respected. Interesting to hear what the local fans said.

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