Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Truth and stereotyping: Goalkeepers in Africa

The stereotype of an African goalkeeper can be summed up in one word: bad. African goalkeepers are thought of as being unreliable, mentally unstable and prone to absurd mistakes. Unfortunately, this year’s CAF tournament has shown that there is currently more than a little truth in this. There has been some magnificently eccentric goalkeeping. If the Marx brothers were alive, they might well have skipped off to Angola and edited a little of the goalkeeping footage together for a slapstick feature.

Here is a sample:

The quality of goalkeeping has attracted the internet savvy.

Here is a video compilation of this tournament’s worst goalkeeping moments, thus far:

That first video features Mozambique’s João Rafael Kapango, who almost broke his neck doing a somersault over the ball. Still, the enemy was repelled and the goal was not breached. That kind of mistake has been more or less banished from the top level of the game. As former Nigeria goalkeeper Idah Peterside succinctly put it: 'We did that 20 years ago, but now the game is more technical.' Those were halcyon days for the football fan, unless it was your goalkeeper behaving like Stan Laurel or Oliver Hardy.

Away from the issue of stereotyping, there is a genuine concern regarding African goalkeepers. There is no particular culture of goalkeeping in Africa. The continent has produced some good players in the position (Cameroon's Carlos Kameni and Egypt’s Essam el Hadary are two current examples) but the true stars have been attacking players. The success of players like Michael Essien and Didier Drogba means that scouts from European teams go to Africa looking for players in that mould: powerful, quick players who play in midfield or up front.

Training is a problem. In Cameroon, there is a tradition of producing good goalies, but elsewhere (and even there) pitches are covered in bottles and stones and the playing surface is too hard to dive around on. So players become goalkeepers far later in Africa. In Europe, a boy goes in goal and stays there when he is around eight, or even younger. In Africa, as in Brazil, players want to play outfield and don't go in goal until they are around twelve.

The rest of the world already knows there is more to African teams than just strength and pace, that these players might be doing more than 'running like black men to live like white men,' as Cameroon's Samuel Eto'o once put it, but until goalkeepers on the continent raise their standards, there will always be clay with which the outsiders can mould their stereotypes.

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