The Legacy of African Football
For many years, the African continent has been described as the “dark continent” because of its myriad of challenges such as civil wars, malnutrition, poor governance amongst many other reasons. That narrative is slowly changing, as Africa the has become the second fastest growing economic region. Just as citizens are working together to bring out the much desired change in Africa, football stars have been no different. Coming from humble and sometimes difficult backgrounds and then going on to bag big monies in Europe or elsewhere, they hardly forget their roots. Here is a list of some of the icons who have left their mark on the continent.
Who else to begin with but the Chelsea man who scored more than 100 English Premier League goals and won them their only UEFA Champions League trophy in 2012. He certainly was a fan favorite in London but even more adored in the West African nation. Even though he failed to win the Afcon title for the Ivory Coast, he did give them a lot to cheer about. Drogba once used his influence to broker a ceasefire between rebel fighters and the government by advocating for an African Cup of Nations qualifier to be held in the rebel town of Bouake.
He established the Didier Drogba Foundation to improve the health and education of children in Africa. Didier once pledged to use all his endorsement revenues for charitable causes beginning with the $3 million he got from Pepsi. He used it to set up a hospital in Abidjan in 2009.
The midfield maestro who was loved by Mourinho for his resilience and strong tackles on the pitch was truly a “black star” in Ghana, giving light and hope to thousands. He had a very successful career in Europe playing for Chelsea, Real Madrid and AC Millan. The ever smiling Ghanaian set up the Michael Essien Foundation to raise funds to help the less fortunate access basic amenities such as public toilets, health care equipment, libraries and clean drinking water. He is also involved in Reading Goals initiative which seeks to inculcate reading habits in students. In June 2013, Essien organized the “Game of Hope” charity match in Accra which pitted African footballers against other global footballers to raise awareness on the need of peace.
The ex-Arsenal and Nigerian Super Eagles star was such a wonder on the pitch. Standing over 6 ft. tall, he would dance past defenders and surely became a reliable marksman for the Gunners. After escaping a heart scare himself, Kanu opened the Nwako Kanu Heart Foundation in 2000 to assist young children in Nigerian and the rest of Africa to obtain heart surgeries. The UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador’s Foundation has arranged for over 1000 children to travel abroad and get heart surgeries done.
Mister George is perhaps the most decorated African player of all time. He really had a great time in Europe where he played for Monaco, PSG, AC Millan, Chelsea and Manchester City. In that period, he won two French titles, 2 Italian Serie A titles, 3 CAF Player of the year awards and the FIFA Ballon d’Or. After being involved in Goodwill ambassadorial work for the UN and UNICEF, Weah began a political career which peaked with him becoming Liberia’s President in a historic election for the country.
The former Everton and Nigerian center-half is probably not as popular as the above four man in football matters but his work off the pitch has been equally beneficial. He started the Joseph Yobo Charity Foundation in Nigeria which has seen over 300 students ranging from primary to university receive educational scholarships. Yobo also set up a football academy in Nigeria’s Ogoni Region.
It may not be all of them but if we are to sum up the legacy of African football legends in a sentence, it would be that of developmental work on the continent. With their contributions and that of other individuals from varied industries, the rising continent of Africa has a bright future that will forever be linked to the game of football..