The small 800 000 inhabitant country of Equatorial Guinea, once unpleasantly described as “a tiny, dreadful Spanish Island” by British novelist Graham Greene has now become the central focus for all and sundry within the African football fraternity. All eyes shift to the little country that has stepped in as emergency hosts of Africa’s premier football competition and welcomed the best sides in Africa to their growing resource rich land for the second time in 3 years after they also co-hosted the 28th edition of the spectacle in 2012 with Gabon.
The hosts are not without their fare share of problems as a nation, with the current political regime making great content for a Hollywood film and even greater content for a court case; yet the mainstream media would not have drawn much attention to many of the issues the people of the country are facing were it not for CAF’s decision to allow them to host this great football spectacle by themselves for the first time. It is worth noting that their national federation too has enough underlining stories to fill a blockbuster Hollywood script, or at least make for a 3 hours a piece, two part Africa Magic made for TV movie; the fact that they were already disqualified from this very edition of the African Cup of Nations for fielding one of their “conveniently naturalized” footballers during qualifiers is testament to how far the nation still has to go before being worthy of competing with Africa’s elite on the greatest platform for African talent on the continent. A nation ranked 163 out of 177 in the 2013 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, 14th most corrupt country in the world, is far from a model for ethical football practices; the reality is that they still need to develop further if they are to ever ensure that their country and Africa as a whole are ready to dictate its own purposes and provide for its own people without outside interference, but then again, which African nation doesn’t.
Now I could continue to rave about all that is wrong in Equatoguinean football and join the bandwagon of those that refuse to paint a positive light on the nation, or I could give you that other side of the coin; the side that shows how the small country of Equatorial Guinea could just be the true surprise package in this exciting 30th edition on the greatest show on the continent. Much fanfare has been made about how they sacked Spanish mentor Andoni Goikoetxea just weeks before the start of the tournament and replaced him with the Argentine Esteban Becker, who was the gaffer of their National Women’s’ side before his appointment. Becker possesses more knowledge of the talent the country has at its disposal and how best to utilize that talent to ensure that Equatorial Guinea are equipped to compete and not just make up the numbers. What is most notable about the gaffer’s short tenure is the fact that he has done away with a large amount of the players shadily granted Equatoguinean citizenship, in return for fast tracked papers and a substantial cash incentive, and he has sought to recruit foreign based talent that has more natural affiliation to the nation; it’s this decision to expand the scouting network and recruit players that want to add value to the system that has inspired great positivity within their entire football realm.
Fourteen members of their 23-man squad are footballers born in Spain, Equatorial Guinea likes 4000 kilometers from the defending European champions and globalization has naturally seen more and more players eligible to play for both nations in recent years, a trend that has become easier to track after the colonization of the small African territory by Spain; more and more Equatoguineans’ could be found in Spain after Equatorial Guinea gained their independence from their colonizers in 1963. Generations on, it has not become uncommon to find young Equatoguineans’, born in Spain, with the desire to represent the nation of their ancestry. The access to recourses has allowed the federation to do what many former colonies have been doing for years; lure these talented players back to Africa, using the lure of a better remunerated national side that offers more first team playing opportunities that can be used to bring up the value of the player while bettering the national team setup as a whole.
Many of these young Equatoguineans’ are products of good development academies in Spain, a fact that many quarters have refrained from pointing out when they raved about how the bulk of this side play lower division football; yet it is worth noting how they have in essence, secured themselves a core unit of young players that can develop together in a development thriving nation while playing regular first team football for a nation that seems determined to improve their football standard and bring it up to the level we would deem satisfactory using the global benchmark.
Emilio Nsue is a name many Spanish La Liga followers and seasoned Football Manager Gamers will know very well; a talented Wunderkind in his time, the lad would be representing the Spanish senior national team in another less talent filled generation. Yet it was not to be the case, capped by Spain from u/16 to u/21 level, Emilio Nsue López is now the shinning star of the Equatorial Guinea national team and one of the greatest products of the famed RCD Mallorca youth development academy; it may not take time before a few of the other young and talented recent Equatoguinean internationals join him as an established footballer and continue to make the Equatorial Guinea national side a thriving football nation. It may be too early to call, but this could just be the start of a prosperous and enjoyable link up between two nations that have long had a shady relation, the Equatoguinean and Spanish connection could have birthed a competitive, young and talented football team for African’s across the fraternity to enjoy watching; this 30th edition of the African Cup of Nations could just see the hosts being the genuine surprise package, and Bob’s your dual passport holding tío.
(Image taken from sportanddev.org)