In 2002, a young 21 year old lad from Dakar, Senegal set the world stage ablaze with confident performances for his national side; the young El Hadji Diouf led a talented Senegalese side to a quarter-final place at the 2002 World Cup finals, where they regrettably fell to a determined Turkey side in extra-time. Produced in a development centred France, Diouf went onto be named in the World Cup All-Star team for his enthralling performances against some of the World’s elite footballers.
Yet prior to that World Cup wonder show, young Diouf was carrying the hopes of an expectant nation on his shoulders, with keen eyed scouts from major sides in Europe watching his every performance, El Hadji went onto lead The Lions of Teranga to a great run in the 2002 African Cup of Nations held in Mali under the tutelage of legendary gaffer Bruno Metsu. His exciting and entertaining side went undefeated throughout the tournament, losing the final to Cameroon on penalties; Diouf had proved to many within the fraternity that his direct running game and creativity were worthy of being displayed at the elite level. Developed in France for the entire duration of his youth career, Diouf had begun to make a name for himself in the French football fraternity, very much for his on field brilliance as much as he did for his off-field indiscretions; Diouf left his best performances for the grandest stage in African football, showcasing to all and sundry that Africa can still produce talent of the elite calibre.
Diouf signed for Liverpool FC in a £10m move after following up his Afcon exploits with a brilliant showing at the World Cup; the scouts were already watching closely for him in Korea/Japan after hearing of his impressive performances in Mali four months prior. Mental shortcomings aside, El Hadji Diouf remains one of the most talented footballers Mama Africa has ever produced; a wide attacking player with the confidence to take on his opponents, regardless of their stature, and deliver the type of match winning performances we’ve come to see from only the finest footballers of their time. In 2004, he was named alongside 125 other stars of the game in the FIFA 100, a list of the greatest living footballers compiled by the legendary Pelé; an honour that shows just how highly talented and well regarded the lad from Dakar truly was by those who had seen his best side, with a football pitch for a canvas and a beautiful right peg for a paint brush Diouf was undoubtedly an artist of the highest calibre.
Which brings me back to this 30th edition of the grandest showpiece African football has to offer, many talented young players landed in Equatorial Guinea as relative unknowns, yet they all have the incentive of leaving the tiny country with a bigger reputation and an even higher market value. The upside to an otherwise badly timed tournament is the fact that it kicks off in a month where many gaffers are looking for a shrewd transfer or two to shake up their sides as their domestic campaigns begin to take shape. Young players now know full well how much more marketable they will become after a good showing here in Equatorial Guinea, even if they don’t transfer to a big side for megabucks, they know very well how many eyebrows a good shift on this stage can raise.
The African Cup of Nations remains the greatest shop window for African talent to showcase itself, regardless of where you ply your trade or which nation you play for, turning a few heads in the AFCON is guaranteed to get you a few more YouTube views, Football Manager fans and interested scouts watching you from afar in this age of diverse online based player recruitment. There is no greater incentive for a young professional to return to football at the domestic level with a desire to perform even better than the knowledge of a keener interest in you and your abilities from bigger clubs that offer the lure of an even grander playing platform coupled with increased personal remuneration for ones abilities. It may be too early to call, but I already see more young talent with the ability to attract some keen attention from top clubs playing in this entertaining Afcon 2015 spectacle; Bob’s your Liverpudlian Uncle Bobby mate, we will see a few more lads follow those that came before them by making big moves after a good showing in this grand tournament, hopefully even surpassing the two-time African Footballer of the Year El Hadji Diouf and bring glory to all with an affinity towards Mama Africa.