Manchester United superstar Paul Pogba emerged the biggest talking point after his team’s one all draw with Liverpool at the weekend following his poor performance by his standards.
But had his life taken a different route, the 24-year-old, signed by United from Juventus at the beginning of the season for a world record fee of over $100 million, would not have been at Old Trafford for the famous English football derby on that evening.
He would have been in Gabon (assuming of course the country would have qualified) representing the land of his forefathers, Guinea, in the on-going Africa Cup of Nations.
But because good sporting talent with French-speaking West African blood continue to be assimilated to participate under the French flag, countries like Guinea do not always have the best available talent to represent them and compete well against the rest.
Guinea did not qualify for the 2017 edition of the Africa Cup of Nations. Of course, there are a lot of factors behind this failure by a country which really ought to be among those consistently qualifying for this tournament. Yet it is not an exaggeration to say one of the reasons is that it cannot retain world-class talent like Pogba.
Paul Pogba was born in France, the third-born son of Guinean immigrants who settled in the Paris commune of Lagny-sur-Marne in the early 90s.
Paul’s older brothers, Florentin and Mathias were born in the Guinean capital Conakry before the boys’ parents moved to Europe. Despite being raised in France, they, unlike their brother, chose to play for their homeland Guinea.
The famous of the three brothers, Paul, would also have gone the Guinea route if he so desired. He would not have been the only one tracing his Africans roots in pursuit of international football. Quite a few players at the on-going Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon were born in their adopted European countries, but decided to “go back home” to become international footballers.
Algeria’s Riyad Mahrez, the reigning BBC African Footballer of the Year, is French-born. The Leicester City star rescued the fancied North Africans with the two goals that earned them a hard-fought 2-2 draw with Zimbabwe on Sunday.
In fact, at the last World Cup in Brazil in 2014, two-thirds of Algeria’s players were born and raised in France. Nearly a third of the squad was made up of players who represented France at youth level. Guinea Bissau also missed out as there are a number of players in the Portuguese league, who could have represented the country at the ongoing Afcon tournament but opted against it.
This trend is likely to go on, and African teams will continue to miss out on players of Pogba’s calibre who could be representing the countries of their heritage.