Football legend Joseph-Antoine Bell has charged football powers such as Ghana, Cameroun, Nigeria and Egypt to lead the drive to close the gap between Africa and the rest of the world, particularly Europe and South America, saying it is the ‘big boys’ of African football who are best placed to provide leadership for the rest of the continent to follow.
Bell, who won two Africa Cup of Nations titles with Cameroun in 1984 and 1988 and featured in three FIFA World Cups for the Indomitable Lions in 1984, 1990 and 1994, told The Mirror in the Gabonese capital of Libreville that the continent could not expect to improve and catch up with the rest of the world if football giants such as Ghana, Cameroun and Egypt failed to impress at the AFCON, while minnows such as Guinea-Bissau and Uganda rather take the shine.
For the man who was voted Africa’s Greatest Goalkeeper of the Century by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS), the quality of football at the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon does not give him the confidence that an African team would win the FIFA World Cup in spite of the abundance of world-class African players.
“Some people were happy with the way the tournament started with Uganda and Guinea-Bissau, but I think that improvement cannot come from the smaller teams because it means you’re improving from the bottom. You need leaders to move it forward.
“People are dreaming of an African team winning the World Cup but we can never win the World Cup if improvement comes from Guinea-Bissau a small team].
We need to have our big teams playing better and better, so if we keep having Cameroun or Nigeria or South Africa not qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations, then it means there is something wrong,” said the 62-year-old, who is an analyst for Radio France International (RFI) at the AFCON.
For Bell, who enjoyed an illustrious international career for Cameroun between 1976 and 1984, it is very flattering when smaller football nations such as Cape Verde or Guinea-Bissau show a lot of improvement and stand up to the big boys but such progress is not a true reflection of African football which, he says, requires a strategic national development plan for sustainable growth.
“You won’t beat Germany, Brazil Italy or France with Guinea-Bissau. It is encouraging for them but means something serious for us. If these small teams can improve and make an impression at the Nations Cup, it is encouraging but they must stay behind”.
“If we care about what is happening at the back then it means we are not moving forward; it’s just emotional and not really improvement.”