February 26th 2018

Sports / In-Depth

Euro 2016 has ended, and the legacy of black players has been massive

The Portuguese side that lifted the title boasts of six players of African descent. Luis Nani, Eliseu and teenage sensation Renato Sanches all have roots in the Cape Verde. Others like winning goal scorer Eder, and Danilo were born of parents from Guinea-Bissau.

By Thomas Matalangatmatalanga@kenyafreepress.comMonday, 11 Jul 2016 23:05 EAT

The Portuguese team celebrating their Euro triumph (Photo: UEFA website)

The Euro championship came to an end yesterday evening with Portugal turning out to be the eventual winners. This was a first major tournament win for Portugal after having been defeated by Greece in the 2004 Euro when they were the hosts. It was a well-deserved victory considering the fact that earlier in the tournament, the country had been written off for a dismal show in the group stages where they drew against all their opponents in group F.

It is not surprising then to say that this year’s championships was full of scintillating football, footballers as well as master tacticians and managers. What is surprising though is that the number of players with African roots who took part in the tournament was overwhelming. Many nations were massively represented by players with African descent.

The world champions Germany for instance have always had one or two African-born or descended players in the first team. Jerome Boateng being the best example. One of Germany’s greatest central defenders, Jerome Boateng's mother is German while his father is Ghanaian. Boateng plays for Bayern Munich, has cemented his position as a central defender in Die National Mannschaft meaning national machine in German.

On countless occasions he has shown impressive leadership skills. When he came off injured in the semifinal match with France, a number of television commentators predicted that his absence could cause a turning point for the game in which France was not playing exceptionally well. Indeed, without Boateng, the German defence never survived the onslaught by France, which ended up winning 2-0, the country's first victory over Germany in competitive football since 1958.

So dominant was the French side throughout the tournament that it was heartbreaking for many of its supporters to see the team lose the final to under-performers Portugal. But France was not only dominant but also the most multiracial team of in the tournament.

The team featured white, Arab and black players, with the latter ably represented by playmakers like Senegal-born Patrice Evra, who has served as a captain for France. Musa Sissoko’s parents hail from Mali. Blaise Matuidi has Angolan roots through his father as well as Belgian roots through the mother. Samuel Umtiti was born in Yaoundé Cameroon and was recently signed by Spanish giants FC Barcelona from Olympique Lyonnais for a fee around 24.6M pounds.

Eliaquim Mangala was born in Colombes France to DR Congo parents while second choice keeper Steven Mandanda was born in the DR Congo. Right back Bacary Sagna was born in Sens France to Senegalese parents. Paul Pogba is of Guinean descent but play Les Blues although his twin siblings Florentin and Mathias have made appearances for the Guinea national team. This among many other French footballers goes to show the impact of players with African roots to Les Blues.

The defender Samuel Umtiti, who plays for Lyon, was born in Cameroon. Midfielders Ngolo Kante and Moussa Sissoko were born by parents from Mali. Anthony Martial is descended from the West Indies.

In this multiracial set-up there have been hitches. The coach received flak for leaving Kazim Benzama, the Real Madrid striker, from the squad. Benzema had been suspended from the national team in November 2015 when it it was alleged that he had assisted in the attempt  to blackmail fellow player Mathieu Valbuena.This was seen as racist, with many players pleading with the coach  to reinstate him to the national squad.

The French team that won the 1998 World Cup had 11 players of African descent, among the Thierry Henry, Lillian Thuram, Marcel Desailly, Silvain Wiltord, Patrick Vieira.

Going down memory lane, France reached the semifinals of the 1958 World Cup through the amazing exploits of Morrocan-born Juste Fontaine. He scored thirteen goals in six games and still holds the record for the most goals scored in a single edition of the World Cup.

Belgium was the best ranked European team coming into the Euro 2016 finals in France. It was ranked first in the global FIFA rankings. A good reason for this was due to the contribution of players with African heritage to the Red Devils squad. Jordan Lukaku and his sibling Romelu Lukaku were born of Congolese parents. Moussa Dembele has his roots in Mali through his father Yaya.

England is probably one of the European countries which has consistently produced players of African descent over the years. Danny Welbeck was born in Manchester England to Ghanaian parents and had already made appearances for the Three Lions by the time the Ghanaian FA came calling.

Other notable England players of African descent include Viv Anderson, John Barnes, Paul Ince, Andy Cole, Sole Campbell, Emile Hesky, Michael Sturridge. And more recently, youngsters like Andros Townsend, Dele Alli and Marcus Rashford.

This among many other players in England with African roots goes to show the contribution the African continent has had to play in not only European football but also on the global level.

Wales’s latest sensation Hal Robson-Kanu whose wonder strike put salt into the open wound of Belgium and finished a 3-1 goal routing of the Belgians is another example of players of African descent who have made their mark on European football. Robson-Kanu has Nigerian roots through his father.

A fact that very people know is that Ryan Giggs, formerly of Machester United and Wales, considered one of the greatest footballing talents to have come out of the British Isles, was born to a Welsh mother and a Sierra Leonean father.

The Portuguese side that lifted the title boast of six players of African descent. Luis Nani, Eliseu and teenage sensation Renato Sanches all have roots in the Cape Verde islands. Others like winning goal scorer Eder, and Danilo were born of parents from Guinea-Bissau.

Midfield maestro William Carvalho has Angolan roots. Portugal may have started the tournament on a low key but proved that they could rely on the capabilities of each individual player to claim the trophy against all odds.

Even the Azzuri, the Italian national team, has their Ghanaian- descended troubled football genius, Mario Balotelli.In Euro 2012 he scored the two crucial goals that enabled Italy overcome Germany 2-1, and reach the finals.

Players with African heritage have contributed substantially to the growth of European football. Six players in the winning Portuguese team, and also six in the French team, were black, meaning that nearly half of the teams that met at the finals were black. All the teams that went beyond the knock out stage had at least a black player.

Matalanga is a student of journalism at the East Africa School of Media Studies and an intern writer at the Kenya Free Press.

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