JOHANNESBURG: Former French skipper Patrick Vieira on Friday called for a halt on the export of teenage African football talent after the poor showing at the first World Cup to be held on the continent.
Amid a bout of soul-searching over the string of failures, other legends of the game said the six African teams had been too reliant on their star names and had allowed the pressure of the occasion to get to them.
Vieira, who was himself born in Senegal but moved to France as a youngster, said part of the problem was too many players were leaving Africa prematurely, lured by the prospect of earning big bucks overseas.
"Players should only make a choice once they are 18- or 19-years-old and decide if they want to play in Europe or to play in their country," said the ex-Arsenal and Inter Milan midfielder, who now plays for English Premier League side Manchester City.
A majority of the African players on show at the tournament earn a living in Europe. But for every Didier Drogba or Samuel Eto`o, there are hundreds of other Africans whose dreams of European success end up foundering.
Many who head to trials in Europe either fail to make the cut, or their form suffers as they find themselves afflicted by homesickness. Others end up plying their trade in lesser-paid leagues of eastern Europe where racism can be rife.
Pele famously predicted an African team would win the World Cup by the end of the last century but until Ghana scraped through to the second round on Wednesday night, it looked like Africa might not have any representative in the knock-out stages for the first time since 1982.
South Africa, Cameroon, Algeria, Nigeria and Ivory Coast all fell at the first hurdle, mustering a mere two victories between them.
According to Jomo Sono, a former teammate of Pele at the New York Cosmos who later coached South Africa at the 2002 World Cup, part of the problem lies in teams` over-reliance on big names at the expense of developing a team ethic.
Inter Milan striker Eto`o failed to reproduce for Cameroon the form that earned him consecutive European Cup winners medals. Chelsea ace Drogba, who skippers Ivory Coast, struggled after breaking his arm before the tournament.
"We as Africans tend to be individualistic instead of being a collective," said Sono at a session with the media organised by FIFA.
"We must learn not to rely on individuals. There are too many individuals playing for themselves," he added.
The poor showing has triggered a press backlash with the Johannesburg-based Mail and Guardian saying European-based players "boasting a big bank balance, big cars and several palatial homes, (have) become the bane of our teams."
But Kalusha Bwalya, a former African player of the year, said the tension of the occasion appeared to have caught up with some of the teams.
"We as Africa put a lot of emphasis on it being an African World Cup. There was a little bit of pressure on the African players to do well," said the former Zambian striker.
"In some moments we have shown the African flair of how football could be played and in some moments we showed stress."
BDST: 2311hrs, June 25, 2010