African stars find home from home

After an international break that saw the beginning of the qualifying phase for the 2012 African Cup of Nations it was back to the more familiar surroundings of domestic football for African players this week.

One of the interesting paradoxes of the modern, globalised game, in which bright-eyed aspiring football players are plucked up at ever younger ages by eager scouts, clubs looking for bargain deals and pay-cheque seeking agents, lies in the definition of home.

Case in point - the aftermath of the tragic bus attack on the Togo national team in Angola earlier this year. Manchester City’s Emmanuel Adebayor, perhaps unwittingly, provided a noteworthy example of this revision of the boundary lines that define where ‘home’ is for African and indeed other players in foreign leagues nowadays, albeit in saddening circumstances.

After the attacks Adebayor, clearly absolutely distraught, repeatedly spoke about wanting to go back home; back to familiar surroundings in England with family and friends.

There is a paradox here. Adebayor uttered these words in Angola - far closer to ‘home’ than England. From Lome, Adebayor’s place of birth in Togo, Angola is roughly 2000 kilometres away. Lome to Manchester is 5000 kilometres away.

The Togo bus attack had Adebayor pining for Manchester

Of course w‘home’ in the nomadic existence of a professional footballer can be almost anywhere. Players migrating to foreign climes are par for the course nowadays. They go, begin new lives, establish bonds, friendships, relationships and ultimately forge their own, new family ties.

‘Home’ no longer refers strictly to birthplace or where you grew up but, increasingly, where you feel most comfortable.

Whether certain African players now see England as ‘home’ or not, the continent was certainly well represented in the latest round of Premier League action.

Nine of the 29 goals scored in English football’s top flight last weekend were either scored or assisted by African players. A striking figure, and one that truly highlights the growing influence of African players in England’s top flight.

Steven Pienaar, Marouane Chamakh, Asamoah Gyan, Michael Essien, Salomon Kalou and Alexandre Song are the players with gold stars by their names for their goal scoring exploits during last weekend’s Premier League action, with all seven on the scoresheet (Essien twice).

Add assists from Peter Odemwingie and Didier Drogba (silver stars for them) to the mix and it all tallies up to a meaty contribution.

Essien and Kalou celebrate putting West Ham to the sword

Just a week after I described Asamoah Gyan’s move as the right one at the right time for the striker on this very blog, the Ghanaian did the business, scoring an impressive goal on his debut for Sunderland at Wigan Athletic (thanks, Baby Jet).

Pienaar, Kalou, Odemwingie, Gyan and Chamakh all made an impact only days after making the long journeys to represent their respective nations in AFCON 2012 qualifiers. Chelsea striker Kalou was on target for both the Blues and the Elephants, helping his teams down West Ham and Rwanda.

Meanwhile, perhaps the two most recognisable figures in African football of the eight – Drogba and Essien – sat the international qualifiers out.

Overall, five out of the eight players who made a mark for club also had the good grace to turn up and play for their countries, Song, Drogba and Essien the absentees.

Drogba still does not feel quite ready to play for Ivory Coast again yet, with whispers the 32-year-old is pondering international retirement growing ever louder.

Essien meanwhile is taking a mini-break from Ghana duty (he was not missed, Ghana waltzed to a 3-0 win in Swaziland) and Alex Song was left out of Cameroon’s squad for the game in Mauritius, reportedly for being a naughty boy in South Africa. It is thought Song the younger was one of a handful of troublemakers disrupting team morale at the World Cup.

No bother though, as Song got on the scoresheet in Arsenal’s 4-1 win against Bolton, Drogba grabbed an assist at Upton Park and Essien was rampant, scoring two goals and following it up with a goal in Slovakia against MSK Zilina in the Champions League.

A good weekend for the Premier League’s African contingent then, the week after the stars came back home from...home.

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