When CAF came up with the idea of the African Nations Championships, I was really not so enthusiastic about it. However, with only 12 days to Rwanda 2016, I can’t wait for the start of CHAN.
The only way you can understand what I am saying is when you realise that not only did I not watch the tournament, I did not follow it. The reason - I always look forward to every international football tournaments because I want to know who the upcoming stars will be.
My initial objections to the idea of CHAN was because I felt it was wrong to try and devalue African based players by creating a tournament that said these were the inferior players. Furthermore, CAF has not helped things by making the winning of the CAF African Player of the Year awards a prize for playing and excelling in Europe, and even worse, they now give out an inferior award for the best player based in Africa.
I was not a particularly spectacular player when I was growing up and perhaps was too lazy to actually work hard at my game to tell you I could have possibly made the grade internationally. I did however play a lot of football on the streets with some who became great stars and one thing I achieved was the ability to tell who was a good player and who was not.
I gained deep technical insights from working with some of the best coaches in Port Harcourt as a teenager and ended up as team manager and coach of my university football team long before making a name as a football analyst, commentator and writer. I therefore know that if a player is based in Africa it does not mean he is less talented than the player in Europe or elsewhere.
Egypt (2006, 2008, 2010) Zambia (2012) and Nigeria(2013) proved at Afcon that you can win with a team that is predominantly made up of players from the local leagues. South Africa in qualifying for Afcon 2015 also showed a bit of that so I always felt CAF needed to work on improving on the marketing aspect.
All that changed in 2014 when South Africa hosted CHAN on the back of the successful hosting of Afcon 2013 which in itself was preceded by the successes of Fifa Confederations Cup 2009, the South Africa 2010 Fifa World Cup and both the Africa Women’s Championships 2010 and the African Youth Championships 2011.
The publicity and the fact that they fielded a strong team coincided with a decision by Fifa backed by a strong CAF push for the tournament to enjoy full international status meant that countries took it really seriously. What was even a bigger motivation was the opportunity it provided the youngsters to play in the same stadiums in South Africa that hosted the World Cup.
So while there hasn’t been the same level of enthusiasm and publicity for CHAN 2016, I am very impressed by the committment shown by Rwanda in their preparations and as their sports minister, Julienne Uwacu wrote recently in a special blog for supersport.com.
My excitement is even more when I realised that my Super Eagles will be camped right next door in Pretoria and that Angola, Mali, Cote d’ Ivoire and Zambia are also preparing here in South Africa. I will therefore get to see them in some of their friendly matches before they head to Rwanda.
The Nigerians and of course all the players from the 16 teams going to Gabon know that every opportunity to play internationally is a platform to shine, so I know we will see great football.
I have been watching a lot of African leagues, maybe not as much as the Barclays premier League but I have seen so much of Zambia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, and Angola and Nigeria.
Rwanda’s Coach, Mckinstry has been quietly building a formidable team and also Uganda’s Coach “Micho” has built his team around players from their local league despite all the political disruptions and they will be formidable as will be Tunisia with their success at Club level, and Zambia has recalled veterans like Chris Katongo who has returned to the local league and as such eligible.
Sunday Oliseh has his work cut out as Super Eagles Coach but when you think that only two players from the squad that won the U23 Afcon just a month ago are in this squad, then perhaps, he needs to look around Nigeria a bit more for the likes of silky winger, Ezekiel Akpan who came off the bench to earn Nigeria the penalty that earned them a second goal against a stubborn Swaziland.
Those are the kind of African players on that will be on the showcase in Rwanda, and I don’t know about you but I am excited, and I can’t wait for Rwanda 2016.
You can follow me on twitter @Emekaenyadike