The African Effect on the English Premier League

Fitzgerald Munyoro

Gone are the days when the English premier league was truly English, what now remains is just tradition and geographical name.

In earnest, the EPL as it is affectionately known has become a global showpiece that has attracted both the footballing talent and eyes of fans all over the world.

A simple eye test will do the trick; the football turf looks greener, the stadiums are fuller, the crowds are lively, the players look larger than life and for the big derbies, the poetic commentary of Peter Drury always delivers in telling a compelling narrative.

Numbers presented by television audience analytics tell no lies either; a whooping 643 million viewers tune in to the league on average, which is much more than any other yearly footballing competition.

Findings by the Sports Business Institute show that the English Premiership cycle of 2019-2022 generated 4.55 billion which is ironically a drop from the previous cycle that generated 5 billion.

Despite the slight drop the EPL is still in a league of its own when compared to the other top European leagues.

The Spanish La Liga comes in a distant second with an average of 76 million viewers. It is hidden in plain sight that the gap between the two is jarring.

Promoters, advertisers and television companies have also noticed and poured unspeakable volumes of money into the clubs.

Talent scouts for English clubs have gone scouring all over the globe in search of the most exciting talents to showcase.

The movement to allure non-European talent first became evident in the early-mid 2000s with a focus of attracting players from Brazil, a country that has long being heralded as the spiritual home of football.

Surprisingly, the initial infusion of the Brazilian flair into the premier league was a disaster. The success stories of Brazilians who were success stories were a few dots amongst a sea of mediocrity and under achievers.

Highly rated talents such as Robinho (Manchester City), Kleberson (Manchester United), Roque Jnr (Leeds United), Alexander Pato (Chelsea), Anderson (Manchester United), Julio Baptista (Arsenal), Denilson (Arsenal), Julio Cesar(QPR) either turned out to be flops or failed to live up to the billing.

In a medical sports journal titled Science and Soccer: Developing Elite Playerssports scientist Mark Williams concluded that most players from the Samba Nation simply found the EPL too physical.

His findings revealed that the in the period from 2000-2004, South American players suffered the most injuries in the premiership which by that time still had traces of the old British hard tackling and stiff contact style.

With the failed Brazilian experiment and vital lessons learnt in mind, English talent scouts turned their attention to the horned continent where they discovered players who complemented the then English style of football well.

The evolution was mainly fronted by two revolutionary managers, Arsene Wenger and in particular the self-titled “Special One” Jose Mourinho whose trophy laden tenure at Chelsea saw a huge influx of African players.

Wenger’s approach was more inferred as he preferred Afrocentric players that is black French players of African roots who fit perfectly into the African player archetype

Yaya of the few African players to reach legendary status at an English club

A momentary gaze at the towering Patrick Vieira and Abou Diaby will be proof of evidence to the theory.  

Mourinho’s pragmatic approach found solace in African players.

African players have forged a reputation of being devoid of ego, humble and committed to the graft, qualities that struck a chord with Mourinho and brought good memories for the Blues and Stamford Bridge.

Since then, English clubs have welcomed and prioritized African players into their ranks with some reaching cult and legendary status.

Nigerian defender Joseph Yakubu captained the Liverpool rivals Everton during his spell at the club. Towering Ivorian Yaya Toure is regarded by many as a Manchester City legend for his midfield exploits for the Cityzens.

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