WHEN PETER Ndlovu tugged on the colours of Coventry City for the first time in 1991, it signalled a small piece of history for both the Sky Blues and the English game, writes Iain Green.
According to former City striker Cyrille Regis, the Zimbabwean winger’s label as the ‘first African to play in the Premiership’ ensured Coventry wrote their name in history as the club who “broke down the barriers for African footballers”.
Fast forward eighteen years, and the barriers that once existed between England and Africa have been trampled into the ground, with over fifty Africans plying their trade in the English top-flight throughout its twenty affiliated clubs.
But underneath the elite level of African icons such as Didier Drogba, Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor, lies an alleged web of corruption and deceit, prompting numerous critics to dub football as ‘the new African slave trade.’
With unscrupulous agents reportedly exporting potential starlets for extortionate fees while casting them aside if they fail to make the grade, the next generation of African footballers must be sure to tread carefully when setting out on the road to superstardom, or face the pitfalls that have befallen so many youngsters who hoped to taste both money and fame.
I honestly don’t think football is the new form of slavery within Africa
Regis, who now operates as an agent, believes the problem rests with football’s governing bodies who have failed to tighten up the laws surrounding the rogue businessmen within the sport, and believes clubs need to allow their fledgling African footballers as much time in the classroom as on the pitch.
The French-Guianan born front-man said: “When we signed Peter from Highlanders, I’m sure we went through all of the correct channels to tie up the deal, and then we looked after him during his stay at Highfield Road.
“However, things have changed dramatically, and it’s time FIFA acted to stop the exploitation of African talent by undertaking a review on the rules and regulations that are currently in place.”
He continued: “You have to hope that when these young players arrive on our shores the clubs in question and their agents employ a holistic approach, treating them with respect, and spending time getting them a decent education as well as simply playing football.”
But despite mounting claims surrounding slavery within African football, Regis is unshakeable in his belief that immoral agents aside, the situation in Africa with regards to ‘talent-spotting’ mirrors that of other hot-beds such as South America.
“I honestly don’t think football is the new form of slavery within Africa,” stated the ex-Wolves, West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa hit-man.
“Although it’s my belief that dishonest businessmen will look to make a quick buck if they feel they can get away with taking money from a young hopeful, I feel that if the laws are firmer, then we’ll finally see a situation that depicts African football in a much more positive light.”
“Make no bones about it, there’s a great deal of talent in Africa, and as long as it’s harnessed in the right way, be it through both attention to detail and education, then African football and it’s new generation will light up the Premier League for years to come.”