By Kaela B Mulenga
Millions across Africa and the rest of the world are glued to TVs watching 2010 soccer world cup being staged in South Africa (RSA). Africa has never hosted this international tournament before, ever.
So these games are long overdue and welcomed on the African soil. And judging by the way things are: – in terms of readiness, security, organization and crowds – all appears good. Kudos goes to S. Africa for making us proud.
Africa is being represented at this world cup by the host country – Bafana Bafana of Republic of South Africa; Indomitable Lions – Cameroon; the Black Stars of Ghana; the mighty Nigerians; Ivory Coast (Còte d’Ivoire); and Algeria. At least three of these teams are ranked amongst the top thirty of the world by FIFA (Cameroon, Nigeria, and Ivory Coast).
Whether any of these African teams will manage to advance to the group of sweet sixteen and beyond – remains to be seen, and is where the question of productivity comes in. So far it looks as if only Ghana has a slim chance of moving on. Cameroon which is supposed to be the best of the pact, being ranked 19th in the world is already going home. Others are not doing that well either.
What exactly is the problem? The answer lies in low productivity. What is the meaning of this beast? There are many ways in which we can measure productivity. In general terms – productivity means: the amount of output per unit of input (be it labor, equipment, and capital). The labor of players in our case.
In manufacturing, the measure may be the number of hours one takes to produce a good, e.g., a shoe. Fore service industries such as Banks or Insurance Companies, productivity is measured on the basis of revenue generated by an employee divided by his/her salary. Without being too technical – this productiveness: – is the quality of being productive or having the power to produce. As we say in economics, it is the ratio of the quantity and quality of units produced to the labor per unit of time. That is to say this labor productivity measures the ratio of output per labor-hour, which is an input.
How do you relate all this to soccer? Very simple! Think of soccer (or Basket Ball) players as laborers, ninety minutes (90 mins) as time put in and goals as output or outcome. Anytime when a team walks out goalless, implies zero productivity. Indeed, the world soccer competitive strategies are based on how one team is more competitive (or productive) relative to another. A one-zero final result means that the team which scores one goal is more productive relative to its opponent.
As examples: In a match that took place between Italy & New Zealand – Italy’s one goal came from at least twenty three (23) shots at the goal. While as, New Zealand’s one goal came from only three (3) attempts at the goal. In short, although both teams ended up with one goal each – New Zealand team was more productive in that game. This means that New Zealand’s shots were of a higher quality (more effective or worth more) than Italy’s.
And this should not be hard to see since Italy is not only the defending champion, but is ranked fifth (5) in the world compared to number seventy eight (78) for New Zealand. On the African side, those who have watched the games closely would testify that the quality of say, free kicks, has been very poor. Often these were kicked way above the goal bar. No good!
Yet another example: In the Paraguay/Slovakia match – Paraguay’s eleven (11) shots at the goal produced two goals, to six (6) shots of Slovakia which produced nothing (zero). Quite clearly, Paraguay ended up being the more productive team
This productivity paradox is dependant on a number of factors. Among those you can include: Skill (inherent or acquired), training and coaching; passing, style or standard of play, and tactics or strategy (i.e., should you have more men in offence or defense?). Another variable is – experience, which helps a player to know about the “do’s” and “don’ts”. For instance, it is experience which tells you that you never ever leave your goal keeper alone (undefended). In addition, experience helps players in arriving at ‘productive’ as opposed to dangerous or ‘unproductive’ decisions. Unless a team possesses some of these attributes, it would not do as good as the one which has them.
If Zambia wants to do well at the international soccer competitions, it is here where the score card has to be improved. In case of those with plenty cash like Saudi Arabia or China – they can simply buy already trained and refined players or coaches.
The Republic of South Africa’s team (Bafana Bafana) which joined the world sports fraternity only in the 90’s when Apartheid was dismantled has lesser experience than Nigeria which has had exposure since 1960s. By the same token, Zambia’s Chipolopolo squad aught to be more experienced than say, Namibia which got independence way later. When Nigerians failed to pass Italians in  to qualify for the quarter finals – Italians credited their success to “good thinking” (a product of experience), meaning that had Nigerians themselves used their heads, they would have defeated the Italians – the argument goes. If nothing comes out of experience that is a case of being counter-productive.
As we can see once again, it is experience – a “I have been there before”, which helps to calm down nerves. Since emotions are also part of the productiveness equation, that is why good teams or clubs make use of the services of psychologists. This is important because each individual’s efforts, make up the total ‘team’s’ output. If one is not composed and calm, panic takes over. Productivity theorists have also observed that – commitment combined with persistence produces top performance.
Top performers are teams like Brazil, Germany, and Spain and to a lesser extent (comparative-wise) – you have Argentina and Italy. Therefore, unless the African teams can improve on some of the productivity components – they’ll, in my view, continue to underperform in the soccer world cup. And the onerous is on the African teams themselves. It is not FIFA’s job to improve African teams.
Although nearly every African team has improved some, when it comes to the quality of passing and keeping the ball flat with the grass, they’ve a long way to go when it comes to offensive and creativity in front. There is a tendency for forwards to want to stay with the ball longer than necessary. Consequently, few balls are hit at the goalie. Not so much work is needed to improve the back. In fact most African teams were spared humiliations because of strong defenses.
In my judgment, Africa’s dream team would be to combine Ivory Coast’s strikers with the Cameroon’s middle fielders and backers. Although Cameroon fell three to one (3 -1) to Brazil, they at least made attempts to shoot at the Brazilian goal keeper. Their shots at the keeper in this one game are probably equal to the amount of total shots at the goal by ALL African teams combined. This is regrettable.
Therefore, as can be seen from this analysis – the productivity at this year’s (2010) soccer world cup, in spite of noisy encouragement from the ‘Vuvuzelas’, continues to be below par. Unless of course if we were to put hopes by invoking the powers of African juju, voodoo, or mulamkuzi’s. Apparently the Javulani ball, which according to some had some African spirits embodied into it, didn’t help much.
But if the African sports authorities want African soccer to develop beyond what it is today – they need to attach performance measure (# of goals generated by teams rather than simply pleasing crowds), in all coaching staff hiring and evaluations. It is not enough to have coaches who would simply keep the team going.
That said, it doesn’t mean that all the other components involved in soccer such as infrastructures and good management should be neglected. It remains to be seen how South Africa will utilize or take advantage of the structures which are now in place and will remain a permanent structure in RSA. We have to wait and see. All in all, if we are not calculating and scientific about these things we’ll continue to be a backward continent even in terms of sports.
In the next article, I will extend this productivity concept to other practical examples such as – capital, and land. Comments are of course welcome. Cheers!
Toronto, June 20, 2010
Kaela B Mulenga