By TONY NGARE
A new eastern frontier has opened up for African players. A handful of the continent’s top names are heading to China to play in its top flight, the Super League.
Well… just before we go into the overdrive and start screaming that murder, sample this.
After Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba left newly-crowned European champions Chelsea for Shanghai Shenhua last month, a number of other seasoned African internationals have quickly followed suit.
Nigeria striker Yakubu Aiyegbeni departed English side Blackburn Rovers for Guangzhou R&F on a three-year-deal, swiftly followed by Mali’s Frederic Kanoute, who signed a two-year contract with Beijing Guoan, having left Spanish side Sevilla.
They have now been joined by Kanoute’s compatriot, Seydou Keita, who has signed a two-and-a-half-year deal with Dalian Aerbin, after winning 14 trophies with Spanish giants Barcelona.
So, what is attracting some of Africa’s biggest names to China, besides the obvious lure of higher wages?
Some of the top Chinese clubs may not be Man City, PSG or Anzhi Makhachkala but make no mistake, their owners are wealthy people riding on the hugely successful property and construction industries.
Chinese firms are all over Africa making roads. In fact if we had the scramble for Africa with the Europeans during the colonial era, I can safely say we are now having another wave of scramble for Africa, this time by Chinese firms. The owners of these big firms are using the money they get from the mega constructs with African Governments to pump up their football.
On the other hand, we cannot rule out the fact that some consortium of constructions firms angling to win big contracts in Cote D’Ivoire may have decided in grand schemes to lure the country’s top icon to China. This way, they are able to engage the Ivoirians in all manners of development partnership. The next thing we will hear is that Drogba is setting up football academies all over the country with, of course the help of the Chinese.
Still, China has conquered the world in many economic fronts. It might as well be a long term strategy by the Chinese to have the world of football move its focus from top European leagues and start entertaining the thought of watching the Chinese Super League every weekend.