Football identity reflects national identity
Why is African football in a slump?
There was a time when many people predicted a great future for African football, Pele said an African team would win the World Cup by 2000, but it never happened because African football became a reflection of the chaos in government and society. African football was feared because it was fearless, physical, athletic and skillful, that is what made Pele, the Greatest, make that prediction. That was a time when most of our best players still played here in Africa, since then almost all our best players have moved to Europe but our teams have gotten worse. How can better players give us worse teams? It is because we lost our identity, we tried to play like Europeans and adopt a pragmatic approach but it killed who we are. Let a lion be a lion, don’t change it to make it more approachable and docile, you kill the very thing that makes it a lion. We brought in European coaches because we despise our own, then we say to a white man “Give us an identity!” we already had one. Where we lacked is the technical drill coaches not head coaches who spend most of the time back home then 4 days in a hotel. We should have imported fitness coaches, skills coaches, tactical coaches, video review coaches, and left the top coaching and development of identity with African coaches. In all the games that African teams have played they tried to not concede and play for a draw but were stunned by late goals or self-inflicted mistakes. That is not African football, we attack fearlessly, we match you for skill then outmuscle you.
National identity in football
One of the best books ever written is “The Ball is Round” it is a history of football around the world, how it started in ancient times until it was coded with rules by the British in 1863. The railways played a massive role in the development of football, as British engineers and workers built the railways in Europe, then South America, then Asia and Africa, they took with them a game that could played anywhere flat. The railway in USA was built by the Chinese and blacks with a lot of Irish and ex-confederate soldiers, and that is why football never caught on in USA. What made football unique is that with the same rules, the game developed very differently in every nation reflecting the national character. It was a time when football was isolated and evolved in different ways, there are no TV to compare another style to so you developed your own. That is why today football national teams reflect the national character. Your character is something you cannot hide, other than try to change it, you should enhance those aspects that give you an advantage. Look at the following national styles.
Brazil – Samba football, football is played to the sound of drums, the players dance in rhythm, they build up the tempo and strike. The nation is a proud nation, winning is not enough, you need to win with style. It is not enough to defeat your opponent but you need to do it with swagger.
Germany – Cool under pressure, efficient, cohesive and hardworking. These are attributes Germans love, it is reflected in their team, never count them out.
Italy – still have 4 World Cups, they have been around 2,000 years, they have seen empires come and go and know what works. First, contain the opponent defensively then pick them apart methodically.
Spain – the Matador style. A Matador doesn’t kill a bull with one go but weakens it with Picadors, tiny little cuts and stabs to weaken it. Before this Tiki-taka Spain played like a bull, but decided to play like a matador, smaller than their opponents but agile, killing you with little passes that open you up for the kill.
Holland – Total Football, anyone can play anywhere, versatility and teamwork, ingenuity and hard work is a hard combination to beat. One-touch pass and move, triangular play, freestyle football. Their model was copied by Barcelona since Rinus Mickels and Cruyff played there in the 70’s.
England – Up and at em. People say England doesn’t have a national identity but it has, just a very bad one. Just like the nation is in its post-imperial hangover, it has an overinflated view of itself. The cold weather makes you run like a headless chicken, the rainy damp pitches don’t allow passes to move smoothly. So the developed the wingplay crosses with a big 9 to lump it in with a header. Slick skillful players are despised as showoffs and potentially gay, the dumb macho tackling style that loses gallantly is loved.
Uruguay – Abajura just. A small but fiercely proud nation sat between Argentina and Brazil, punching literally above its weight. They will fight, cheat, foul, but also play amazing football doing it. They grow up playing in the narrow streets of Montevideo where the only rule is “there are no rules” only winners and losers.
What is our national identity?
Our identity is moulded by our recent past and ancient history. Sport doesn’t change character, it reveals it. When you are up against the wall, you revert to character, to centuries of ingrained behavior and national culture. We must define our identity off the pitch first and reflect it on the pitch. Our history is rich, Rwanda iratera, Rwanda attacks, it is not attacked. We are an attacking country, we defend by attacking. We attack early and swiftly, disarming you before can react, we avoid attritional battles as we can’t afford casualties, we prefer stealthy pre-emptive strikes. Looking at all our great battles, there is always an element of trickery and daring involved, the battle of Pweto-Pepeto, Kisangani, Kitona, Ruhengeri, all involve opponents with superior numbers, better arms, better training but we emerged victorious. That should be the Rwandan style, first, know your opponent, spy and spy again. Get to know all their weaknesses, strike directly at the weakest but most crucial point, destabilize, misinform and then pull your master card at the last minute. We must select players who fit this template, regardless of skills, skills can be taught, but you can’t teach that true cunning Rwanda instinct. We make a mistake, we take athletes and try to teach them football mentally, we should start with footballers and try to develop them physically. We need an identity based on intelligence and scouting our opponents, having a physical game to match our opponents, developing our team collectively not players individually, and developing a never-say-die attitude in our players and fans. We rose from Genocide, we can do anything. Rwanda for World Cup 2026, there will be 48 teams, we shall be one of them.