Manchester United: Are African players wanted or loathed at Old Trafford?
I have been asked countless times why Premier League giants Manchester United do not sign African players. Every time I have wondered why the question is put to me. How do you expect me to answer this million dollar question when you know I don’t work for United in any capacity?
Despite that I am going to try and offer some possible reasons as to why United are not signing African players. But before I delve into the issues, I want to put it on records that over the past 13 years, United have signed five players from Africa, one of whom did not make an appearance for the first team.
These players were:
* Quinton Fortune - 1999 to 2006
* Eric Djemba-Djemba - 2003 to 2005
* Mikel Obi - 2005 (he never played for the club and was sold to Chelsea in the same year after a mutual agreement.)
* Manucho - 2008 to 2009
* Mame Biram Diouf - 2009 to 2012
Yes, United were interested in signing them, but the FA rules hindered the deals at the time. If their deals had fallen through, the plan was for United to loan them out to Royal Antwerp in Belgium.
The "powerful" agent of both boys back then, Monsieur Fabien Pivateau, would not have any of that and took his clients elsewhere. Glad however that both men by dint of hard work have been able to reach the pinnacle of their respective careers.
Now let's fast forward to the reasons why United are not so much into signing African players.
1. The drastic reduction of age.
I believe someway, somehow, United know that African players reduce/slash their ages drastically in order to make the cut in the European setting. One would ask, is it only United that know this phenomenon? Assuming without admitting that was true, why then are other big European clubs signing Africa players?
The reason as I see it is this: most of these big European clubs at least change managers/coaches every three years and hence, their managers plan accordingly, i.e. in short terms and thereby can afford to sign an African player who can give them three or at most four years of top level football.
At United, the prime policy that is employed is youth development and longevity. Going by this policy, they are usually interested in signing youthful players on a long haul, who can give them six to 10 years of active and top level football of which most African players will struggle to offer.
2. Struggle to make the grade.
Almost all of the players United signed from Africa struggled to make the grade at Old Trafford. Let’s do a quick analysis here.
Quinton Fortune, the only African player to have played for United on a long haul. He was largely seen warming the bench and played a bit part role at the club. I think the major reason why he was kept so long at United was the exploitable marketing and commercial opportunities back in his native South Africa, which the club felt they should use him in such regard to their advantage. Just as they did with Ji-Sung Park of Korea and now Shinji Kagawa of Japan.
Now, Eric Djemba-Djemba has to go down as one of the worst players ever signed by United. Among all the African players to have plied their trade at the Theatre of Dreams, he had several opportunities and failed to utilise them. Afterwards he was resigned to the bench before being sneaked out of the exit door to Aston Villa.
Manucho had the potential to be a great footballer, but struggled to hold down a place in the team due to the presence of established stars like Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez. He was farmed out on loan countless times before being shipped to Real Valladolid. Mame Biram Diouf also suffered a similar fate to Manucho.
3. Committment to country or club - What's most important?
The timing of the AFCON (African Cup of Nations) tournaments also seem to be a militating factor in this regard. I read an interview granted by Quinton Fortune in which the ex-United man said it was the time he had to leave in the middle of the season for the Africa Cup of Nations for one month and Sir Alex went bonkers. So that made him fear the wiley old Scot.
United have continually reiterated that they are not against signing African players but they will do so as and when they become available at the right cost.
I hope I have been able to dispel some of the long held negative assertions you had about this issues and also the views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United. It is my own personal opinion.
Calling all Manchester United fans: Do you agree with Adbul's views on the subject? Should United be looking towards Africa for players or is there better value in looking at Spanish, German or British players? Will an African player ever become a huge name at Old Trafford? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.