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FEATURE: Consequences of signing foreign players in Ethiopian Football

Published on: 30 October 2017

Recently, many football leagues around the world are developing the habit of spending millions during transfer windows and club managers and scouting specialists are very alert on such issues.

Surprisingly, currently, player transfer issues are becoming a talking point in the less known Ethiopian Premier League (EPL) as well. It has been more than two decades since the EPL started its run under its current format. Back in the day, it was a rare happening to even get regularly paid players; even monthly salaries were quite rare. Those were just simpler times. Even though, there were no formal contracts between players and clubs, Ethiopian footballers valued only the chance to play and the respect they get from fans.

In due course, things began to change; now, including those in the EPL, clubs in Ethiopian Higher and Division leagues spend millions of birr every year during the transfer window. Beside this, almost all Ethiopian league clubs are keen on signing foreign players every season, specifically from African football leagues such as Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Equatorial Guinea, Sudan and some others. According to Ethiopia Football Federation (EFF), over 30 foreign players played in different EPL clubs, last season. This season, the number of foreign players is anticipated to increase to 40 or 45 before the closure of transfer windows.

Contract values of some of the big names in Ethiopian football have skyrocketed, with two-year contracts for some of the top players in EPL reaching four million birr. On the other hand, debut EPL clubs like Mekele City has been busy headhunting and signing foreign players, during this year’s transfer widow.

Nowadays, snatching up new football players and securing long contracts in service of clubs has become a big part of the football spectacle around the world.  The famous summer and January transfer windows in European leagues, during which time some of the biggest clubs in the world clamor to secure the signature of whoever is the hottest player in the game, have become one of the most sought after periods in the sports.

Football fans closely watch these player negotiations in anticipation of these million-dollar deals and the clubs boosting their squads for the upcoming football seasons. The transfer window is also when some of the biggest clubs in world show the football world how strong they are financially. Similarly, these transfer opportunities also show who the most valuable players in the world are at that particular time and what staggering amount of money will be offered to secure their contract.

The concept of football transfer first came into existence in England in 1885. Before that, a player was free to play one or more games for any football club in a particular football season. However, after the Football Association (FA) recognized professionalism in football in 1885, it sought to control professional players by introducing player’s registration systems. Then, players were made to register in their respective clubs at the beginning of each season, even if he/she is to remain with the same club. And hence, players were not allowed to play without registering for that season.

Once a player was registered with a club, he/she was not allowed to be registered with or play for another club during that season; well not without the permission of the FA and the club that held his registration. The players, however, were free to join another club before the start of each season, even if their former club wished to retain them. European clubs are also very strict in signing players in due consideration to the ratio of national players and foreign ones.

Recently, many football leagues around the world are developing the habit of spending millions during transfer windows and club managers and scouting specialists are very alert on such issues.

Surprisingly, currently, player transfer issues are becoming a talking point in the less known Ethiopian Premier League (EPL) as well. It has been more than two decades since the EPL started its run under its current format. Back in the day, it was a rare happening to even get regularly paid players; even monthly salaries were quite rare. Those were just simpler times. Even though, there were no formal contracts between players and clubs, Ethiopian footballers valued only the chance to play and the respect they get from fans.

In due course, things began to change; now, including those in the EPL, clubs in Ethiopian Higher and Division leagues spend millions of birr every year during the transfer window. Beside this, almost all Ethiopian league clubs are keen on signing foreign players every season, specifically from African football leagues such as Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Equatorial Guinea, Sudan and some others. According to Ethiopia Football Federation (EFF), over 30 foreign players played in different EPL clubs, last season. This season, the number of foreign players is anticipated to increase to 40 or 45 before the closure of transfer windows.

Contract values of some of the big names in Ethiopian football have skyrocketed, with two-year contracts for some of the top players in EPL reaching four million birr. On the other hand, debut EPL clubs like Mekele City has been busy headhunting and signing foreign players, during this year’s transfer widow.

Some club coaches explain the phenomenon saying: “Foreign players will share their experience with our local players.” Well this is one of the dominant explanations in Ethiopian football these days.

However, some football experts contradict this reasoning. In fact, they argue that some of these foreign players are not rich with an extraordinary experience which can help local player’s get in shape for international matches.

“These days most foreign players are making Ethiopia as their career destination; however, the way local coaches recruit those players should be the right one,” Addis Ababa City assistant coach, Isimael Abubaker, told The Reporter.

According to Ismael’s observation, “Almost all of foreign players are not recruited appropriately and some coaches stand to benefit illegitimately from signing foreigners”.

He also elaborated that those players are barely above the local ones, when they moved to an Ethiopian league. The flow of foreign players to Ethiopian leagues is better accentuated by the rush for foreign goalies in Ethiopia. With the exception of Arba Minch, Defense and Welwalo Adigrat, all EPL clubs have signed foreign goalkeepers for the 2016/17 season. This is reflected in the severe goalkeeper drought that has hit the Ethiopian National Team in recent years. Currently, Defense is the only club with purely Ethiopian players.

With the exception of several clubs they seem to have lost confidence in the young local talent as they seen having clear preference to veteran local footballers or foreign players, football experts argue. True to form, experienced players will have the chance to play in ten different clubs before retirement, they explain. Again, sport experts comments that club board members need to consider changing their club structure in order to develop the league and the national team.

Though all 16 EPL participating clubs have U-20 teams taking part in the youth league, they hardly capitalize on their youth talent pool, experts assert further.

“EPL clubs should rethink their squad composition by way of exploiting their youth talent and building it from the grassroot level up. Year after year, our football leagues are losing their quality and we are seeing our league players performance declining,” correspondent for CAF Online and reporter for Soccer Ethiopia, Omna Tadele, told The Reporter.

Another sport expert believes that watching foreign players in Ethiopia leagues should not be considered as a negative development. Nevertheless, he agrees that every action which will be taken by EPL clubs needs to be taken in a critical way. In 2014/15, EFF has drafted and circulated a directive to govern professional and amateur football players in Ethiopia.

The football governing body, through its directive, has put limitation on clubs regarding the number of foreign players to five and only to use three foreign players in any game. Mainly, signing foreign players could also be helpful to compete at the continental championship level.

Credit: The Reporter

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