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Mentality holds African teams back at World Cup - John Barnes

Published on: 20 March 2014
Ghana lost on penalties to Uruguay in the quarter-finals of the last World Cup in South Africa

As football fans across Africa are hoping that one of their World Cup representatives can reach the semi-finals or even win the tournament in Brazil this year, Liverpool legend John Barnes believes that the mental aspect of the game is holding the continent back.

Barnes played at the 1986 and 1990 World Cups for England, won two league titles with Liverpool in 1988 and 1990 and went on to coach Jamaica's national team.

Now working as an analyst for African TV broadcaster SuperSport, he spends a lot of time in South Africa.

And Barnes thinks he knows why Pele's 1997 prediction that an African nation would win the World Cup before 2000 did not come true.

"What Pele saw was the physical attributes that African players have, but what he probably didn't take into consideration is the mentality necessary to win the World Cup," Barnes told BBC Sport on a visit to Zimbabwe.

"It's not just about physical ability, it's about your mentality. I suppose that's where African and other developing football countries such as Jamaica have to improve.

"Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba has shown that African players can compete with anyone. The mentality is important, the discipline and the desire and the determination and the respect.

"What I'd like the African players and those from a lot of the other developing football countries to do is to play for their countries with the same desire, respect and humility that they have when they play for their European clubs."

Some of Africa's greatest players such as Togo's Emmanuel Adebayor and Samuel Eto'o of Cameroon have had well-documented fall-outs with their national federations.

Areas of contention have included players not being paid on time, poor travel arrangements, inadequate preparations, lack of communication and other administrative issues.

And while this has surely affected the performance of their national teams, Barnes does not blame the players.

"It's understandable considering the way that the players are treated by the administrators. They're treated much better in Europe, and players have to be made to feel wanted," he said.

"Because of the challenges that the African and other developing football countries have, things aren't going to be perfect. When Drogba plays for Galatasaray he gets first-class treatment, but when he plays for Ivory Coast maybe he doesn't, because maybe the organisation isn't great.

"So I'm not blaming the players, but if you ask what the solutions are, that is one - to improve the organisation. Maybe we're disappointed that an African country hasn't won the World Cup, but to me what the players have achieved is ok, their achievements are acceptable.

"Maybe you could say they could have a better attitude but we're human beings and it's understandable that it affects you."

It seems there is a lot to be done before an African team betters than the quarter-final achievements of Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010.

Barnes is convinced that a South American team will be world champions this year on their own continent, but of the African teams he believes that under-achievers Ivory Coast will go the furthest.

"Like Pele, I look at the physical quality that players have and I'm hoping that they can adopt the correct mental attitude to be successful, and that is why I always have hope for Ivory Coast because physically and technically they are equal to any country in the world," said Barnes.

"I always hold out hope for their mentality to rise and their discipline to get better.

"I can't see anyone getting past the South American teams, but I believe that out of all the African teams Ivory Coast will do the best."

Source: BBC


This article has 7 comment(s), give your comment
  • Don says:
    March 20, 2014 02:03 pm
    D I D I E R D R O G B A = legend!
  • sam says:
    March 21, 2014 06:54 pm
    Good talk bro, good talk.
  • Prince San Diego says:
    March 20, 2014 09:50 pm
    Cerebral you are right my brother. It's hard time Africans start showing our players the respect they need. Look at Wayne Rooney . He is the most over rated player in the world. His name is big because he an English . This is the perception of Englsih and Americans anything from their country is the best. They adore their talents and even praise them when they are not doing good. What do we know how to do as Ghanaians ? Stupid criticisms . Mentally killing out players. I remember when Dede Ayew was first introduced , oh he is a kid; oh because his dad is abedi; but Walcott went to the World Cup at a very tender age. So why not Dede . Instead if giving him the support he needs we tried to bring him down. If your mum always too you that you are handsome you will always have the courage to speak to cute girls even miss world and surely pull her to your bedroom. Barnes is making a good point our players can't perform at higher levels cause we make them feel inferior. We kill them with our criticisms . I wonder how asamoah gyan can still perform . He definitely has a great spirit. But one thing I know is that anytime he decides to kick a penalty his confidence will be reduced by the fear of Ghanaians will say if he misses the ball. Let's respect these players, let our GFA give them the VIP treatment they need and Ghana will surely be successful at the World Cup one day.
  • CEREBRAL says:
    March 20, 2014 07:01 pm
    @ZG GH4LIFE this is exactly what Barnes is talking about...MENTALITY......I mean your comment starts with an insult, because you expect Barnes to read your emotions and say exactly what you want to hear. I wish Ghana would win the WC 2014, but I doubt it, because in 2010 we had the greatest opportunity to win on African soil and we blew it!!! In South Africa we had home support, we conceded a cheap Forlan free kick, Gyan blew off a penalty kick, our captain(Mensah) and striker(Adiyiah) missed their penalty kicks. This year I can safely say that we may have better players if AA ruthlessly scrutinizes his selection and picks the most fit players. The secret in winning at that level is to make the players feel they are the BEST in their position in the WC. How can we measure this attitude in a player: my research tells me that great players make less mistakes and at the end of the game their statistics happen to be the best: number of touches of the ball, assists, number of kilometers covered, acceleration higher at reoccurring rates etc So whereas we are supposed to support the Black Stars and wish them well, our wishes are far removed from what might or might not happen. I wanted Ghana to win in 2006, 2010 and also 2014, but I still have my doubts; I am wondering if all the players selected will be fit and willing to play their hearts out. I am also wondering if our model of play and tactics will be enough to outwit our opponents. Will we 1) keep possession and make sure that 2) our shots are on target? 1) and 2) are the key to winning.
  • Adebayo says:
    March 20, 2014 06:40 pm
    @ZG GH4LIFE: Whoever you are, you are surely NOT a true Ghanaian! There are some people Ghanaians have learned to respect and will always give some allowance if they express a difference of opinion. John Barnes is one of such! You can't call him a fool for expressing his opinion! But perhaps you are really not a Ghanaian.
  • Kwabena says:
    March 20, 2014 06:28 pm
    John Barnes is right. Ivory Coast were in more difficult groups than Ghana in the last two World Cups. And they still played well, finishing with identical points as Ghana in the last World Cup. Fact is, Ivory Coast have more talented players than any African country.
  • ZG GH4LIFE says:
    March 20, 2014 05:09 pm
    This fool was making good sense until he said only Ivory Coast will go the furthest,fool have you not watch any of the last two world cups, what changed for them now, After June, every country on earth will respect Ghana.