CAN 2024: Egyptians and South Africans, prophets in their country

Unlike their adversaries from the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa, we rarely meet them on European lawns

CAN 2024: Egyptians and South Africans, prophets in their country

Unlike their adversaries from the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa, we rarely meet them on European lawns. Popular and well paid in their country, most Egyptian and South African internationals prefer to play in local clubs. Why would they leave? “They play in the two best championships in Africa, the best organized and the most economically developed,” underlines Frenchman Denis Lavagne, who coached Free State Stars in South Africa as well as Smouha and Al-Ittihad Alexandrie in Egypt.

Of course, South Africa has seen some of its players go into exile in Europe. But with the exception of Lyle Foster (Burnley, England) and Lebo Mothiba (Strasbourg), no international selected for the 2024 African Cup of Nations (CAN), which is due to begin on Saturday January 13 in Ivory Coast, plays in a major European championship. Some Egyptian footballers play in prestigious clubs like Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), Mohamed Elneny (Arsenal) and Omar Marmoush (Eintracht Frankfurt).

Nonetheless, overall, “the best players, like midfielder Mohamed Aboutrika [three-time African champion with the national team in 2006, 2008 and 2010 and five-time African Champions League winner with Al -Ahly] do not leave home, or for very short periods of time,” continues Denis Lavagne. A particularity which did not prevent the Pharaohs from winning seven trophies in CAN, a record.

“In Egypt, players, especially those who play for Al-Ahly, Zamalek or Pyramids FC, have star status. They are adored and earn a very good living, underlines Frenchman Patrice Neveu, who managed Smouha and Ismaïly SC, two Egyptian Premier League teams. We can therefore understand that a player paid 60,000 euros per month in Egypt is reluctant to go to Europe, where he will have to adapt to another culture, to another climate, learn another language, and impose himself, at the risk of compromising his place in the national team. » In the three richest clubs in the country, some internationals can earn up to 1.5 million euros per year, with substantial bonuses, in a country where the average monthly salary is only 250 euros.

" The choice is quickly made "

In comparison, the record of South African football is less rich. South Africa certainly won its only continental title at home in 1996 with 16 local players out of 22, but their performances remain very average in this competition where they have not gone beyond the quarter-final stage since the third place obtained in 2000.

The fact remains that if Bafana Bafana's victories are rare at international level, the South African championship is considered the strongest on the continent with the Egyptian Premier League. “Footballers play in modern stadiums, and enjoy real notoriety,” observes Frenchman Sébastien Migné, former coach of Marumo Gallants in 2021 and now assistant coach of Cameroon. Even if the salaries offered by big clubs like Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates or Mamelodi Sundows [whose owner is the businessman Patrice Motsepe, also president of the Confederation of African Football] are a little lower than in Egypt. »

South African players are all the less tempted to emigrate to Europe as the experiences of those who have done so have not been conclusive. Neither for footballers, nor for clubs. “Economically, recruiting a player there will cost more in terms of transfer and salary. It will be difficult to convince a South African footballer who earns 40,000 euros in his country to come to a second-rate European club where he will earn 25,000 euros and be far from his environment. For many, the choice is quickly made,” notes a player agent who requested anonymity.

The career of the best South African player is, in this regard, eloquent: failing to have made a breakthrough in Belgium and England, it was at Al-Ahly Cairo, the best club in Africa, that Percy Tau decided to continue his career. He would earn nearly 115,000 euros per month there according to Egyptian sources.