Yaya Touré’s reign as the king of African football has come to an end. For the first time since Samuel Eto’o in 2010, someone other than the Manchester City and Ivory Coast midfielder has been named African Footballer of the Year. That honor now belongs to Borussia Dortmund’s French-Gabonese attacker, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Speaking to RFI (translated from French), Touré hailed Aubameyang as “brilliant,” but also took the opportunity to express his displeasure with the Confederation of African Football (CAF), and his belief that the organization assigns too much value to what African players achieve in Europe, versus what they accomplish at home in African competition.
“I’m quite disappointed, but I don’t want to complain too much. I just want to give credit to Aubameyang — you’ve been doing brilliantly well this year.”
“I’m very, very disappointed. It’s sad to see Africa react this way, that they don’t think African achievements are important. I think this is what brings shame to Africa, because to act in that way is indecent. But what can we do about it? Us Africans, we don’t show that Africa is important in our eyes. We favor more what’s abroad than our own continent. That is pathetic. As I’ve been told many times, you can’t take care of Africa too much because Africa will be the first to let you down.”
The way you choose to decipher Yaya Touré’s comments will most like depend on what you already thought of him as a person or player, or how much of last year’s AFCON you watched, or what you think of the quality of Africa’s continental championship versus Europe’s club game. Regardless, there is an undeniable weight and complexity to the Ivorian’s words. On the surface, Touré’s gripe is about how he led Ivory Coast to the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) title last year, an accomplishment he appears to believe even CAF doesn’t recognize as properly significant. Unfortunately, it’s a commonly held opinion in soccer’s global landscape.
There are two ways to look at Touré’s words. The first, and most obvious, is that he’s an aging star refusing to recognize his own decline in form. As a champion of the African game, Touré could have easily taken the opportunity to publicly congratulate Aubameyang, showcasing him as the brightest example of what his home continent has to offer, an heir apparent of sorts to his half-decade rule. But instead, he chose what some may perceive as the bitter route. Would Touré have been so outspoken about CAF’s priorities if he’d won the award and CAF highlighted his Premier League play as the primary reason?
The other way to assess Touré’s words is through the lens of a fiercely prideful man who, throughout the course of his career, has been outspoken, not only in instances where he believes he has been slighted personally — remember the Great Birthday Cake Disaster of 2014 — but also when he believes that African soccer is being dismissed on the game’s biggest stages. He wondered aloud why he was the only African on last year’s 23-man Ballon d’Or shortlist. His pride and intense desire to see African soccer prosper has even lead to him making uncomfortable blanket statements about poor work ethic among young African players in Europe — accusations he has had to combat himself for years.
Touré’s complaint is almost certainly about more than him losing out to Aubameyang. He is also voicing his sadness over what he sees as the African continent once again kowtowing to the “what happens in, or comes from Europe, or anywhere other than Africa, is inherently superior to what is African” notion. It’s a serious and multi-faceted issue that has plagued the continent, not just in soccer, but in almost ever facet of life, from politics to economics, pop culture to religion.
From China’s growing influence on the African economy, to African rappers adopting the worst of American culture in their music, to countless communities being ruled by archaic religious ideas brought to the continent through European colonialism, Africa is still in the midst of a centuries-long identity crisis. In that context, it’s easy to understand how a man like Yaya Touré — who so clearly believes in and recognizes the worth and importance of his home continent — would be so angered when he believes that the latest slight of African soccer has come from within.