The precarious fate of African footballers in Europe after the end of their match

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Think about your favorite former male soccer player in Europe. You probably remember great goals, incredible saves, fighting spirit. What is he doing now? Framing? Or is he a players agent? Maybe a sports commentator?

Now think about your favorite former male soccer player who migrated from an African country to play in Europe. It probably conjures up similar images of fantasy play. But what is he doing now? I do not know ? Please don’t cheat and say it was George Weah, 1995 Ballon d’Or winner and now President of Liberia.

Indeed, apart from a few notable post-player trajectories, we know relatively little about the fate of former African footballers who played in Europe – whether they had a full playing career or had to stop playing professionally earlier. in life.

But why is this so? We have done various studies to try to shed more light.

Structural exclusion

First of all, only a few African migrant players remain in the game as coaches or in administrative positions in European football. Among the most prominent is Mozambique’s Mário Wilson who played most of his career in Portugal and coached SL Benfica to win the Portuguese league in 1976. There is also Michael Emenalo from Nigeria who was technical director of FC Chelsea and AS Monaco after playing for various teams in the United States, Europe and Israel. Most recently, former Nigeria international Ndubuisi Egbo won the Albanian league title with FK Tirana in the 2019/20 season, while Mbaye Leye, a former Senegal international, was named Standard’s new head coach. Liège in December 2020.

Instead, former African footballers either became coaches or players’ agents, or otherwise only occupied the football industry after returning to Africa, even though their original plan was to stay in Europe and move on. y continue their livelihood after the game.

Considering the impact of African players in European football, this is remarkable and certainly a waste of coaching talent for the European football industry.



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Recently, player Raheem Sterling and academic Paul Campbell pointed out the structural inequalities that prevent former black players from taking up managerial or managerial positions in European football. Indeed, if black footballers represent 30% of English Premier League players but only 1% of managers, the structural exclusion of black players is flagrant.

Admittedly, coaching positions in European professional football are limited and competition is fierce. But what happens to the majority of African players, how do their trajectories evolve after a playing career?

The answer is disappointing. Despite the handful of testimonials from footballing celebrities, our research indicates that the majority of African professional players in Europe are largely unprepared for their post-player trajectories and face social and economic challenges after their playing careers have ended. any reason.

These challenges do not come out of nowhere. They are part of the continuity of the various risks, uncertainties and difficulties encountered by many African players during their international career.

A case study

The reality of these hardships facing African players at all levels of the game in Europe is illustrated by Ibrahim (a pseudonym), interviewed in our study. He traveled to Denmark as a promising 18-year-old talent from Nigeria, signed by an up-and-coming club. Despite his talent, he has never known a breakthrough.

During his career, Ibrahim suffered from recurrent illness and serious injury. Most of his contracts were not renewed and he changed clubs frequently, spending most of his career in the lower divisions of the country, where wages were minimal, around $ 2,000 a month before taxes.

Following a second knee injury and the termination of his contract, he was unable to find a new club. After eight years in the country, he was forced to start thinking about life after football. Even though he was in his early twenties and didn’t want to give up on the dream of professional football, he couldn’t afford to focus solely on training to recover while looking for a new club. There were few alternatives. He recalls

I just wanted to work. I just wanted to earn money but had no education. How can you survive?

However, since he was entitled to social benefits, the Danish municipal authorities demanded additional qualifications and sponsored his training to become a nurse’s aide. He graduated after 14 months of training and now works full time as a nursing assistant in the elderly care sector, a job in which the wages are rather low and which presents particular challenges due to the injuries that he has. he suffered.

Ibrahim’s story is not unique. In general, African footballers are a particularly vulnerable group of professional athletes in Europe. More than others, they suffer from underpayment and short-term contracts and often face economic hardship.

Invest in the future

Although every professional footballer must constantly deliver a solid performance, African players are under special pressure. For them, obtaining a better paid contract or a more lasting contract is often an existential need to ensure their livelihood and that of their family in Africa. To avoid failure in Europe and the shame of coming home empty-handed, African players tend to focus exclusively on their professional playing careers.

Few have the time, the means, the knowledge and the necessary connections to ensure their post-player trajectories. On the contrary, in Denmark as in other Scandinavian countries, local players often benefit from support to secure their post-player career, for example through dual career opportunities and by combining professional football with education or Professional formation.



Read more: Sport in Africa: Book provides insight into games, people and politics


African players are often excluded due to their widespread lack of required qualifications or language skills needed to enter educational programs in Europe. And European clubs rarely show much interest in offering adequate courses or professional training. It would certainly contradict their cost-benefit approach of getting top African talent at relatively low prices.

Many of our research participants work as nursing assistants in the elderly care sector as Ibrahim does, or as cleaners or delivery people. Although these jobs can guarantee immediate livelihoods, they involve difficult working conditions.


Ohio University Press

Consequently, and given the structural constraints of European football, limited access to education, rather low wages, short contracts and the need to focus almost exclusively on sports performance, many end up in precarious living conditions. . Opportunities for social advancement are scarce after a playing career – no matter if one was known for great goals, incredible saves, or great fighting spirit.


This article is part of a series on the state of African sport. The articles are each based on a chapter from the new book Sports in Africa: Past and Present published by Ohio University Press.

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