Former footballer and international with Equatorial Guinea National Team, former sports editor in Masliga, analyst and sports commentator on GOL TV, Radio Marca and BeIN Sport and now also writer, today we speak with Alberto Edjogo-Owono.
P.- To begin with, we talked a little bit about you.. How was your experience as a player both on a sporting and personal level and how has it taken you to where you are now?
A.- I started playing very early from the 3 or 4 years old. I accompanied my brothers and my father in their matches, I travelled back and forth, with a ball under my arm, always looking for friends or people to play with or else play against the wall kicking the ball. From a young age I had the football worm. At the age of 12 I went to Espanyol’s quarry to play and later had a very serious knee injury and returned to Sabadell, where I developed much of my football career in my early years. Then I played in Murcia, Valencia, I went through various teams. And in all this experience I highlight my presence with the National Selection of Equatorial Guinea, which is the country of origin of my father, and from there I obtained my best experiences and lessons of life. What happens? That from that love for African football was born a blog about football of the black continent where he recounted final phases, qualifying matches, etc… aspects related to African football that I did not read in any media, but which I wanted to contribute and make known. Since then, Axel Torres who worked on Gol TV called me for one program and then for another and gradually I went into this spiral. And, in 2014, I reached a high point that was to comment on the World Cup in Brazil, being the expert of the five African teams that played the tournament and this was surely my turning point for African, Spanish and international football to this day .
Q.- Debuted in 2003 in the Equatorial Guinea national team (Nzalang Nacional) … We’d like you to share your first impressions when you came into contact with African football.
A.- Indeed, my debut for the Equatorial Guinea national team was in 2003. I was 19 years old, newly fulfilled, and up to that point my life was not very difficult or had never had to make important decisions. I played football, he paid a salary that was fine, in the afternoons I was studying in college, I had a car and freedom to move; and let’s just say it was a pretty comfortable life for a boy my age. And having said that, when I first traveled to Malabo, I was very impressed, first of all, by the humidity that shakes you as soon as you reach the capital of Guinea, as soon as I reached the heart of Africa, that was a spectacular shock. That humidity that is embedded in all the pores of the skin, and then, at the airport, when collecting the suitcase, dealing with the documentation, the passport, all this seemed to me that organizationally was not very advanced. That all the formalities cost a lot, that everything was difficult, and that was surely the strongest impression I took when I stepped on Africa. Any little thing, any step it takes a lot to give it, either by the disorganization itself, either by culture or because the states or organizations are not prepared or were not at least at the time. So, surely, that point of difficulty is what surprised me the most. Then, as far as football is, let’s say that the passion with which people live it, unlike in Europe that it was what I was used to living a match to lasts two hours and has no more history. However, there I noticed how quickly people had been preparing the game for days. There was a desire for football. I mean that illusion, passion and that desire for football, to avoid a while from everyday life, surely it was what surprised me most in my time in African football.
Q.- You currently work as an analyst and sports commentator, what do you think are the characteristics that a good professional should gather in that field?
A.- For me, a sports commentator must have, mainly, knowledge. That is, any analyst, in any field or aspect of life has to know what he speaks of, that I think something primordial and principal. Second, a powerful communicative capacity, that is, one thing is to know and another to explain it in such a way that people may be interested in, engage or feed. Knowledge, communicative capacity, and also a certain point of credibility and coherence. That is, that your speech is consistent, that you do not say one thing and tomorrow another, but that your ideas are sustained. Credibility, communication and knowledge is the triple C that a good commentator needs.
Q.- Recently you have held a conference at the Autonomous University of Barcelona on Communication, Travel and Sport, what can you tell us about this topic?
A.- Well, I think that communication, travel and sport are three concepts that are better understood and that are enhanced. I was contacted by the Autonomous University of Barcelona, which is precisely where I studied, in another faculty, but at the same University, to talk to the boys and girls who want to be future communicators, future journalists. I was called in after the publication of my book “Indomitable” because I put together those three concepts: communication, travel and sport, special and basically in the African territory, and let’s say that was the origin of my presentation. It must be said that athletes or sport have many intrinsic values: overcoming, the ability to rise after defeat, ambition, competitive spirit, endurance, discipline, demand, constant pursuit of success,… I believe that we must take advantage of this, we must give it the courage it has. As for the travel chronicles, I think that traveling is surely the best investment one can make because it is not only a physical journey, it is not only your body that moves, but it also opens your mind a lot. Knowing other cultures, other ways of doing things, other people,…and that contrast with your day-to-day gives you a lot of knowledge and opens up a lot of mind and perspective in your life, therefore, what I did is establish that relationship with the students of 4° communication courses of the Autonomous University of Barcelona. And, above all, encouraging them to be spokespersons for the realities that occur around the world and not only stay on the surface, but go further researching and being curious.
Q.- Let’s talk about your book “Indomitable: Notebooks of African Football” (“Indomable: Cuadernos del futbol africano”). For most Spanish society Africa is a virtually unknown continent, how did the idea come about?
A.- First of all, it must be said that Africa is the closest continent to Spain. Africa and Spain are separated by a small strait of sea, and even being so close geographically, at the level of knowledge it is not so much. In other words, it has not been sufficiently studied, it has not been given the relevance it has. I imagine that, at the educational level, it remains crude and ugly to give importance to the colonial era, to the exploitation of natural and human resources by Western forces over Africa. In other words, always give the continent less value. In the maps we do not see the actual extent, but we see a Africa made to scale, smaller than it really is and, above all, I think it is a lack of knowledge or lack of interest. It is important to give voice to the history of a continent that is extensive and very rich in history, essence, culture, customs and so on. That said, the idea came about because I wanted to write a book about my experiences as a footballer, but over time I realized that this book was not interesting since my career has been that of a medium footballer, without being any crack or reference. So, what I did was I took advantage of my stories about African football, which I did find powerful, my travels around the black continent wearing the Equatorial Guinea shirt, and what I did was take advantage of those stories and then add others that talk about the great gestations, great dramas of African football in history, that many people fond of football can meet from players like Weah, Etoó. Drogba, Keitá or Kanouté, all of these appear in the book. But, above all, taking advantage of football as a hook to explain other stories behind it at the historical, demographic and political levels. Of how a continent that has been shaken and humiliated on so many occasions has managed to rise again and again. This is the spirit of the book.
Q.- in your opinion, what are the main features of African football?
R.- it must be noted that it cannot be generalized either. For example, if someone asks me what the characteristics of European football are, then I don’t know, it depends. Spanish football is not the same as Norwegian football. They’re both on the same continent, but they’re very disparate. Just like Maghreb football is not the same as the Horn of Africa. But it is true that there are certain distinctive or repetitive features that are like joy for the game. Football is a party, it is to enjoy, it is an escape valve of other crude situations. I would say that joy stands out, also creativity, that is, always being innovating. African per se is a being who likes to dance, enjoy, laugh. So, innovation is part of its DNA and obviously passes it on to football. Then there’s a point of unconsciousness, that is, that eagerness for fun, often makes you unaware of the importance of what you’re playing. We’ve seen African national teams fall into the world for totally irrational situations. Situations that you seem to have under control, but that require a little more rationality and how it turns out that you’re going to pull the emotional, which is where surely the African citizen feels most comfortable, you lose your chances. But well, that’s the essence, you can’t fight nature. I do not think it is a good decision to try to go against it all the time. Surely those are the characteristics: Joy, creativity and that point of unconsciousness that at certain times has passed its toll on African football.
Q.- Africa is a continent with a rich cultural tradition that serves as a source of ancestral wisdom, as reflected in each chapter of your book do you think that our mentality can fit into European thinking?
A.- As you say, Africa is the source of everything. There is a millennial culture and an ancestral wisdom. Reciting proverbs and sayings that seem very simple but has a great personal burden and that give great lessons of life, I think they do assimilate it, albeit in different ways. I, for example, like to put African proverbs on Twitter, I sense that people like them. They read them, internalize them and detect them as their own. I understand that it is our job, as children of Africa, to spread that ancestral wisdom. We have that responsibility, but I think it does. Another thing is the way in which it does it, but that’s what we’re here for. To give you visibility and that people can enjoy it.
Q.- Unless otherwise, we are not aware of any coach of African origin in the major European leagues. Conversely, however, do you think it is because of the cliché, which belies the reality of so many great players from African countries, that in African football it lacks tactics and technique, and only physical condition is valued?
A.- Yes, it’s true, there are no African coaches in big teams. That’s true. The other day I heard Samuel Etoó saying he wanted to be the first African coach to win a European Cup, a Champion League. Well, that’s an ambitious challenge that’s about to be seen. Let’s just say that this local football tradition in Africa has not moved out. It must be said that it is in the hands of the great former African players or great coaches to make that leap to European football. There is a belief in Europe, I am not saying that widespread, but quite common among the states that the African per se is disorganized. That he’s having a hard time organizing, concentrating. That for concepts of freedom or creativity very well, but in terms of discipline it still costs you. And that belief is looting. A coach is required discipline, command, order and so on and that may clash a little with that belief that, for me, it’s unjustified. That’s one of the factors so there are no great African coaches in Europe. That said, there are great Africans training big African teams that this is something that didn’t happen until recently and that now is gradually going to be a reality. This is the case of the two finalists of the 2019 Africa Cup, Algeria and Senegal, in which both coaches are indigenous, Djamel Belmadi and Aliou Cissé, two former players of the respective selections who are now coaches and who have come very high. And maybe this can boost the figure of the African coach.
Q.- In recent decades it is a reality that there is an increase of African players in the Premier League such as Idrissa Gana Gueye, Joel Matip, Victor Wanyanma, Alex Owobi, Serge Aurier, Riyad Mahrez, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sadio Mané or Mohamed Salah, although there are also many African players in Spain, why do you think the same thing doesn’t happen in the other big leagues?
A.- well, there are African players everywhere. For example: In Portugal. Spain, Belgium, and especially in France. I imagine that this French colonial heritage makes it a claim and that many Africans pass through it. Then in the Nordic countries too, as they do in Portugal, there is no limit to extra-EU players, let us say that it is easier for Africans to play in those countries. In other countries, only three non-EU players are allowed to play and yet in those leagues you have more flexibility and perhaps that’s why they’re more open to African talent. There are great African players in almost every league, also in Germany albeit a little less. And it is true that in England it is more common. First, because of the type of English game of great pace, a lot of exuberance, of much going back and forth, more spectacular what fits perfectly with the African by physical conditions and mentality, and this can explain this. And as for other countries, I think that in Spain little or little is going to be introduced that colony of African players, but I think that England is a natural step and a perfect territory for the African.
Q.- Currently there are African players who are stand out in Europe such as Moroccan Achraf Hakimi, Real Madrid player (assigned to Borussia Dortmund) or Nigerian Victor Osinhem, a Lille player, who will be the next big football promise African?
A.- Yes, there are very good young African players. You were talking about Achraf Hakimi who, frankly, is or Victor Osinhem, the Nigerian. In Spain there is also Samuel Chukwueze another Nigerian of the Osinhem generation playing at Villareal, Salisu the Ghanaian player of Valladolid who also points out many ways, Krepin Diattá who is playing in Belgian Bruges, Ismaila Sarr, the Senegalese who plays in England.. and well there are younger players who are more up and needy like Ismael Bennacer, the Algerian footballer named the best player of the last Africa Cup, Mazroui, the Moroccan who is at Ajax etc… there is young African talent that has a level, that they are proving it and that I think helps them get into the elite dynamics as young. Let it not happen as with George Weah who arrived in Europe with 22 0 23 years, but at 18 they are already part of the elite and this will benefit them for the future. Osihem, Chukwueze, Hakimi, Krepi Diattá, Bennacer, Hakim Ziyech the Moroccan who plays for Schalke, all very disparate and with a promising future.
Q.- Racism is a scourge that permeates society and football is not exempt from it, what is your opinion on it? Do you think drastic measures should be taken to be stopped by a football match in the face of such racist conduct?
A.- Of course, it is established in most facets of everyday life. There are people who think it is not that much, but the truth is that those of us who are at the foot, those who live it, realize that there is a certain structural racism. Every time I would have to go less, but there are also certain political discourses that do not help and encourage that hatred and racism. However, it is also true that there has to be a tendency to disappear. I always say the same thing, the one who’s a racist on a football field, he’s already racist when he leaves the house. I mean, he didn’t become a racist at the entrance to the stadium door. The bad news is that football, too, brings out the worst in us and it seems that in a football stadium everything is allowed. Any insult you drop there, you can’t say it in a public space, in the market, in the cinema, in the theatre or in a bar, but in a stadium. And I think that’s dangerous. And on top of that, those idiots feel emboldened because the crowd protects them. The one who is a coward helps him to make his figure fuzzy among that crowd. Obviously, drastic measures would have to be taken, but no longer because a black player is insulted on a football field, black or Asian or Arab, or based on his condition, gender or origin, but it is being revealed that insulting a collective has no consequences. And, for me, that’s very serious. Right now, to utter racist slurs against a black player, as is the case, and not to take appropriate action, it means that this fact is not so serious and those attitudes are transferred to society. That is, if an 8-year-old sees a player being insulted for being black and no retaliation is taken, he will understand that if he does the same thing at school, he will not be punished either. And, in my opinion, I think at an educational level that’s very dangerous. So, we need to strengthen the measures and empower the referee and players to stop the match if they believe a teammate of theirs is being publicly aged.
Q.- Finally, there is no doubt that you are already a benchmark in the world of football, what message would you send to all those young people who want to achieve their goals in this field?
A.- well, I’m not who to give advice, but I think that to succeed in something we have to offer the best version of oneself. First, we must have some talent, we must persevere, resist, not bow to adversity and try to be better every day. In every workout, play, every control, pass, beat try to put the five senses and, so, when the game comes to be more prepared. Above all, don’t give up. If they tell you you’re not worth it, you’re no good, think it’s just an opinion. The fundamental thing is to do things with passion so that you don’t miss the magic of everything.
“I’m not African because I was born in Africa. I’m African but because Africa was born in me” Kwame Nkrumah