Fighting the cliché – What the Media Will Have You Expect from AFCON 2013

By Sam Crocker (@Sam_Crock) Being so far away from the action, and having relatively little background knowledge of those who partake in it, a familiar set of ideas are used by the media to help us understand the tournament. Unlike other international tournaments, such as the European Championships, where a well-considered viewpoint has already been developed on the players playing due to us seeing them every week on the TV, AFCON is rarely seen through the same lens, sitting in a middle-ground between “fully understood” and “absolutely no-idea”. Whilst there are just enough players from European clubs (and thus of interest to the Western public) to make it worth covering, at the same time the majority of the players at the tournament will be of little knowledge to your average football fan, meaning that the media has to rely upon a set of ideas based on previous tournaments to make up for those the lack of familiarity they have may have with the continent. Resulting from this of course is everyone’s favourite aspect of football commentary and media coverage – the football cliché. Where would we be without them of course? Refusing to branch out and create their own way of describing their perspective on the situation, a nice toolbox of words and phrases have already been concocted for the modern football journalist’s use, just in case he’s a bit short for words. So, without further ado, here’s the sort of clichés you might get over the coming months:

Don’t expect this fellow at the match

The Witch Doctor

 “Magic”, “juju” or “sacrifice” are words that only seem to crop up when AFCON comes about, as African culture is metaphorically placed right in the middle of the centre circle of British media coverage stadium for all to see, ideas of novelty and amusement abound. Indeed, the concept of the witch doctor is one that all African national teams I’m sure are familiar with, as they are endlessly associated with it due to the virtue of them being from Africa. Revolving around ideas of a divine influence that can be induced through certain actions to benefit your team, sensationalist stories are thrown about the media regarding cows in dressing rooms and chicken legs in a goalkeeper’s sock, with the tongue-in-cheek and patronizing tone suggesting these supposedly uncivilized practices are of great entertainment to whoever is writing about it.

Disregarding the fact that witch doctors are more of a cultural influence in West Africa (e.g. Togo, Ghana etc), this is most certainly a case of the media painting the continent with the same brush, despite no large incident involving witch doctors occurring since 2002.  The notion of the witch doctor and its association with AFCON is just another string in the bow of ways media outlets are able to fire arrows of patronization at the tournament, maintaining these ideas in light of lack of actual knowledge about the tournament. After all, it’s easier to speculate about what “magic” they are employing than it is to pronounce the name of Ethiopia’s reserve goalkeeper…

Calamitous Defending

Being a bunch of uncontrollable free spirits, every African team is renowned for being utterly chaotic when it comes to the way in which they defend, with the man between the sticks having a reputation for being not particularly reliable either. Often sighted pinging the elastic waistband on his shorts, struggling to tie his shoe laces or sometimes even asleep, the typical centre-half often has literally no idea what’s going on, whilst spending the rest of the time when he is conscious showing off his ability to air-kick or forget which way he is facing. Whilst the full-backs maraud so extensively they’re often completely off the pitch, and the goalkeeper is more commonly sighted making daisy chains leaning against his post, all-in-all AFCON is a pretty easy couple of weeks for the strikers.

King Kolo, one of many great defenders on display

Most of the time teams at AFCON don’t actually bother selecting a defence – what’s the point after all? Seeing as Africa historically has possessed some of the finest striking talents known to man, whilst the recent trend of having one of the continent’s midfield enforcers in your club side has also become more common, the defenders and goalkeeper are often the target of media of criticism. You will no doubt see references to chaos and confusion abound this tournament, despite most of the more recent tournaments seeing a distinct lack of goals, as the media’s determination to patronize and misrepresent comes into fruition.

Players Going AWOL

Much like the Bermuda Triangle, quite where the players go after the African Cup of Nations finishes has be the source of confusion and head-scratching for even the world’s finest missing persons detectives, as they take the most round-about routes back to their club after the tournament finishes, which can often take several years. Whether it be Yaya Toure partaking in the Dakar Rally quickly before he returns back to England, Adlene Guediora deciding to take a walk in the desert for a couple of weeks or Asamoah Gyan last seen chatting up the Queen in Narnia, who knows where those rascals will get to this year.

As the dark abyss starts to descend around South Africa for the final game of the tournament, ready to claim any player who thinks he’s getting back to his club side any time soon, the media camps outside the press office of Premier League teams waiting for them to announce that their African representative hasn’t returned for training on time. Then they can sift through the “why we shouldn’t sign African players” cupboard, dust off old clichés and discourses like “Search for [insert players name here] begins” and “why sign a player who’s gone for at least 2 months of a season?”. After that, they can go on Twitter and create their very own #wheres[insertplayername] hashtag, to show that it’s all a bit of fun really.

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