This Burkina Faso has that surprise factor. Sure, this blog tries to ruin that (we’re sorry!), as do others, but even googling members of the Burkina Faso squad will generate few knowledge-satisfying results.
Not only have they never qualified for a World Cup, Burkina Faso are, relatively speaking, a thrillingly exciting adventure into the unknown. In a world where the crème de la crème gravitate towards England, Spain, Germany, Italy or the nouveau riche of France, wanderlust inflicts the Stallions.
Indeed, it’s hard to instantly think of a more cosmopolitan, dispersed squad in world football. The location of the Burkina Faso playing staff, if you minus the quintet plying their trade at modest clubs in France, reads like a bunch of future diplomats jettisoned for placement years abroad. Moldova, Gabon, Morocco, Romania, Egypt, Poland, Bulgaria, Russia, Denmark, Japan, Turkey, Austria, Portugal, Germany, England (Bertrand Traore at Chelsea), South Africa and Ghana have all had representatives in the recent squads. Moumouni Dagano is in Qatar cherry-picking the petrodollars that will set him for life. Gutsy centre-back Paul Keba Koulibaly plays his football in Iraq. Oh, and then there’s left back Joel-Noel Lingani: he plays in Guinea, for Horoya, so at least he gets to chill and down some bottles of Supermalt with Titi Camara every now and then. It’s no wonder their Belgian coach Paul Put rarely manages to assemble his squad nice and early due to these dromomaniacs.
2. Thomas Sankara
Burkina Faso’s coolness is heightened by the fact that they had Africa’s answer to Che Guevera. Thomas Sankara may have forced his way into government via a military coup in 1983 but he wasn’t your average military charlatan. No, he came with a clairvoyance that eerily resonates in Burkina Faso today, with his fears 30 years ago– dependency on foreign loans and basic food imports – in full fruition wherever you look.
His socio-economic policies, the nucleus of his reign, were particularly progressive. Fearing foreign aid would make Burkina Faso too dependent and encourage corruption, Sankara tried to form an industrial root for the Burkinabe economy. Civil servants, for instance, were forced to wear domestically produced clothes during working hours to increase demand. What’s more, it was compulsory for government officials (including Sankara himself) to drive the Renault 5, the cheapest car sold in Burkina Faso at the time, as their official car. Those are just smidgeon of the many good things he did. Still not convinced? He even declared the entire year of 1985 rent free. What a man.
3. Aristide Bance
It took me a while to appreciate the unmistakable, eye-catching figure that is Aristide Bance. And that is because there is disequilibrium between enraging and enchanting, with the see-saw tipped far more towards enraging and with there being no median performance levels. For every poor 7 games where his shots are high and not-so handsome, every touch is inaccurate and he cuts a frustrated figure, you are rewarded with 1 game where he exudes omnipotence and depicts all the things that are required from a 21st century lone targetman.
The manifestations of these performances came against Ghana at Afcon and a must-win World Cup qualifier away to Congo in June, where a Congo win would have seen them qualify for the World Cup play-offs. In both of these matches Bance delivered his finest minutes in the green shirt. His control was instant and he used his strength to hold the ball and link with the players behind him, he run in behind the defence, he dropped deep to help with the defensive duties and, crucially, he scored the goals (and a Panenka during the penalty kicks v Ghana) . Heavily criticised at the start of Afcon for his poor performances – which saw him benched – it’s these omnipotent performances which have made him an almost overnight pin-up boy of the team. You get the sense that worldwide exposure will propel him to a genuine cult hero. Oh, and Bance has a website (and song) dedicated to him.
4. Jonathan Pitroipa
They also said quintessentially African flair is dead at the top level, with the razzmatazz fully buried after the closure of Jay-Jay Okocha’s career. In Pitroipa, though, you have perhaps one of the last twitching corpses. Frustrating, he can be – if you like your football dish served with a regular side order of end product. But from a non-pedantic neutral, strictly aesthetic point of view, few wingers/wide midfielders in the world are better in full flight.
The Rennes man plays with the inflamed carte blanche of a pitter-pattering teenager who has accrued more than 10000 hours of fun kickabouts in the streets of Ouagadougou. Certainly, although the scouts that plucked him from the Planete Champion football academy to Freiburg had reservations about his willow physique, it was his streetwise skill – demonstrated every time the ball is stuck to his instep and the sprezzatura he emits as he navigates through the bumpy African surfaces – and the high-speed velocity and sudden change of direction which made them sign, seal and deliver him to Germany.
The contradictory nature of his fortunes at club level and international level are encapsulated by how he is regarded in both spheres. With his penchant for wasting inviting space and galling misses, he became a butt of comedian Oliver Dittlich’s jokes during his time in Germany. Whilst Flamzy and Joskar, a popular Ivorian duo, have a paean devoted to him, inspired by a Burkina Faso versus Ivory Coast match at the 2010 Cup of Nations where the willow winger delivered a magnum opus; showcasing all the tricks in his dossier, including this zinger on Siaka Tiene.
You get the sense that he is just far more comfortable at international level where the onus is almost solely on him in the Stallions team to enchant, and where his team-mates and fans, who love to be entertained and are perhaps not as fixated with end product, have a great fondness for him. In a World Cup that will probably be filled with cautious football again, it needs entertainment; it needs Pitroipa.