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Osimhen’s club president should not be villified for wishing to avoid African footballers

Osimhen's club president should not be villified for wishing to avoid African footballers

All right, I was kidding about the Illuminati bit (or was I?), but it was obvious those comments would get people up in arms the moment they hit the airwaves. For context, during a livestreamed press event, the film mogul revealed he had soured on the prospect of signing Africa internationals.

“I love them,” he said, “but either they sign something confirming they’ll back out of playing the Africa Cup of Nations, or otherwise, between that tournament, the World Cup qualifiers in South America, these players are never available!”

The reaction has been predictably full of vitriol and incredulity. Hand-wringing and virtue-signalling over statements like these is nothing novel, of course. (Remember the Jurgen Klopp incident?)

Here’s the rub though: De Laurentiis is well within his rights, and has said nothing wrong.

Yes, it stings, and instinctively it feels like some disrespect is intended toward Africa’s flagship international competition. Some might even allege some sort of discrimination on that basis. And yes, it is clumsy and impolitic statement to make in a public forum – a man of his experience should know better.

However, let us be consistent here. As European clubs have called, time and again, for the AFCON to be rescheduled, the retort has always been that they should suck it up and accept the January timing as inevitable. The unstated implication of this repartee is that whichever club cannot abide the intrusion should take their objection and stick it where the sun does not shine.

So why, when De Laurentiis publicly admits he cannot get over it and therefore wishes to remove himself from the situation, are we up in arms? When managers and club owners evince displeasure about the timing of AFCON and its implications on their teams, we shout them down. When they would rather avoid the complaints altogether, we also take offence. What do we want, really? As the saying goes, you cannot whip a child and also ask him to not cry.

It’s almost as if, whisper it quietly, we enjoy the feeling of power that comes from people complaining while we lord their helplessness and lack of recourse over them.

Before anyone diagnoses racism or ingrained bias against African players, this is the same De Laurentiis whose record signing as Napoli president happens to be Victor Osimhen and who, this summer, made a deal for Andre Zambo Anguissa permanent. At Napoli, the likes of Kalidou Koulibaly, Faouzi Ghoulam, Adam Ounas, Amadou Diawara, Axel Tuanzebe, Tiemoue Bakayoko – all black or African (or both) players – have turned out for the club, and that is only taking in the last four seasons.

If he wishes to spare himself the disruption, then it’s no harm, no foul. There are hundreds of European clubs, and he has not purported to speak for them. His transgression, more than anything else, is a lack of political correctness.

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