Exclusive Interviews




IBRAHIM DABO: What can you say about African Football today?

GAVIN HAMILTON: African Football is at a crossroads. There is a huge amount of talent on the continent. But as the World Cup showed, many teams are failing to live up to their potential. But in Europe, there is a growing recognition, particularly from clubs, that African players are very good, both in terms of technique and physique.

There is a growing trend of European influence on the African game; do you think it is beneficial for Africans?
Europeans can help in terms of finances and infrastructure, but I would be concerned that there is too much influence by European coaches imposing European ideas that can restrict skilful players.

Did Senegal`s performance and achievement at this year`s World Cup surprise you?
No, because I saw them play in Korea in November 2001 and was impressed by their athleticsm and skill . I even predicted that they could upset France in the opening game of the World Cup!

There is an occasional outburst of chaos in African Countries with reference to Cote D`Ivoire. Do you think the atmosphere is conducive for Africa to host the World Cup in the near Future?
The champions league is a very different competition to the World Cup. It is affected by admin problems in countries across the continent. The World Cup in 2010 will be hosted by one country (maybe two). If the political will is there from whatever country (or countries) host the 2010 finals, then it will happen.

CAF has already implemented a new system wherein the African Nations Cup will serve as a qualifier for the World Cup, starting in 2006. How do you see this move?
I can see why they did it, to reduce the number of matches played, but it will diminish the value of the Nations Cup. And finding five World Cup qualifiers from a knockout tournament is difficult, whatever system you use.

Which African player would you say is at his best in Europe this season?
For me, big names like Ej Hadj Diouf have been disappointing. Benjamin Mwaruwari of Axuerre has impressed me most.

What do you think is the ultimate good so far FIFA has achieved towards the hosting of the World Cup tournaments?
Don`t understand the question! Rotation is happening, but FIFA has the problem that you cannot please all the people all of the time.

Some people are not known enough to become FIFA head, yet they are capable of doing well if given the job. Do you have any person in mind who falls in that category. Explain please..
It is too early to say who will contest the next FIFA election. Franz Beckenbauer, if he stands, would be virtually unbeatable because he is one of the few people in world football who has no enemies.

It`s hard to believe that former World Champions France could face an early exit from the World Cup without scoring a single goal.. Many people say the absence of Zinedine Zidane was a blow to The Blues. Do you think his presence would really have helped that much?
Yes, if Zidane had been fully fit, he would have made a huge difference, but the French problem was overconfidence. They didn`t think they would have to work hard to make the second round.

What can you say about the comeback of Ronaldo, who not only raised eyebrows at the 2002 World Cup, but has also showed many that he`s back - with an outstanding performance at Real Madrid?
I think it`s a wonderful story. Sport rarely produces these sort of stories, so when we get them, we should celebrate them.

It seems the Italian sides have regained life in Europe...
Yes, it seems like that. They have benefited from the collapse of the transfer market in that they have much more stability because they have had to use the same players as last season. They were also affected by their World Cup exit - they realised that defensive football doesn`y work any more.

The New World Soccer Yearbook [for 2002] is full of exclusive features and am glad I got mine on time. I really think one must not miss a copy of it....
Thank you!

Once again, thank you very much indeed for such a great time.
No problem.

SoccerAge UK [www.soccerage.com]

IBRAHIM DABO: After this year`s World Cup, most Senegalese players seem to be interested in a move to the Premier League. Do you think they will enjoy a fruitful time in England as has been with their various clubs in France, where majority of them ply their trade?

GARY DOWDEN: It`s a tricky one as every player obviously is an individual. England`s Premiership seems to be a league where overseas, not just Africans, either enjoy huge success or disappear without trace and I do firmly believe that a lot is governed by how they settle down OFF the pitch as much as how they perform on it. If a player has trouble adapting to the climate or his new surroundings, then it`s likely to have an adverse affect on their performance, so a strong mind is as equal a requirement as talent with the ball at their feet.

One of the much-talked about Senegal players is El Hadji Diouf. What can you say about the 2001 African Best Player who moved to Liverpool in the summer?
Sadly, I have to take as I find and so far Diouf has been a little disappointing. Despite an explosive start when he scored early in the season, he has not fulfilled that promise and appears to be lacking in confidence. He was dogged early season by earning a label as a `diver`, which whilst unjust, may well have played on his mind. He also has to fight for a place in the Anfield starting line up with the likes of Michael Owen, Emile Heskey and Milan Baros all battling for two places. On the plus side, there`s little doubt that the quality and ability is there, and at 21, he has time on his side and whilst we`ve certainly not seen the best of him in the Premiership, we may well do so in the future.

If Italy should boast of foreign legions, I think they owe a lot of gratitude to the South Americans, notably Argentina and Brazil. Conversely, what impact has the African imports created in the Premiership?
Its been mixed in truth. Whereas the likes of Nwanko Kanu at Arsenal have enjoyed decent success (although he isn`t considered a first team regular by any means), there are perhaps others who have not hit the heights that may have been anticipated. Recently for example, Marc Vivien Foe has been going great guns at Maine Road with Manchester City, however conversely, George Weah, arguably one of the greatest African players EVER, never made any major impact at the same club and left under a rather dark cloud. On a personal viewpoint, my favourite African star in the Premiership remains Ghana`s Tony Yeboah who played for Leeds in the mid 90s. Now there was a player with an astonishingly fierce shot!

The allocation of places for the 2006 World Cup has already been decided by FIFA and while Europe and South America have both lost a slot each, Oceania has received a slot for the first time. How do you see this move?
The cynic in me says that FIFA have done this to keep the peace as regards World football, as Oceania were previously the only continent not to have a guaranteed place in the finals. Only time will tell whether it works or not, however when you look at WC 2002 as an example, how many of us would love to have seen Holland there instead of certain smaller nations I wonder. In short, it`s a very tactful piece of Public Relations from those much-maligned guys at FIFA.

What is your suggestion as to how violence and racial discrimination can be eliminated in soccer?
Well, suggestions are one thing, but the ease of implementing them are a totally different proposition. Like many others, I despise violence and racism in any walk of life, but as regards football, there remain a lurking evil that doesn`t appear often, but always leaves a sour taste when it does. I would like to see clubs and supporters working very closely together to eliminate both problems. Happily, neither situation is as widespread in England as they used to be and the so-called `English disease` is far worse in other nations, notably Italy among the bigger leagues. Supporters should be able to report instances of violence and racism to appropriate authorities without fear of recrimination and with the knowledge that the club, and the police if need be, will take the correct course of action. Any `fan` (and I use that term loosely!) found guilty of such an offence, should be banned FOR LIFE from all football stadia. Violence and racism are an unnecessary evil, which will never be totally eliminated, but can be severely reduced with the correct handling.

Gary Dowden's Sites
Topica Premier-L list

Dec.02. I got in touch with Canadian footballer, Shawn Clooten, who is presently with Strombeek football club in Belgium. Shawn is seeking a more lucrative contract when the transfer season resumes in January and he is currently in talks with Belgian first division side Charleroi.

At the age of 17, he played for a pro team called Vancouver Croatia for two seasons after which he left to play for Telstar. A horrible accident threatened his career as he was about to start his second year with Telstar, so he had to return to Canada for some time and after recovering, he again played for Vancouver. He was also with Sturm Graz for some time and he trained with the first team even though Osim could not sign him because of the many foreign players in the team by then.

Shawn talks exclusively about football in his Country - Canada not having a Premier League System, his Career and the 2002 World Cup.

IBRAHIM DABO: You once played for Telstar (Holland) and Strum Graz (Austria), how would you describe soccer in Europe compared to that of Canada?

SHAWN CLOOTEN: Soccer in Canada is very good but only at the youth level and the amateur level and we have some very good coaches here in Canada but the government does not support soccer here in our country for coaches and pro players. But, Canada has players that can play at the highest level but never get the chance or take the chance to come and show case their talent, and the coaches are very good as well but have no place to work which is a crime for me for these great men.

With youth football been more important in your Country, why has it taken Canada a long time to participate fully in International Youth Tournaments, to the likes of Australia, Qatar, etc who are also not well known to be soccer nations?
I do not know why Canada have not participated in more International Tournaments but we still have many problems in Canada and hopefully things change.

Do you think the absence of a football league in Canada affects the progress of young talents out there?
Yes. I think that not having a league here in Canada does make a huge impact on lessinging the development of players for the national program. We would have a stronger national team if we did.

With the absence of a football league, it does have an impact on players just as you`ve mentioned. As a player looking forward to move on, what are your intentions towards the development of soccer in your Country?
Well, I have still some years to play but when I have spare time. I have been coaching the first nation people of British Columbia Canada. They are so far away from the center of soccer that they can get forgotten about. So I try to go to places like this so.... and the fishing is really great up there. The kids take me to the best spots in the province and these kids are very talented. Even the ones who have never touched a ball - some very good natural players up there, so I try to help when ever I can.

You must have been in touch with some of the few other Canadian players in Europe. What experience have they brought into the Canadian soccer?
Yes. I have spoken to some Canadians playing in Europe and some that used to. Some coach now at the National Youth Level for volunteer time. As I had mentioned before, the coaches in Canada are not paid.

You were with Schalke 04, a top side in Germany, not too long ago but with the reserves. How did it go?
The Schalke reserves was just for a short time. The level was much lower than Canada, but for the first team, it was very high. But, the manager told us he had thirty seven players signed for the first team so should I have stayed, I am not sure, but we left to look else place my manager and my self. Yes, maybe I should have stayed even though the club was amateur but we choose to leave so we did.

It`s so difficult now to play for a top club in Europe and presently without a club, what are your intentions?
Yes, it is very hard to find a club here in Europe but it is also very normal that if you are good people will recognize this and give you a chance. The coach wants to win no matter what at any cost. So, even if they do not know you, it is to their benefit to look because who knows who will be the next Esebio, or Maradona. Yes, it helps to know people or have an agent but they can not play for you. You must apply what you know yourself and be confident that you are the best and that you had the best coaching in the whole world. Be it an Iranian, Canadian little man that if the world knew he would be the soccer master of all.

You`ve mentioned the names of two great players. By the way, who is your favourite footballer and how has he influenced your career?
Maradona was the most inspirational player for me because he did not hesitate with the ball at all. He ran better than anybody ever and was the best at all the applications of the game. By far for me, the most effective player for me.

To be included in the Canadian National Team, one has to play for a club in either Europe or America. Do you hope to be part of the squad?
Yes. I will play for Canada but like the manager told me, I must get playing here in Europe or Japan or South America - any place, but Canada will do. So, I will keep trying here for a team. I kind of think I regret coming to Belgium first because so many problems with the clubs here and the coaches hate for you to take the ball and dribble, at least the one at the club I am with right now, and they do not even know this stuff. So, they try to reject you when you play like this. I wish I was in Italy or France or Japan or Spain etc, some place someone could see my stuff but, I will try to find them here in Belgium. You never know, but so far what I have seen in Belgium is even lower than my club side in Canada. This is second div though, so we will see. The club I am with right now in Belgium is Strombek football club, second div., but not under contract. Talking with some first div. clubs.

What can you say about the opening game of the 2002 World Cup?
I think the game was very good for soccer and for African soccer and I enjoyed some of the skill from the Senegal players. They took the ball and went very good sometimes without hesitating like so many players I watch do at the top level. I think Diouf had some good dribbling but he should do more and push the ball and go more, he can beat them all. He needs to play with his head up a little bit more and he will see that he can take the ball and go through them all, relax head up and go. He would have been the best for me if he did more..

Thank you very much Shawn for your wonderful time.
Thank you Ibrahim very much.

Canada`s Youth Team have already qualified for the next FIFA World Youth Championship - to be staged in the United Arab Emirates in March 2003 - after topping their group, which also included the U.S.A., El Salvador and Haiti, in the CONCACAF qualifying series. Their last win was a 3-2 victory over the U.S.A in November 2002.

Canada have previously participated in the FIFA World Youth Championship five times; in 1979, 1985, 1987, 1997, & 2001.

Abdul T. Conteh [Major League Soccer] talking shortly after a `fact finding mission` [in Jan 01] in his Country, Sierra Leone, for his Foundation - `Abdul Conteh Children`s` Fund` - which he launched in October 2000.
`Yes, I met with President Kabba [of Sierra Leone] and it was very interesting. He is a very intelligent man who wants to help his country a whole lot but he has his hands tied behind his back. The conversation was very fruitfull and I was impressed by his genuine frankness, we talked about security and stability of the country, education and the need for reform, we talked about advocacy for the plight of Sierra Leone in America, how important it is that I keep the problem in the American media since I play professionally here because when America leads, others follow that's why he said I am now an unofficial Ambassador.`

`Yes, I have met with Congressman Frank Wolfe (republican) who is representing my constituency, and also others that support the ban on conflict diamond, namely Congressman Tony Hall a Democrat from Ohio, and Senator Kerry, another Democrat from Massachusetts to name a few. They are all very sympathetic to Sierra Leone, and has vowed to join us in the fight to get things right.`

Mohammed Kallon [Inter Milan] talking on Senegal`s performance after their opening game of the 2002 World Cup where they beat France 1-0.
`Senegal has so far proved to be one of the surprising teams in the World Cup. This is indeed good news for Africa and I believe they will do their best together with the help of El Hadji Diouf and Khalilou Fadiga. I wish them all the best of luck.`
>> Exclusive Interview with Mohammed Kallon


Related Links:

>>> African Football In Brief
>>> Exclusive Interviews & Quotes
>>> SoccerAge.com African Football Coverage