Nations Cup highlights growing spread of African football

Fifty-eight clubs in 17 African countries are represented for a total of 107 home-based footballers

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The wide dispersion of African footballers around the world is dramatically shown by the broad range of leagues and clubs represented at this year’s African Nations Cup finals.

The 368 players from the 16 teams competing in Equatorial Guinea come from 243 different clubs in 57 countries across four continents.

More than half of those at this year’s tournament, which kicks off on Saturday, come from European clubs, which has been a dominant feature of the Nations Cup for more than two decades, but the range of domiciles in which they are based is ever expanding.

France, with its deep colonial roots, is again the country that supplies the most players to the Nations Cup, with 73. There are 27 from Spain, 23 from England and 21 from Belgian clubs.

Spain’s representation is usually much lower but dramatically boosted this time by hosts Equatorial Guinea’s search for players with African roots among the lower league clubs in their former colonial power.

For the first time, there are players from footballing backwaters like Armenia, Andorra, Gibraltar and Estonia. In total, there are 248 Nations Cup players from 32 different European leagues.

Fifty-eight clubs in 17 African countries are represented for a total of 107 home-based footballers.

But two of the finalists, the Cape Verde Islands and Senegal, have no representative at all, with both squads drawn exclusively from clubs outside of their countries.

Players based in Hong Kong, India, Iran and Mexico add to the vast array of destinations where African footballers ply their trade.

Economic conditions in Africa mean most young footballers set their sights on earning a professional contract abroad which carries not only financial rewards but also a sense of prestige.

Growing leagues and rich clubs in countries like Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa now pay salaries which keep players at home and it is no surprise that 18 of the South African squad are home-based.

At this Nations Cup, the top clubs represented include are the likes of Manchester City, Paris St Germain, AS Roma and Borussia Dortmund plus juniors from both Barcelona and Real Madrid.

It is unlikely clubs such as Leones Vegetarianos (Equatorial Guinea), CS Duguwolofila (Mali), Esteghlal Meli-Sanati Khuzestan (Iran) and Pune City (India) will ever be in such exulted company again.

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