COMMENT

National teams do not develop players: Cameroon home-based quota is doomed to fail

There seem to be a lot of edicts coming out of the presidency in Cameroon, especially with respect to the country's football.

Rigobert Song (IMAGO/ABC Medya)

Only last week, former Indomitable Lions captain Rigobert Song was, by presidential directive, appointed national team head coach. This week, the apparent indigenisation drive has extended to the composition of the actual playing staff. A home-based quota has been instituted: for the national under-15 and under-17 teams, only players based in Cameroon will be considered, while the under-20 team will necessarily consist of a 70 per cent home-based roster.

This, ostensibly a means to boost the country's youth development, has drawn a lot of commendation already, and it is easy to see why. Increasingly, the use of diaspora-born players in African national teams has come to be seen as a dilution of values: without a connection to the soil, they apparently lack an understanding of what it means to "play for the shirt", and so they are easy targets when things go wrong.

Of course, not only is this viewpoint largely xenophobic, but there is little evidence for the efficacy of quota systems by themselves. Populist as this move is, it is one that betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of what football development is and entails.

In the first place, national teams are not vehicles for talent identification and development. Or, at least, they should not be.

This is easy to miss, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where there is a deficit in terms of structures, visionary leadership and will. Without coherent frameworks for unearthing and nurturing young talent, there is a misguided expectation that national teams should pick up the slack and perform the function instead.

It is a notion too many have bought into.

Observe the reaction whenever international squads are announced without representation from the local leagues. The discussion is invariably narrowed down to the need to give indigenous football "visibility" and the players something to aspire to with token invitations, when there should instead be a reckoning for those whose responsibility it is to elevate the leagues to such a status that they would not require any special favours.

The national team should serve, ideally, as a showcase for the results of a country's development framework. If it offers any utility beyond that, it is probably diagnostic in nature: by competing on the international, it is easier to identify problems and gaps in your system with a view to tweaking the framework or adding new things to it. This, however, is only a marginal benefit.

The second issue with this idea is that quota systems themselves are not a cure for anything. Sure, you get more of the local lads in, but if they are not already of the required standard to hold their own, that fact is unlikely to change on account of simply taking part in competition. By their very nature, youth teams do not have the advantage of forging cohesion and learning over a number of years and different competitions, and so taking part is unlikely to be transformative in itself.

There is also the uncomfortable, obvious truth: those who do prove good enough at, say, under-17 level will almost certainly move abroad anyway.

A quota system such as this can be useful if you have a working developmental structure already in place, in which case it is both those things working in tandem, not the former intended to jump-start the latter.

Without it, what you are doing is equal parts putting the cart before the horse and fighting with one arm tied behind your back and both limbs cut off at the knees.

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