Renowned Football Agent Bernard Collignon has charged that African teams must change their mentality if they are to win the World Cup. Collignon who is a licensed player agent with the French Football Federation sat down with soka25east.com in Doha, Qatar for a Q&A Session to share his views about African Football.
Soka25East.com: Who is Bernard Collignon?
Bernard: I am Bernard Collignon, I was born in Cameroon. I come from Cameroon but I have been a licensed agent with the French Federation since 2010 which means I am a FIFA License [agent] also.
Soka25East.com: Tell us about your experience with Qatar as a country
Bernard: I have been coming to Qatar for 10 years now. My first visit to Qatar was in 2010 and I know the country very well and I am very proud of what I have seen here and the way Qatar has been handling the competition.
Soka25East.com: What is your opinion about the five teams that have represented Africa at the World Cup?
Bernard: We have been fighting a lot for African countries to have more teams in the world cup competition. At the moment we have five teams but some have been knocked out of the completion because they have failed to do things the proper way.
Senegal and Morocco have been consistent and that shows clearly by them qualifying for the knockout phase unlike the teams which have been knocked out of the competition.
In Africa, we need change of mentality. We need true leaders. A true leader is going to come with the right mentality. The mentality of Meritocracy has been the biggest problem when you see some teams you wonder how some players get called up for national team duty.
We saw Cameroon beat Brazil that was because they put the right players at the right time and the right moment. That is what they should have done right from the first game against Switzerland that makes you wonder why some players did not play since the beginning of the competition. This is why I keep on saying that an African country is not ready to win the World Cup because we need a change of mentality. We need to stop mediocrity.
Soka25East.com: Talking about Cameroon and specifically you coming from Cameroon. Why do you think they did wrong?
Bernard: Cameroon for me should have at the minimum have a draw in the game against Switzerland and this is where Cameroon missed in this competition. Because in my opinion the right players didn’t get called up . I don’t know how they scouted the players. They didn’t play the right players. We don’t have all the reasons but when you see the game against Brazil everyone was happy, was proud of Cameroon and what they did but at the end of the day we go back home having some regrets.Its all about doing the right things in the national team fairly all the time.
Soka25East.com: How can other African teams draw lessons from Morocco’s success story?
Bernard: When you see the teams in Morocco, the level of the League, the structures they have all this means that when it comes to National Team you have good players because as I keep saying they are logical in what they are doing.
Many countries in Africa have poor league structures ranking in the level of fifth or sixth European leagues and this is the problem. The governments in Africa have to work hard and start building infrastructure that will help the players to perform at their best.
When you see a country like Qatar with all this infrastructure, we are just like wow. But in terms of football they don’t have the football culture for instance like in what we have in Ghana or Cameroon and many other African countries.
We have this culture you know. We have this fighting spirit. We have everything. The only thing we don’t have is the mentality. We really need to change the mentality. We really need true leaders that will bring the right mentality and Bringing Meritocracy. You have to deserve to get something. And this is a problem in many African countries.
African countries should stop the habit of doubling their budgets to go to the World Cup instead they should use that money to build facilities to help nurture talents.
Soka25East.com: Talking about mentality, the five African teams all have local coaches. What could have been done right to get the results we need?
Bernard: You know at the end of the day what a team does on the pitch is what counts. At the end of the day when you see what Cameroon did, what Ghana did it boils down to the fact that they are not doing the right things in the right way and the right time.
This is what I keep saying of course something went wrong and we have to find out what went wrong and why. But we are going to learn. We have to learn. I hope we learn from this. The problem is that we don’t learn from what we do. We have to question ourselves on a daily basis in every direction. If we don’t have this attitude we are just wasting our time.
Soka25East.com: Being a FIFA player agent, who are some of the players who have impressed you in this particular World Cup coming from Africa?
Bernard: Yesterday this number 22 of Ghana Sulemana how can you explain how he was left out on the bench? He was the game changer. As soon as he came into the pitch the team was not the same. What was he doing on the bench? In Cameroon you have a player like Christopher Wooh. When you see a player leaving an Academy like Lens being played by a team like Rennes only from this you have to pay attention to this.
The other player is Enzo Ebosse the other central defender playing alongside Christopher Wooh, he was in the Academy of Lens too. Why were these young players left on the bench in the first and second games?
A player like Olivier Ntcham had four seasons in Celtic playing 30 games scoring 4 to 5 goals a season, now he is in Swansea, he is doing well. A player like this you don’t leave him on the bench. This brings us to the questions of Why we do things in the wrong way? This is the problem. European countries do things the right way and that’s why they are where they are at the top.
Soka25East.com: Talking about mentality, what advice can you give our local coaches from Africa?
Bernard: I have been talking about Meritocracy, giving the right people deserved opportunities. I like the fact that the five African countries at the World Cup have African coaches who are also legends for their own countries but they have to keep working hard.
They have to question themselves. Am I going in the right way? Am I doing the right things? This is my point of view. Let’s say they (The FAs) did right thing in giving them the positions but on the other hand they to must always learn to do the things right.
Some decisions the coaches took in my opinion were not the right decisions. And this is the problem. Are they the ones making the decisions or do they have someone behind them making the decisions?
Soka25East.com: Being a top Agent, what are some of the challenges you face looking for players across the different countries in Africa? What should players do who would love to go and play in Europe?
Bernard: The problem with a lot of African players is that they have the talent to make it but the environment is not proper. The environment doesn’t allow them to make it. In many African countries football players are barely surviving.
Many of them even don’t have proper food after training and it’s difficult to cope with European players who have everything to make it. An African player cannot even eat properly after training.
That’s why I keep saying I do have a lot of respect for African players who make it because you can guess the struggle they have gone through to make it . At the end of the day the problem is not the players.
The problem is the government. We have to change things, we have to make sure that we change the mentality. We need leaders to change the things, leaders to make things in the right way. This is the major problem in Africa.
Players need to dream. You have to dream because dreaming is free. It makes you feel motivated to dream. But you don’t have to dream forever. The problem in Africa is that so many players are not scouted at the right time.
That’s why they keep changing their age waiting for the next opportunity to be scouted. This is a big problem. There is a lack of [scouting] structures. Without the structures, players cannot improve at their best.
And also the formation of the training. The trainers are the ones who are coaching these young players giving them some information to make it. Many of them don’t even have the required qualifications to coach a young player.
Africa has talent, I believe in African players talents. We have a lot of talent but so many of them are just wasted because maybe they were not scouted at the right time. They don’t have the structures to improve their game and even the one who is coaching them doesn’t have the required training to coach them.
Many trainers just do the contrary to what is supposed to be done. Football nowadays is a science and you have to apply the right science that is data oriented. So if you don’t do things in the right way you are not going to make it. Its impossible nowadays. If you see European countries, they make the right decisions all the details are not forgotten.
A team like Germany now are out of the competition. Why? Because if you check Germany in the last two to three years of COVID-19, they didn’t do the right things. And this is why they are out now. I always say football is something you don’t lack respect of. If You lack respect for football, football will lack to respect for you.
Soka25East.com: You mentioned age cheating it is very prevalent in Africa. What are your thoughts about it and how do we tackle this issue? What advice who you have for these players because many are doing it and it’s affecting their careers?
Bernard: For me the players are not responsible for this because they are just the victims of the system. I think it’s the governments that should be blamed . They have to provide more money to build structures. Because if they put money in the right way in the football industry, players will not even think about age cheating .
So this is another thing why African football is still far behind. Because when you go to other countries you see the infrastructure even countries like Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria unlike many black African countries. I have been to Ghana, Ivory Coast, Cameroon in all these countries and you can see the way the players train and the way things are run in an awkward manner. The first thing I notice is the lack of structures. They don’t have pitches, they don’t have the right structures to develop the players and from this it’s impossible to have a competitive league.
Soka25East.com: As an agent who traverses the breadth of Africa, what is your opinion about the local leagues?
Bernard: The level of the local leagues is just the consequence of everything which is being done in that country. When you talk about the lack of facilities, infrastructure, the lack of players who are not scouted at the right time.
If you look at many leagues in these countries, like in Cameroon I attended two games and if you check the players, they are all old players. When you come expecting to see a 17 or 18 year old player that you can bring to Europe, its hard because these teams depend on old players. Why, because they have to maintain the team in the league.
In Africa We are not into developing players because we don’t have the proper tools to develop young players. And this is what football is about. You have to develop young players. The problem in Africa is that they don’t develop young players because they don’t make the right decisions. And as soon as you don’t do this, you don’t have any results.
Soka25East.com: So what do you think can be done differently to improve these leagues so that the players can be attractive to even the local community?
Bernard: Like I keep saying during the interview, we need the leaders who can change this you know. We need true leaders someone who is going to come not to steal but to give. I am not talking about giving money, I am taking about giving the right ideas at the right time in order to develop these young players.
You cannot develop a young player without facilities. You can’t develop a young player without making sure that the guy who is coaching him has the required Diploma and the required information to train him. You cannot develop a young player if you scouted him at the wrong time. For instance the guy is almost thirty years old. Even if he has the age of 17, 18 but his real age is 26. When is he going to make it? So this is the problem.
Soka25East.com: The sentiments that CAF president Patrice Motsepe has spoken about the Super League. What are your thoughts about this Super League? Do you think is it’s something that is good for Africa?
Bernard: I don’t know. You know in Europe everyone is against this because there is always a lot if money in European football. In Europe it will keep bringing the gap between the very rich and the medium clubs. But regarding Africa it can be a good idea if everyone is taking advantage of this. That’s the problem. And that’s the question.
If this idea of Super League in Africa will increasing the gap between the best clubs and the low clubs or is it going to be effective, appropriate and beneficial for everyone? That is the question. This is the same question as Europe. The idea of the Super League is not a bad idea but the problem is that CAF have to make sure that the countries have infrastructure.
The countries have the same problem of infrastructure having the kids training properly, having the kids eating properly. In many countries, the salary of a football player is like 75 euros. We are talking about a guy who lives from football. He makes 75 euros in a month and with all the economic crisis, the prices are just going up every day. What is 75 euros to live with? It’s a big question and we have to change this. We need leaders. We need true leaders.
Soka25East.com: Coming back to what you do as an agent, what is the process of acquiring a player? What happens basically when you start from scouting to the process where we now see a player being signed in another team?
Bernard: The thing is that I always look for young players to manage them until the end of their career. Like you first look for talent and as soon as you have found this young player, you bring him to a European club where he will finish his training (development) or if he has the level to start training with the first team to develop the player.
He keeps playing, he gets a better contract and maybe he is transferred to a bigger club. Now he is a player now involved with his National Team and who is helping his family, his Village or whatever. For me the most important is to get them to be a man. A man with responsibilities not only being a footballer but you have to teach to embrace education. The problem is education. Many of them are not educated and nowadays education is a must . You can have everything but if you don’t have education it is difficult.
Soka25East.com: Talking about education, you will see a player going to a massive club, they make a lot of money but after retirement within a few years they are down, they are poor. The stories we read are so sad. What can they do basically to remain strong financially?
Bernard: This is a big problem not only with African players but also players in Europe. It is the environment. The environment for a few football players is not good enough. Sometimes the family are the first people to start getting the players money. The funny thing is that many of the players think that what they do choosing the environment is safe or whatever but at the end of their career they realize that they have been cheated. So at the end of the day this is a big problem with a lot of African players.
I have met a lot of football players having big careers and after their careers they don’t have any more money. But also as I said it’s education. You have to teach them from the early young age that when you make money you have to save, you have to invest, you have to think about paying your taxes.
Because all this at the end of your career you will not make the same money but you have the opportunity for 15 years of your life to make an amount of money that many people don’t ever get in their lifetime.
When you have this opportunity you have to think about the first 40 years of your life when you are a top professional player making money being happy, pleasing your family and loved ones but still you to think about your life after football .Players must have the right education and making the right Investments.
Soka25East.com: As we conclude now in the world cup we have reached the Knock out stages after seeing all these countries, who do you think from your own opinion who is going to make it to the final?.
Bernard: For me I think that we have some surprise but in my own opinion the team which shows some character, Brazil of course, France, Spain and I hope an African country will make it. I expect for instance Senegal, their goal is to reach the semifinals.
I think they can make it if they don’t neglect the small details which allow you to make it because at this time of the competition it’s about details. Details and luck also. So I expect Senegal or Morocco to make something regarding African countries. Regarding the rest of the world I hope France makes something because I live in Paris and I have French football players who are young and also playing for the French team. This is going to be good for my players.
Soka25East.com: With so much experience you have with African players, their management, why don’t African Federations, even Cameroon, Kenya, Senegal. Why don’t they look for people like you basically give them advice because you have that experience?
Bernard: The other day I was watching the second game of Cameroon against Serbia. Alassane N’Dor (Former Senegalese player) was just next to me and he asked me the question why a team like Cameroon doesn’t rely on someone like me to not to help them choose players but to suggest players who are eligible to play for Cameroon.
And he was telling me that French coach Bruno Metsu was relying on Pape Diouf to help him bring a lot of players and this is how Pape Diouf brought many of them to help the national team in the past years. And this is why Senegal played so well and reached the quarter finals in the 2002 World Cup.
He was saying this also because he knows how fair I am. If you are not the right player I will never give your name to the Cameroon team and like I said it’s a change of mentality which we need and at the end of the day I hope that in the future African countries will change the way of doing things by bringing new ideas to help the country, to help the team and try to go far in a competition like the world cup.
The next World Cup is going to be in the USA in 2026. I think Africa will have nine or ten countries so we really need to improve things from home and go and try to challenge the world. Regarding this same topic nowadays since COVID-19, football is using a lot of data. Data does not lie.
Before as an agent one could bring a player to a team because he was well known and maybe powerful or people listen to you. But nowadays even if people listen to you data does not lie.
Data says what the player is doing on the pitch. So you cannot cheat anyone. You have to do the right things the right way nowadays. You don’t have to gamble anymore. Data in football is something real and you can not cheat anymore.
That’s why in European teams they have understood this fact. South African teams understand it. At the end of the day European teams are doing very well because they have understood that nowadays data has to bring something inside football.
Soka25East.com: Being a top Agent in Africa what have you done to empower former players? Have some of them come to learn from you about the opportunity to do what you do and follow your trend?
Bernard: I got my French license in 2010 and from 2010 to 2018 I used to teach management and school business college in France to some people who wanted to have a license like me. I did it for 8 years and the funny thing is I never saw a guy I know or an African friend who came to me saying Bernard I need you to help me I need to a licensed agent like you.
No one ever came to me asking for this and I have helped a lot of guys be licensed agents like me because I have no hard feeling as the industy is big. For me this is a big issue because at the end of day you cannot expect someone to come to you to say what you need to do.
I am not into any competition with anyone. The industry is big and there is a position for everyone. But the problem is that some African people are always scared that you will come and take their positions which i don’t even need. Instead of thinking I have to learn from this guy, I have to be like this guy.
Others always think to the contrary thinking he will come and take my position. This is why I keep talking about mentality. It’s the mentality. If I see a guy I can learn from I will go and tell him listen I have to learn from you. Please teach me this. I will not start thinking he will come get what I have or my position or whatever. It’s the wrong way to look at life.
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