Alberto Edjogo: "Investing in soccer is not an expense, it is a commitment to the future"
Former soccer player and sports journalist Alberto Edjogo gives us the keys to making soccer a driving force for the future in Equatorial Guinea and tells us about the passion he feels for his second country.
The Nzalang has just written a page in the history of African soccer. Although its dream faded in the 3-1 against Senegal, the “national red” managed to reach the quarterfinals and defeat giants like Algeria or Mali against all odds. For weeks, the national team has put Equatorial Guinea on the map, making its people vibrate and showing that the difficulties in Equatorial Guinean soccer have nothing to do with a lack of talent.
For Alberto Edjogo (Sabadell, 1984), soccer in Equatorial Guinea “is unstoppable, because if you throw a ball in any neighborhood, lots of boys and girls will come out chasing it. It is a passion that comes to them since they are little, and it would be a shame not to take advantage of it”. Edjogo knows what he is talking about. His life is a tribute to “muddy” soccer, the kind that escapes the glamor of the spotlight but entails the heroic effort of playing “with the uncertainty that your salary is at stake with each play, with each ball”, because “with each goal you have to feed the family”.
Born to a Spanish mother and an Equatorial Guinean father, Alberto Edjogo has been almost everything in the king sport. For fourteen years he cut his teeth in grassroots soccer fighting for over ten clubs, including Sabadell and Olimpic de Xátiva, and in 2003 he made his debut in the senior team of his homeland. He felt the vocation of becoming an analyst from a very young age; he soon started a blog and began to build a career as a sports journalist that led him to join Gol Televisión, Radio Marca and La Liga TV.
In addition to being a great connoisseur of soccer, Edjogo is passionate about Equatorial Guinea, a land that he defines with one word: exuberance. “Equatorial Guinea is exuberant in every way: the climate, the vegetation, the energy that people have when it comes to defending their ideas.” Today, we talk to him about soccer, Africa and the future.
One of the limitations of soccer in Equatorial Guinea, as Benjamín Zarandona told us, is the inexistence of lower categories, of a league from 8 to 17 years old that allows the youth to train every week in well-equipped facilities. How can soccer be professionalized in the country?
The first step to change something is showing the will to make that change. It can’t be that a boy who is 16 or 17 years old has never competed in a league. That makes progress very difficult because you are already behind other countries in the region. To set up a grassroots soccer league, an investment is needed, which should not be seen as an expense, but rather as a commitment to the future.
It often happens that some African players find it difficult to compete: they have the speed, the technique, the stamina, the physicality, but they lack a competitive level. Not only would it be necessary to establish sub15, sub17 and sub21 teams, but also establish competitions at different levels and in different areas.
Equatorial Guinea is a small country that could organize itself with not so many resources, but it needs a good computer-based system to monitor matches, the classifications, the cards, players who also need are healthy… and it would be a shame if it had to come someone from Europe to set it up. In Africa and in Equatorial Guinea there is enough talent to carry this out.
Can soccer become an asset for Equatorial Guinea?
Soccer is a big industry; it’s an economic engine. But before running, you have to start walking. The league in Equatorial Guinea has no regularity, there is no fixed schedule. Soccer is unstoppable; if you throw a ball to roll in any neighborhood in Guinea, lots of boys and girls will come out chasing it. It’s something they feel passionate about since childhood, and it would be a shame not to take advantage of it. In a country like Equatorial Guinea, which is rich in many things and is very well located, it would become an essential asset; it can be achieved.
African soccer is unknown to the general public, but this sport is the backbone of many communities in which children and young people can be seen playing with more drive, dedication and passion than in other countries outside that continent. What role does soccer play in African youth?
Soccer is not a destination, it is a tool to transmit values such as teamwork, effort or resistance to frustration. Young people identify references very quickly; they watch television, see Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mané and think “and why not me?”.
When you play football, you learn values such as discipline or respect for teammates and rivals, which is essential. In Africa we may have a tendency for chose role models who do things badly, who dedicate themselves to exploiting or filling up their pockets, but football values meritocracy; whoever does things well can reach higher.
“Africans have a spectacular inner strength”
You have written the book Indomitable, where in addition to recounting your years defending the Equatorial Guinea shirt, you wonder where the African continent got the strength to start after the experience of colonization. Where does that force come from?
Indomitable is rebellion, the inability of external forces to subdue an entire people. The African people have a spectacular inner strength that makes them overcome adversities that would be impossible in other latitudes. It has always been subjected to external interference since the time of slavery, and it has endured and resisted, until reaching the point to rebel. You know that your ancestors have had a hard time and they have endured, and you endure, but at the same time you also rebel, and I think that is a good combination.
As a son of both Spain and Equatorial Guinea, you have been able to feel what it means to be an “Equatorial Guinean in Spain” and a “Spaniard in Equatorial Guinea”. How have you experienced that duality?
Here is a very funny episode. We were in Gabon in a qualifying round, training, and some children came often to see us play. Every time I took the ball they laughed, jumped and shouted, and once I heard them say “moan ntanang, moan ntanang”. I asked the goalkeeping coach what that meant and he told me: “This in Fang means white boy; they see you as the white boy”. I was mixed and the others were not. So, I know very well what it means to be the European in Africa and the African in Spain.
I have never felt undervalued; on the contrary, I am very proud of where I come from and of what I am, because all this has forged my character. I have had to listen to very tough things on Spanish fields, but it has never affected me. I feel half European and half African and in each of my actions I have that origin very much in mind.
He discovered his African half in the summer of 2003, when he first traveled to Equatorial Guinea. Edjogo says that the first thing that surprised him when he set foot outside the plane was “the humidity in the environment, that breath of humid air permeating all the pores of your skin and even making it difficult for you to move.”
From that first contact with Equatorial Guinea, he remembers with special affection the warmth that the fans gave him while he was training with the Nzalang: “It was in the Bata stadium, the old one, and when we were about to start training I heard a great noise between the hotel Panafrica and the stadium. When we approached, I realized that the field was full of fans who came to see us, and that affection, that encouragement, that push from the fans who shouted with enthusiasm at each touch, each pass, each shot on goal, I will never forget.”
Equatorial Guinea is a safe country, full of beauties and with good infrastructures. However, its tourism is almost non-existent. Why do you think this is so?
Many times when I talk about Equatorial Guinea, I am asked if it is close to Ecuador, if it is in South America or Central America. One realizes how little is known about Africa in general and about Equatorial Guinea in particular, especially at school. When you become an adult, you meet educated cultured people who still have no idea about the subject, and that lack of knowledge makes you hesitate to travel.
What is for you the most unique place that Equatorial Guinea has?
The Pico Basilé is a spectacular place; it can be seen from anywhere on the island of Bioko. But I would stay Ureka is that magical place where you experience a feeling of freedom and exuberance; I understand that because it is one of the rainiest places in the world and where there is more vegetation and life. Living that freedom, those waterfalls and that vegetation caused a great impressed on me.
What essential itinerary should someone who wants to get to know Equatorial Guinea follow?
In Bioko, obviously, you can’t miss eating fish in Luba, far to the south. Then, Moka is an essential visit; breathing a little of its fresh air, very pure, not so humid, makes your heart happy. And then, you can wander around Malabo, go to the Ela Nguema neighborhood, eat some chicken, grab a good beer at a grocery store and visit the Casa Verde.
And what can we say about the islands, Annobón, Corisco… The continental region is also unique: a sunrise in Mbini or a walk through Niefang, my father’s town.
For Alberto Edjogo, it’s quite clear that the future of his country of origin depends on enhancing its enormous strength, present in the spirit of its people, in its love and talent for football, and in the exuberance of its land, its landscapes and its culture.
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