Lessons from the World Cup 

Lessons from the World Cup 

A popular meme went viral before Sunday’s World Cup final — that the French team was “Africa’s best hope” to win football’s most prestigious trophy. 

Though a witty line must never be explained, the idea — for the non-football fans among us — is that the French footballers who took home the World Cup were predominately from immigrant communities, most of them from Francophone African nations. 

Joking aside, France’s win should send a clear message against the rising global wave of populism: Immigrants don’t make a nation weaker, they make it stronger. Similarly, the heart-warming images of President Emmanuel Macron embracing his winning team also sent a clear signal to immigrants: Come to your new country, respect the laws, work hard and you will be embraced like a citizen — without any regard to your race, color, religion or political views. 

There are also lessons to be learnt from the embarrassing performance of the participating Arab countries: Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt. 

While the international recognition of Mo Salah — both at Liverpool FC and with the Egyptian national team — makes him a superb example of what a successful, modern Arab/Muslim global citizen looks like, a one-man show is never enough for a team to win. The same applies to Lionel Messi of Argentina and Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal.  

Why do most Arabs succeed when they leave their home countries, but fail if they stay at home? The answer is simple: We lack a meritocratic system in most Arab countries. 

Faisal J. Abbas

Mo Salah’s success at Liverpool is itself a case worth examining. Why do most Arabs succeed when they leave their home countries, but fail if they stay at home? The answer is simple: We lack a meritocratic system in most Arab countries. 

One could argue that the failure of Arab teams reflects, in a way, the failure of their home societies and institutions. If a team comes from a country where “wasta” (personal connections) prevails, then is it a surprise when they lose? If a goalkeeper is chosen based not on his abilities but on his ties to the person who picks the team, then how can we expect him to do a good job keeping the ball out of the net? 

Moreover, if players lack discipline in their daily lives, how do they expect to perform on the pitch? This may be obvious to many, but apparently not to those Arab players who seem to believe they can live unhealthy lives, stay up late, partying and smoking shisha every night, and still be at their best on the field of play. There is no cure for this delusion other than constant monitoring and severe penalties. 

The introduction to the World Cup this year of Video Assistant Referees (VAR) should also send a signal that, increasingly, luck cannot be depended upon. Indeed, had VAR existed when Diego  Maradona claimed the intervention of the “hand of God” in his goal for Argentina against England in the Mexico 1986 quarter-final, World Cup history might have taken a different course.  

The Brazilian Neymar’s Oscar-worthy performance feigning injury is also worth noting. Yes, some people’s advice may be “fake it to make it” — but we need to learn that there is no substitute for hard work.

The ingredients for success, therefore, are greater inclusion, open borders, identifying and empowering talent, eliminating corruption and “wasta,” and sheer hard graft. And this applies not just to football teams, but to countries too! 


• Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor in Chief of Arab News. 

Twitter: @FaisalJAbbas

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view