The foundations of CHAN
Long before the birth of the Total African Nations Championship in 2008, its establishment as a strong competition followed by the entire African continent, and its eventual recognition by FIFA, the Cameroonese selection planted the seed for this very idea by trying to organize regional games. That was in the late 80s, under the impulsion of Claude Le Roy.
February 7th, 2016. The Amahoro Stadium in Rwanda. TVs are connected, the stadium is packed, 20,000 supporters can barely contain themselves. On this late Sunday afternoon, the Democratic Republic of Congo challenges Mali in the final of the CHAN’s fourth iteration. And for the whole continent, which sees DRC dominate 3-0 (its second title and record), the event is a massive one. “This championship is getting more and more important,” gloats Claude Le Roy, implying that it hasn’t always been the case. “The real proof is that today its acknowledged by FIFA for the national rankings. Logistic, infrastructures, talent, and global interest increase year after year. It was about time. This is what I’ve been fighting for for decades!” Created in 2008 by Issa Hayatou, the African Football Confederation president, this tournament only involving players evolving in their own countries took quite some time to be officially recognized. Mostly, it should have happened long before it did. Because as Claude Le Roy, an African football specialist, explains, the idea had been considered a long time ago.
Let’s go back in time for a minute. Former manager in Amiens then Grenoble, Claude Le Roy leaves France to attempt an African adventure in 1985. Cameroon will be the first of a long list of continental selections he would lead (DRC, Senegal, Ghana, Togo…). And the Frenchman goes all in. If first goal: to expand African football. “I create my first local national team in 1986 with Cameroon. That’s how I started the project of local national teams. The endgame was to revitalize the sport in this country,” recalls Togo former selectioner. “The organization was simple. WE’d wonder around local provinces inside the country and threw challenges to provincial teams. The national team played these provincial teams, and with each game we found new players. In a way, it was the tournament that came before CHAN.”
Positive feedbacks are quick to come. Thanks to this method, Cameroon uncovers gems and reinforces its game. “That was how we built the 1990 Cameroonese team. That very same one that was invited to a quarter final in the World Cup and beat the reigning champion, Argentina. We had Francois Omam-Biyik, Andre Kana Biyik, Emile Mbouh, Stephen Tataw, Benjamin Massing, Bertin Ebwelle…” As many players who became known for their work with Le Roy. That’s why the latter never gave up on his dream of an actual CHAN. “I kept telling Issa Hayatou, who became president of the CAF in 1988, that we needed to find a way to organize a large scale competition with local national teams,” Le Roy repeats. “Because it shines a new light on national championships. Which, by the way, were losing steam at that time. We felt like big, traditional team, like Canon Yaounde and Tonnerre Yaounde could disappear. And that’s what happened. After a while, they simply didn’t have enough popular support.” That’s why, beyond the goals and fantastic moves, the CHAN is still necessary for African football. Even if it could have been doing just that 20 years ago.