There are a number of reasons.
Jean Bertin Uwarugaba, a telecoms engineer of Rwandan origin who has lived in Senegal for over two decades, provided me with one obvious answer:
“The local game is underdeveloped. It’s not attractive, because there are no historical rivalries between the teams.”
With the deregulation of football broadcasting since the 1990s, the European game has become accessible and affordable to many Africans, especially those living in urban areas.
Why should people consume a sub-par product when they can watch the elite level of the game in the comfort of their own homes?
Dakar-based Uwarugaba is a fanatical fan of top English club Chelsea.
“I first started watching European football around 1999, in particular Olympique Marseille. Didier Drogba emerged as the leader of that team. After Drogba’s transfer to Chelsea in 2004, I started following the Premier League. I’ve been a fan of Chelsea ever since.”
Another reason is the growing presence of African football stars in the top European leagues.
This is certainly a big attraction.
The Ivorian superstars Drogba and Yaya Touré, or the Cameroonian striker Samuel Eto'o are icons to fans in Senegal.
There’s particular pride at the emergence of exciting young Senegalese players such as Liverpool’s Sadio Mané, Lazio’s Keita Baldé Diao or Kalidou Koulibaly who’s playing for Napoli.
However, the two most popular clubs in Senegal at the moment are the Spanish giants, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, neither of whom currently has an African player in their first team squad – other than the Cameroonian born French international Samuel Umtiti.
In Senegal, perhaps, the reason for this European obsession can be found by exploring the specific context of football – and sport – in the country.
It’s worth looking at one local exception that attracts as much passion and fervour as the European giants – the navétanes inter-district championship, which includes the aforementioned team containing the illustrious names of Casillas, Zidane and Tevez.
Saliou “Tevez” is the team’s centre forward, a fast and athletic young man who dreams of a career in Europe.
“I played in the local navétanes team. Everyone started calling me Tevez, because I played like [Argentine player] Carlos Tevez. I worked hard, I scored goals, I was technical. We won the cup that year. Everyone in the neighbourhood knows me as Tevez.”
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