The commissioner of the fledgling Canadian Premier League (CPL), David Clanachan, believes young African talent can give their careers a boost by playing in the country’s top-flight.
The first season of the CPL was held in 2019 and featured 30 foreign players including six from Africa.
Two of those players, Cameroonian Bertrand Owundi, 26, and Elimane Cisse, 24, from Senegal, were part of the Hamilton-based Forge FC squad that won the inaugural Canadian title.
Clanachan was in no doubt when asked whether the CPL was ready to welcome African youngsters: ”The answer is absolutely yes.”
”We’re looking around the globe for talented players.”
“We’re actually working with people outside of north America to help us unearth that talent as well.”
“We see an opportunity for young players, especially international young players to come in, and be able to get first team minutes and lots of first team minutes in order to be able to, you know, develop and hone their skills.”
And his hopes are being answered already with Winnipeg-based Valour FC signing 19-year-old Solomon Kojo Antwi from Ghanaian side Glow Lamp Academy, which is owned by former Ghana international Nii Odartey Lamptey.
The commissioner does however admit that the CPL is going to be a stepping stone for these young talented players.
“We see ourselves as a development league,” Clanachan added.
“So if I’m a younger player, you know, I’m going to look at this league and say, ‘this is a perfect place for me to go get to be able to play against good competition’.
“And so anyone that comes into our league, they have to know that we consider ourselves a developing league.”
”We’re going to develop players and we’re not going to hold people back. If people want to and if they’re able they can go onto bigger and better leagues.”
The CPL gives clubs the chance to play in the preliminary rounds of the Concacaf Champions League as well as in the Canadian Championships, which features teams who play in Major League Soccer (MLS).
Forge FC’s Kwame Awuah was born to Ghanaian parents in Toronto but has played for Canada at international level is confident the CPL will improve.
“The future of the CPL is bright, but it’s going to take even more work than what has happened this year,” he stated.
“This year was just a glimpse of the amazing future of Canadian soccer. It’s going to take everyone involved: players, coaches, GMs, owners, communications, media, front offices, Commissioner, Canadian Soccer Association, the fans to continue steering this ship in the right direction.”
“If we all believe in the sport in this country then the sky is the limit.”
The 23-year-old has already experienced playing at higher level having spent a season with MLS side New York City FC, when former France and Arsenal captain Patrick Viera was the coach.
Another of the Africans to star in the CPL was Congo international Dominique Malonga as he scored 11 goals for the Calgary-based Cavalry FC in the inaugural season.
The 30-year-old has had stints Italy, Spain, Scotland and Greece and played at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations agrees there is room for improvement.
“In terms of football, it’s the first year, so there’s a lot to improve,” the former Torino and Hibernian player said.
“Tactically, more specifically defensively, there’s some work to be done but the talent is there and especially Canadian talent.”
“They just need to keep working, we all need to keep on working, and that’s how it can get better year after year.”
The other African players in the 2019 CPL were Cameroonian duo Jeannot Esua, 23, and Tony Tchani, 30 at FC Edmonton while Kouame Ouattara, 28, from Ivory Coast played for HFX Wanderers.
There are opportunities for more Africans to play in the CPL in the 2020 season, which is set to begin in March.
But there are also rules in place to promote Canadian talent with a limit of seven foreign players on each of the ten-team squads and a minimum of six Canadians must start each match.