Future looks black

Across eastern Europe, black players are making their mark. Filippo Ricci reports

After nearly two decades in the international wilderness, Poland appear to have found a top class goalscorer. And he’s Nigerian. Emmanuel Olisadebe has scored three goals in four games for the national team including two in a surprise 3-1 win World Cup win in Ukraine. He arrived in Poland three years ago, having been top scorer in the Nigerian league, and helped his new club Polonia Warsaw to a league and cup double. A year ago his former coach at Polonia, Jerzy Engel, took over the national team and asked Olisadebe to take out Polish citizenship and start play­ing for the national team. There are even rumours that the player could change his name to Olisadebowski.

He is just one of several African players making an impact in eastern Europe. Oleg Romantsev, coach of Spartak Moscow and the Russian national team, has worked to get a passport for Cameroonian defender Jerry Christian Tchuise, who arrived in the capital from a provincial club, Chernomorets Novorossiisk. Tchuise was called up by Russia for the World Cup qualifier in Switzerland a couple of months ago, but didn’t travel because of a stomach ulcer.

Romantsev is also hoping to cap the Brazilian Luis Pereira Robson, at Spartak since 1997, and his compatriot Antonio Marcao, who both scored against Arse­nal in the recent Champions League match. Another Brazilian waiting to switch nationalities is Mendes Per­eira Nilton, soon to make his debut for Kazakhstan, where he is playing for Irtysh-Bastau of Pavlodar.

While a black player has still to play for Russia or another senior national team of one of the former Soviet republics, a couple of Africans born in eastern Europe have already won Under-21 caps: Nelson Tam­ov, half Sierra Leonian, and Mark Addo, half Ghanaian, have turned out for Russia and Belarus ⌦re­s­pectively. Hungary are also using a Nigerian striker in the senior team, Thomas Sowunmi.

Three Zambian players, Derby Mankinka, Wisdom Chansa and Richard Mwanza, became the first for­eigners to play in the then Soviet league 11 years ago, having been spotted at the Seoul Olympics in the side that beat Italy 4-0. They joined the obscure Pamir of Dushanbe in Tajikistan because of a “special relationship” between that republic and Zambia. Sadly, all three died in the plane that crashed while taking the Zambian squad to an international match in 1993.

The first Brazilians in Russia were Luis Andre da Silva and Junior Mario Dos Santos, who signed for Lokomotiv Nizhny Novgorod in 1995. Today, imports from Africa and Brazil are spread through almost all the former Soviet republics. Taking out citizenship gives them a wider range of statutory rights in their adopted countries and can only help them overcome prevailing obstacles, whether it is the totally different lifestyle, the often appalling weather or, all too com­monly, entrenched racism.

From WSC 167 January 2001. What was happening this month