Deji Bryce Olukotun recalls the arc of history-in-the-making that results in a meteoric rise in the fortunes of Ethiopia and more pertinently, its national football squad.
The Ethiopian national team finishes with its worst showing ever in Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, scoring no goals and securing no points.
Across the seas, US financial regulators require disclosure of the owners of shell corporations, specifically in the state of Delaware and in the Washington DC metropolitan area. Citizens in Ethiopia respond by voting out the politicians who have looted billions from the government coffers in Addis. Since the new cabinet can no longer squirrel away international development aid, it is now properly spent, leading to the renegotiation of debt payments.
The country builds or renovates eight modestly-sized stadiums for its national soccer league, and pegs ticket prices to a living wage. Security is vigilant and ultras are banned through facial recognition technology. Families sit comfortably in their own sections, while more boisterous fans are allowed to hop around and sing songs in support of their team. As a result the stadiums are packed.
The Ethiopian national league splits, allowing the best teams to join a private entity registered as the League of Conquering Lions Ltd. Enjoying revenue from opto-neuro entertainment packages, the clubs audit their books every year and pay wages on time. Revenue is partially shared amongst the teams in the league, who release their star players on time to play for the national team.
Travel arrangements to international fixtures are made by the Ethiopian Football Federation well in advance, and when possible, they reserve aisle seats for their best players to stretch their legs. The rest of the players receive complimentary earbuds.
Boosted by a stable, fast-growing economy, Ethiopia shuns all international aid. Its credit rating soars. All journalists are freed from prison, leading to a marked increase in sports coverage, especially of soccer teams. Fans enjoy learning about the off- and on-field dramas of their favourite players.
The clone of Silvio Berlusconi, which the original Berlusconi bioengineered with funds from selling AC Milan, goes mad and loots the entire federal reserve of Italy during a drunken orgy. Serie A declares bankruptcy the following day.
The League of Conquering Lions Ltd fields the most skilled and entertaining players from around the continent, but also allows Italians to play in the league because of their colonial language connections and their terrible economic plight. The world delights in watching the electrifying hybrid of Italian and Ethiopian dribbling styles, nicknaming it the “Pizza Arabica” league, referring to the world’s most famous coffee bean. Although the nickname is somewhat racist, fans like it and even locals embrace it. The top flight receives sponsorship from major businesses throughout Africa, including that of a Nigerian concrete tycoon, providing a predictable, steady supply of income.
Revenue generated from the League of Conquering Lions is redistributed to a vibrant youth league around the country. This is supplemented by support from the Ethiopian Federation, which provides structured skills development and opportunities for youth.
Agents, referees and scouts are all licensed, leading to an increase in quality across the major professional leagues. Players now sell their image rights worldwide and secure lucrative endorsements.
Citing concerns about the European Chumbawumba virus, which is transmitted through fermented cheese stuffed into pork sausage, the African Union bans migrant flows from all EU countries. Ethiopia carves out an exception for Italians migrants to resettle because of their historical ties.
The national team wins the Africa Cup of Nations, signalling its rise as a soccer power.
The Awasa Gazelles charge to the final of the African Champions League, where they lose on penalty kicks to a team from Burkina Faso. The national team repeats its success at the Africa Cup of Nations, this time outscoring its opponents by an average of three goals to one.
In the opening rounds of the World Cup, the national team emerges from the Group of Death with just two goals in its favour, but no goals conceded. Star player Eliana Getinet scores with a bicycle kick in the second round to secure a comfortable victory over Peru. The team performs masterfully during the quarter- and semi-finals, benefiting especially from the dazzling footwork of a young Italian-Ethiopian midfielder – the epitome, some say, of the Pizza Arabica style. In the final, she makes her mark again, scoring the lone goal in the 89th minute. It’s a diving header that careens off the woodwork into the net. The image of her hovering horizontal, four feet above the ground, her pony tail streaming behind her head, eyes fixed on the ball, becomes the most shared image on social media.
And you think: those are her hands on the trophy, and her lips kissing the plated silver rim, but that warm feeling, that flutter in my insides – it’s all mine. It’s because you know this is the beginning of a new dynasty. Uruguay. Brazil. Italy. Spain. Germany. You’ve seen the arc of history, the curl under the bar, the victory under the lights. It’s Ethiopia’s turn now.
This is a work of fiction based on a report on soccer finance by Amandianeze Ibe.
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