There is an irony in all of this. The AFCON was established in the 1950s, at a time when African countries were gaining independence and Europe didn’t care about African football. But now European clubs have a vested interest in African players, there is pressure on organisers to make the tournament work for them.
While we are slowly moving away from a situation where the AFCON has to keep justifying its existence, there is still a palpable neglect of the tournament which prevents people from understanding what makes it so special.
It’s the way Alex Iwobi eats pounded yam and egusi on his Snapchat story to show the world he’s ready for the tournament. Flying the flag of his native Nigeria, feeling and looking more at peace than he once did in England where he grew up.
It’s about the lesser established African players looking to announce themselves on a bigger stage. To change their lives and their family’s lives. To answer their nation’s call and rise to greatness in one of the most important football tournaments in history.
Sometimes it’s even deeper than football. Africa is no stranger to conflict and in times of political unrest, the sport has proven to be the one great unifier on the continent. Just ask any Ivorian about how the national team stopped a civil war after World Cup qualification in 2005.
"AFCON demonstrates that Africa doesn’t need the rest of the world to thrive – that’s probably why it rubs so many people the wrong way."
The AFCON isn’t just a football spectacle. It’s an opportunity for African people to show how proud they are of their country. It’s a symbol for the good that the continent can accomplish when it comes together. But perhaps most importantly, the AFCON demonstrates that Africa doesn’t need the rest of the world to thrive. And that’s probably why it rubs so many people the wrong way.
The tournament isn’t perfect – no-one claims it to be. Its chaos is part of its charm. Where else would you get a 5 foot 8 inch defender in Chaker Alhadhur deputising as a goalkeeper in a knockout game against the hosts and favourites Cameroon? And actually play well?
Just because the AFCON operates outside of the wider football consciousness doesn’t make it any less deserving of our attention. If anything, it should make you want to indulge in all its emotion and commotion.
You’d be wise to tap in whichever way you can.