Senegal is handing out millions in money and land to its historic soccer champions

Sadio Mane and friends are richer by a few thousand dollars
Sadio Mane and friends are richer by a few thousand dollars
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The mood in Senegal after its men’s soccer team won the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) for the first time on Feb. 6 has been close to ecstasy. It has spread beyond the capital city Dakar to communities in the US where Senegalese live, like Harlem in New York.

Following their victory over Egypt, Kalidou Koulibaly, Sadio Mané, and their teammates were treated to a grand welcome at home, helped by the declaration of a public holiday on the Monday after the final. But in addition to the goodwill of joyous crowds that cheered on the players as they paraded through streets on open-top buses, Senegal’s president Macky Sall announced three rewards to the entire delegation of players and staff who helped achieve the historic feat in Cameroon.

Reward validates Aliou Cisse’s long-term vision

Senegal will receive $5 million as the official prize from the Confederation of African Football (CAF) for winning the 2021 Afcon.

But Sall said “the players and other members of the official delegation will each receive a special bonus of 50 million CFA francs ($87,412) and a 200 square meter plot of land in Dakar,” according to Reuters. They will also each be referred to as Grand Officers of the National Order of the Lion, Senegal’s highest honor (the national team is known as the “Teranga Lions”.)

Senegal’s Afcon squad was staffed with some of the best players in the world in their positions, including Edouard Mendy whom the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) recently crowned the best goalkeeper in the world. These players plying their trade at elite European clubs are well paid relative to Senegal’s minimum wage of 36 cents an hour. Star man Mané, who became the country’s joint-highest scorer of all time, earns £100,000 a week at Liverpool which is the equivalent of Sall’s cash gift.

But not every member of the team earns as much as Mané, and the Senegalese president’s gesture is not aimed at enriching the players anyway. Instead, it is more a recognition of perseverance shown by the team under the tutelage of Aliou Cisse, Senegal’s 45-year-old head coach since 2015.

Aliou Cisse, Senegal's team coach, in a jacket in a cold environment
Aliou Cisse masterminded Senegal’s first Afcon triumph in Cameroon
Image: Reuters/Peter Cziborra

Cisse was Senegal’s captain in 2002 and missed the last penalty kick in the country’s first Afcon final against Cameroon. He was the leader as they reached the quarter-final stage in their first World Cup later that summer and, as coach, guided the team to second place in the 2019 Afcon. As one of the continent’s notable local coaches, his story was a rallying point for neutrals who wanted Senegal to finally join Africa’s group of soccer champions.

Sall wants soccer in Senegal’s futuristic city

In addition to cash, land, and honors to the team, a 500 square meter plot of land will be set aside to memorialize the Afcon victory in Diamniadio. It is a township outside Dakar that is being remade into a $2 billion modern city with a sprawling rail network and industrial park as part of Sall’s Emerging Senegal agenda to boost industrialization in Senegal.

While the timeline to complete Diamniadio is 2035, a 50,000-capacity multipurpose stadium that cost over $200 million is set to be opened in the city later this month.

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