Nowhere in the world is the passion for the game of football greater than in Africa. In the back alleys of Accra and on the savannas of the Serengeti, in the refugee camps of Darfur and on the busy beaches of Durban, a fractured Africa unites in its love for the beautiful game.
Superstars like Michael Essien and Samuel Eto'o have conquered Europe's top leagues. Their successes fuel the dreams of millions of young African footballers determined to achieve the same acclaim. Once viewed as a profession for people with no other future, football today is seen by millions of Africans as the most realistic way of breaking out of poverty.
Next year, as the World Cup comes to South Africa, African football takes center stage.
But African achievements, such as Ghana's recent triumph at the under-20 World Cup tournament, mask a grim reality: at home, much of African football -- plagued by corruption, mismanagement and a staggering lack of resources -- is in disarray.
Grassroots football in Africa struggles to take shape as thousands of the best young talents migrate abroad in search of greener pastures. A fanatical following of European leagues among football fans in Africa has replaced interest in domestic competitions. As the economic value of African football grows, outside forces are increasingly stripping the continent of its commodities. Is Africa's footballing future slipping out of its grasp?
Yet away from the headlines, a movement emerges to reclaim African football for Africa. Prospering from strong investment and sound marketing, South Africa's domestic league is becoming an alternative destination for Africa's top football talent. The continent's leading sports broadcaster is throwing its support behind long-fledgling leagues in Nigeria and Kenya.
On the grassroots level, football academies increasingly pursue a more holistic approach, merging sports and education, providing opportunities for young footballers to develop their considerable talents both on and off the field. It's a concept borrowed from America, but one that has, until now, been alien to most of Africa.
It's a story largely untold. Football -- or the talent and burning passion that Africans have for it -- may represent Africa's greatest untapped resource. Harnessing it may not only lead to World Cup glory one day, but more importantly help in the development of a long-suffering continent.