A Need For Development Attention
There was a time when development was regarded as one of the most important aspects of South African football, where big teams would introduce new, refreshing and exciting youngsters during pre-season tournaments like the Telkom Charity Cup and Vodacom Challenge. It felt like the clubs were obliged to promote players from their development structures every season.
Those were the days that introduced us to the likes of Doctor Khumalo, Jabu Pule (Mahlangu), Gift Leremi, Joseph Makhanya, Lebohang Mokoena, Steve Motsiri (Lekoelea) ... the list goes on and on. These players were all introduced as a breath of fresh air and what to expect in the new season. They went on to become big-name and respected players at their respective clubs. Some even went on to become national team assets.
Their early introduction served as a motivation for other youngsters who dreamt of making it big and even saved a lot of money for their respective teams. They proved that impossible is nothing and that, if you put your mind to it and are willing to sacrifice, nothing can stand in your way. It was unveiling players like these that got the supporters excited about the season to come. They effectively set the tone. Those were the days before the massive chequebooks took over and pushed the need for development to the back seat, as clubs focused more on the bottom line rather than the bigger picture.
Back then, almost every season there was at least one exciting new player to be unleashed by the big teams and that never interfered or hampered the team’s set goals of achieving, but today the game has become too business-minded. The big money has taken over the very important aspect of the game, development.
It boggles the mind when you hear coaches making excuses about the pressure to win things and therefore sacrificing the young for the more established and expensive campaigners. You look at a coach like Gavin Hunt who went on to win a double last season with a good mixture of youth and experience in his squad. If it wasn’t for Hunt’s bravery and belief in a player like Reeve Frosler, for instance, none of us would know about this quality right back from Port Elizabeth.
He effectively kept the likes of Siboniso Gaxa and Nazier Allie completely out of the picture and earned his stripes. Would he be a regular feature if he were playing for the big teams? Would Bloemfontein Celtic’s Kabelo Mahlasela be playing? Would we know about Kodisang Kobamelo today? Would we know about SuperSport United’s Teboho Mokoena?
South African football’s premier league is regarded as arguably the best run in the continent and one of the best in the world. On paper, that is a perfect picture of our potential, but it is when you scratch beyond the surface that you find a lot still needs to be done.
Development has been largely neglected and that’s very sad for a country with as much resources as we have. This lack of attention to our development will have a negative impact on future generations.
Farouk Khan’s Stars of Africa Academy recently won the Engen tournament against some of the PSL sides’ junior teams and this is further proof of the lack of attention given to our teams’ junior ranks. This is an individual who takes a lot of time scouting and nurturing young talent out of his own pocket.
He has invested so much of his money and time to this project and the results are there for everyone to see. He has produced a number of quality players who not only ply their trade successfully in the country but are good enough to make a name for themselves abroad as well, some without even kicking a ball in an official match in South Africa. This goes to show what more attention to development can do for our football. These are the people we need to support and the sooner the corporate world plays its part in the development of the game, the better. There are so many sponsors for the senior teams and someone needs to invest in our youth as in yesterday.
How many PSL teams have development teams from U10-U19 like Ajax Cape Town? I’m not talking about the MultiChoice Diski Challenge, which is a great platform to be used to enhance development structures. A number of teams look to this league as a development league and that’s not right. Golden Arrows recently promoted a number of their MDC team players to their first team and they went on to finish in the Top 8 and played some of the best football last season.
A number of our junior national team players are not getting regular game-time at club level and even those who continue to show glimpses of what they can do when given a chance remain either on the bench or playing only for the national teams. It must be very frustrating for junior national team coaches to have to select their junior national teams because they are so limited. Tournaments like CHAN should be contested by our development players, instead of fringe first team players, and that would go a long way in enhancing the future of South African football.
South Africa is blessed with millions of football players from grassroots level but because of lack of attention to development, these talents fall through the cracks. One of the worst things to happen to South African football was the decision to take football (read sport) out of the government schools’ curriculum. These school games provided an opportunity for scouts to spot talent at a young age.
We have a number of dedicated development coaches that deserve a mention for the great job they’ve been doing for South African football, but that would take the whole edition of Soccer Laduma. These people need all the support and it is very imperative for our senior coaches to give full attention to development and work closely with their junior counterparts. Club owners also need to invest in their development structures so that they stop recycling the same players season after season.