Thursday, July 17, 2014

The African football debacle

Maybe South Africa, Mali, Zambia, Burkina Faso or Zimbabwe could have won the 2014 Brazil FifaWorld Cup, had they hired Joachim Loew, Alejandro Pasella or Louis van Gaal. I am certain The Super Eagles of Nigeria or The Elephants of Cote D’Ivoire could have been champions if they stayed, played and worked in Germany under Joachim Leow since, at least, 2002.
You can take to the bank the fact that Phillip Lahm, Toni Kroos, Manuel Neuer and crew could have delayed their flight to Brazil for the World Cup and fought on the pitch, had they been under the banner and authority of Cameroon Football Association.
Lionel Messi, Higuain, Mascherano, Lavezzi and the squad could have received their money sent from Accra by plane, had they been under the control of Ghana. I am under no illusion that Stephen Keshi, John Appiah, Gordon Igusand or even Keutsepilemang Ndebele for that matter, could have reached the final of the 2014 Fifa World Cup in Brazil with Die Mannschaft under the Germany administration.

Where lays the African football problem?  Regardless, all African coaches lose their jobs in preference to the knowledgeable and expensive expatriate coaches. The African football system is sinking. One learns from the best, the champions.
Germany today rules the world football today because of a class of players they manufactured. I handed over a programme to identify and nurture some talent for the 2006 and 2010 Fifa World Cup to some country’s association as a thirty year old some years back. I still have copies, but as you as well know, they are now as useful and cryptic scrolls with the language of the aliens.

All countries claim to have developmental structures and programmes; South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia included. Mzansi have a fair share of structures in place, but these are very much mediocre and unproductive. The funding is satisfactory but it could be better. The problem is that not many people who need to be hands-on are involved. The other issue is that the programme promotes events than processes. Information dissemination is really bad.

In Zimbabwe, the structures are solid and one can easily put their fingers on the pulse, from schools to the clubs. Organised school programmes cater for all according to their abilities to deliver. Clubs depend on these development sides they call juniors to usher new talent. Few lazy teams get to the market every now and then while their products are supped by the other teams who cannot afford to splash cash.
Some clubs find themselves answering calls from suitors each year. Potential superstars are known and their ripe date gets eagerly waited. The weekly fixtures, results and logs are available for the public at the Notice Boards at the offices, in the print media, electronic media and social networks. Hence, the influx of players to the ABSA Premier League, and most of the imports from there have dominated the league.

The story is almost similar in Namibia and the common factor with Zimbabwe is limited funding. One walks into the national office and requests the database with regional players in all age groups.
The regional structures have a direction to follow, although few still need further persuasion. Lack of implementation is one thing, and availability another. The structures are there, and the people have access to what they need. People on the ground may lack the motivation to work, but they are aware what to do and where to seek help. Above all, that help is available. The availability of information in South Africa is a cause for concern.

Players identified in tournaments the previous year fade into oblivion the following year. Few privileged ones, not necessarily the best, due to the geographical or social proximity, will always be in the limelight. These get to centres of excellence or the High Performance Centre. There is no class of players expected to be the ‘real Bafana Bafana’ of tomorrow. This system causes players get discovered at 23, 25 and even 27.
At 17, it is too late to be ‘discovered’. Players must be identified and grilled at 6, 8 or 10. The only way to keep track of them is to have a useful database and keep following until they are national team material and keep coaching the national philosophy, that is, how they are expected to play as national team players. The national game gets a brand and identity style of play from that early age.

In this context, as all clubs around the world know, there is an understanding of the general change of heart and lack of interest by the youth as they pass through adolescence. Some decide against pursuing football and prefer other sports, other stop sports altogether and specialise in academics to be doctors, lawyers and the like. The associations and clubs incur expenses for a lost cause in such cases, but weighing the pros and cons, they are better expecting the best in each case.
All said and done, the data information should ever be available to the public, parents and coaches for case studies, for developmental use, for training relevant personnel, sourcing of sponsorship and many other reasons. The future superstars get used to being popular and abosb the pressure of playing in the big stage early. They tend to be better hometown heroes and locals eagerly await their arrival and watch them in stadia.

As it is, many top league teams in South Africa play in empty stadia. Nobody ever knows the involved players, as they are not part of the known community. DJs are more popular than players are. Yet the country claims football is a religion.
Someone elsewhere is happy with the calamity and debacle of the African game. Few will celebrate a true African champion. The plastic smiles will hide the resentment of the coming of age of the sleeping giant. It can be confirmed that this is one sleeping giant that will never wake up, thanks to its own people.