Lessons From The World Cup
The 2018 FIFA World Cup has come and gone, France are the champions, with Croatia as runner-up. Belgium and England completed the top four, respectively. Like with any event, regardless of the size, there will always be a post-mortem. One hopes we all drew some important lessons from the global event.
This tournament will, undoubtedly, be accorded a place in the group of the best sporting events ever witnessed. For the first time in years, not even the bookmakers could correctly predict the results of this tournament. Such was the unpredictable nature of the games that everyone was kept on the edge of their seats. From this tournament, I learned, among other things, the importance of calm nerves on the touchline coupled with surrounding yourself with like-minded people, the importance of respecting the game as well as giving a chance to deserving players regardless of their age.
When you look at the high level of thinking, planning and preparation that was dished out by the respective coaches and their technical teams, you realise that there’s no place for lazy people and ball boys masquerading as assistant coaches in the modern game. There’s also no place for selfish and control-freak coaches who want to do everything by themselves, without any consultation or contribution from their technical team members. The amount of work that goes behind the scenes and displayed on match day is such that no one man can be able to pull it all off on his own.
This means that every head coach should have a trusted and equally capable team supporting him, instead of glorified assistant coaches who will act as a messenger between the management, players and the head coach.
Another lesson, especially for our young folks, is that no one is bigger than the game! When AC Milan and Croatia striker, Nikola Kalinic, refused to come on as a substitute against Nigeria in their 2-0 opening match win, citing back problems, he didn’t see the consequences of his actions coming. According to his coach, Zlatko Dalic, this wasn’t the first time the 30-year-old striker threw his toys out of the cot when called upon and so he subsequently sent him packing.
Now, his team finished second without him. So many of our young players have gone off the rails because of a few good games and the attention that comes with it, thinking they know better than their coaches or are bigger than the game itself. Can you imagine what Kalinic is going through right now? Surely he’s kicking himself for that stupid behaviour!
Kylian Mbappe was one of the most outstanding players of the tournament and his Golden Boy award came as no surprise. At only 19, he contributed four important goals and one assist in seven games for France. That’s an incredible return from a young man who is now in the company of the great Brazilian legendary Pele, who was, until last weekend, the last teenager to score in the final of the World Cup. To put things into perspective, Pele achieved this feat back in 1958 and if that doesn’t highlight the importance of this statistic, nothing will! Ironically, Pele won the same award as Mbappe, at 17, in the 1958 World Cup.
The moral of Mbappe’s rise to stardom is that when people are given a chance, regardless of their age, they go on to achieve greatness. While many only took note of this young gem in the last month, thanks to his World Cup exploits, those who have been following his football career will know that he made his professional debut three years ago at Monaco, with his French senior national team debut coming only last year. He has featured for the national U17 and U19 teams.
While marvelling at this young boy’s influence and arrogant demeanour on the field, I couldn’t help but think of our own talent identification and development frailties. Think of two midfield maestros who are, without a doubt, two of the best midfielders of their time, Tsholofelo ‘Teko’ Modise and Reneilwe ‘Yeye’ Letsholonyane, who both only broke to the PSL level at 24! These are just two of many examples of poor talent identification and development in our country.
While I take my hat off to coach Pitso Mosimane and Jomo Sono for giving these two stalwarts their respective professional debuts at SuperSport United and Jomo Cosmos respectively, I can’t help but lament the football injustice that was carried out in these two – and many others – footballers’ careers. Imagine if these two were identified and promoted at least eight years younger!
Teko and Yeye remain two of the most influential players, wherever they go, and they’ve made their mark even in the national team but, sadly, they only managed 66 and 50 Bafana caps respectively. Mbappe is already almost halfway through reaching their number of caps at his young age.
Mbappe’s national teammate, Raphael Varane, has amassed 49 caps since 2013 and he is only 25 years old! Can you see the disparities here? One hopes our junior national team players will not pay the same price with their careers as the likes of Teko and Yeye. These two good professionals and role models were just victims of circumstances but, to their credit, that never derailed or dampened their spirits as they still went on to achieve greatness. They still attract the same attention at 35 and 36 respectively.
I hope the lessons from the World Cup will go a long way in reshaping our football for the better.
Today would have been Tata Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela’s 100th birthday and we can’t turn a blind eye to the great work done by this larger-than-life humanitarian. Let’s continue to celebrate Madiba’s life and legacy by making a difference in our little corners.