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Passion Is Indeed Painful!

They are mostly unemployed, those who have a number of mouths to feed, yet they are driven by their love and passion for the Beautiful Game.
They’re blessed with the ability to identify, groom and nurture talent from the most rural and unpopular areas that seldom get the spotlight and media attention.
What do they get in return? Almost nothing! In fact, they continue to bleed for the game that they love so much yet it seldom gives them anything in return. There’s just one-sided love in this relationship, with no reciprocity. The same game that makes club owners, coaches, agents and players multi-millionaires has not been kind to them. Yet, despite all of this, these selfless leaders continue to sacrifice everything they have in order to uplift their communities and ensure that the talented youngsters get the much-needed opportunities, even at their own expense. They sacrifice their time with loved ones and even go as far as sharing their family’s income with the underprivileged youngsters they believe have a bright future in the game.  
You must be wondering who am I talking about here.
Well, I’m talking about our amateur coaches, mentors and managers. There are thousands of these selfless leaders in our communities, but their hard work and dedication to the sport is seldom recognised or acknowledged. They go to the rural areas, where established agents and professional coaches wouldn’t even dare visit, unearth talents, support them until they catch the eyes of established and financially stable agents who then snatch them away from the hard-working amateur talent spotters and go on to negotiate lucrative deals for these players and eventually get millions from them, while those who worked so hard to unearth the talent get little to nothing in return. Most of the time, it is the haves that gets the recognition for the job done by the have-nots. A sad phenomenon that has been going on for years unabated.  
Because these people are driven by their love and passion for the game, they – most of the time – allow these shenanigans to slip through because standing in front of the young boy’s talent is the last thing on their mind. Secondly, they hardly have the resources to fight these unscrupulous people who literally steal from them. Also, when the cell phone number-long digits are thrown in front of the impoverished youngster, there’s very little an amateur coach or manager can do. They’re torn between standing their ground and allowing one of their products to get closer to realising their dream. Because of their honesty and passion, it is usually the latter that wins the mental battle. It is like these mentors have accepted that you can’t have a great passion without great pain. Passion is indeed painful!
I’m reminded of a sad story of this one talented player who, I’m told, sacrificed his professional career because he wouldn’t ‘betray’ the one person who had always been there for him, buying him soccer boots and even supporting him through high school when he found himself forced to choose between his mentor and an established agent. Long story short, the player impressed on trial and even earned his potential teammates’ respect so much that even those he was to compete for a place in the team with were of the view that he was good enough and deserved a contract. The coach, who will remain nameless, was equally impressed and spoke highly of the boy. The problem started when the coach, it is said, enquired about the player’s representative. It is alleged that the player told him he had no one other than the mentor who identified and supported him and his struggling family for as long as he could remember. The coach tried to persuade the player to sign up with his agent in order for him to get a contract at the club. Unbelievable, right? Well, I have no reason not to believe the story as it was narrated to me by more than two people who were present and, obviously, privy to the information.
What happened is that the player refused, flatly, to turn his back on his mentor and made it clear that he wouldn’t even negotiate, let alone sign, anything without the mentor’s involvement. I’m told that put the spanner in the works and cost the talented boy a professional contract! How many hopeful professional players would do that – risking their own career and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to realise their dream because of loyalty? Sadly, the player ultimately lost out on a chance to sign for a professional team that was a stone’s throw away from his township. Now, do you think that the coach is a real football person? Do you think this is an isolated incident? The answer is a big NO to both questions. There are so many such stories in our Beautiful Game, but they continue, and sometimes deliberately, get swept under the carpet. It is indeed a jungle out there! 
My plea to the South African Football Association and the Absa Premiership is to create space for these kinds of football people, let them not be lost to the game. I know for a fact that some of them have started to hate football because of the short end of the stick they get from it. Let their hard work not be lost to the game that we all love so much. Here’s how we can celebrate these mentors and our legends, while they are still alive. We can create a system where, through our Local Football Association, ABC Motsepe League, National First Division and Premiership teams, we can identify these people who continue to serve the game selflessly and form a sort of an accreditation system that will allow them free access to the stadium. Every community has someone who deserves this level of recognition and our former professional players are also scattered all over the country, so it won’t be such a mission to identify them. It is time we celebrate these generous people and our legends while they’re still alive instead of posthumous recognition. 
Nothing breaks my heart at the stadium than seeing these people struggling and begging for tickets, while the occasional football ‘supporters’ brandish VIP suite tickets. Football people don’t care about suites and all the glamorous stuff, all they care about is football. That’s why you seldom see them on their phones during the game because they’re not part-time football people. 
Surely, we can emulate the Woza Nazo initiative that seeks to recognise the supporters and do the same for our amateur coaches, mentors and managers together with our legends. It is the least we can do to show appreciation for the great contribution they continue to make to the Beautiful Game.


Death At The End Of The Tunnel


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