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Let’s Stop Fooling Ourselves!

The weekend of May 31 – June 2nd will go down as one of the lowest points for South African sporting codes, with Bafana Bafana surrendering a 2-0 lead against Botswana in the quarterfinals of the COSAFA Cup and subsequently losing 5-4 on penalties, while our U20 national team finished their disastrous FIFA U20 World Cup Group F campaign with just one point from their three games. Banyana Banyana were walloped 7-2 by Norway in their international friendly in preparation for their maiden FIFA Women’s World Cup, with their opening match against 13th-ranked Spain. For your information, our ladies are ranked 49th!  
 
As if the aforementioned disappointing results were not enough, the Proteas – South Africa’s national cricket team – rubbed salt into the wound when they won the toss and decided to field, only to fall short, once again, from chasing a 330 target, demoralising the country’s sporting mood even further. Former Springbok coach, Peter De Villiers, must have been licking his lips wondering if it would be possible for Zimbabwe Rugby Union to organise a friendly match against his former charges this past weekend, just “to see something” instead of getting rid of him. Surely he would have fancied his chances of causing another upset against his native country. 
 
While others were lucky to celebrate Chelsea winning the Europa League final against Arsenal and the big one – Liverpool beating Tottenham Hotspur in the much-anticipated, all-English UEFA Champions League final, to numb the pain and embarrassment – spare a thought for yours truly, who is an ardent Manchester United supporter. Go figure! 
 
With all the cursing, reflections and pointing of fingers going on, following the poor showings by our national teams, it was the U20 World Cup disappointment that caught my eye. South Africa, let’s stop fooling ourselves! Why am I saying this, you may be wondering? First of all, just because Amajita qualified for the World Cup doesn’t mean they are world-beaters. The same goes for Banyana Banyana, who are clearly next in line to be labelled and called names after what could be another disappointing outing at the biggest stage. I’m not a pessimist but a realist. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why our teams are performing so badly at these international tournaments. Look no further than their rankings, to start with, and not forgetting the fact that we almost always go into these tournaments as the lowest-ranking team or expected to be the whipping team in our groups. 
 
Talent alone isn’t enough, it has been said a lot of times before and this is a fact that can’t be disputed by anyone. Look at the development of the national teams that our young lads and lasses are expected to hold their own against. Take the Argentina and Portugal national U20 teams for example and compare them to their South African counterparts and you’ll see it is chalk and cheese! Most of our players have the MultiChoice Diski Challenge games under their belt as their most competitive football played, while their counterparts are counting regular Premiership football. You just can’t compare the two! Our ‘development’ has been replaced by the MDC, which was introduced as a perfect platform to narrow the gap between the senior team and development structures, and now more and more teams seem reliant on what should be a conveyor belt to be their development.
 
You can blame coach Thabo Senong and Desiree Ellis all you want, but they can only work with what they have. When no one sees anything wrong with most of our Absa Premiership teams hardly fielding any U19 player regularly in their teams, then there’s little to nothing the junior national team coaches can do. The same goes for coach Ellis and Banyana, whose only competitive football has been the international friendlies against ladies who enjoy regular club football. International friendlies are important, but they can’t replace regular club football because the most fundamental part is what happens in-between these big tournaments. Qualifying for one tournament after another will not bring much success and improvement without more regular, competitive league football. 
 
Your Lucas Radebes, Mark Fishs, Macbeth Sibayas, Matthew Booths, Benni McCarthys, Siyabonga Nomvethes, Teko Modises, Siphiwe Tshabalalas and many other legends of the game became big names at international level because of regular club football, which is irreplaceable. Until our junior national team players get given a chance to play competitively at a young age, we will continue to qualify and become the laughing stock of every tournament we take part in. It is time for South African football to take development seriously and follow the international trends of the modern game. It has been a very long time since we witnessed young players, proper young players at that, taking the local league by storm. 
 
We can’t continue with the same philosophy of ‘unearthing’ young talent at 25, calling them youngsters, and see them retire a few years later, thinking we are doing our game any sort of justice. We need to change our mindset by giving the development all the attention it deserves, instead of being too results-driven. The fact that we can hardly count a number of proper youngsters playing regular football in our elite league is a bad reflection on our game. It sends a wrong message about the future of our game and you wonder why we depend so much on recycled players and average foreign players and coaches’ influx into our game. If we don’t wake up and smell the coffee, we will find ourselves completely off the pace and not even managing to qualify for these tournaments, in the not-so-distant future.    
 
Repeating the same thing and expecting different results has a name and they call it stupidity. Surely we can do better than that.
 
Cheers,
VeeJay 
 

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