With the transfer window in full swing, while teams are preparing for the new campaign – 2021/22, that is – we are going to see a number of moves being concluded. It has been a relatively quiet transfer period, but that’s nothing new as the momentum usually picks up in the first week of August.
While it is always good to see new faces at different clubs, it isn’t always necessary to venture into the market as the number of new faces determines the pace at which the team will move off the blocks. In other words, not every transfer move is worth the paper it is written on! It will also be very interesting to see what different teams bring from the foreign market, with players coming from outside our borders. At the risk of sounding xenophobic and being misconstrued, as to some people ‘foreign’ is seemingly only reserved for Africans, the truth needs to be told nonetheless! There was a time when South African teams used our borders to sift through only the best from the countries beyond our borders, causing an influx of top-quality foreign contingent into our country. They would get here and take our league and football fraternity by storm. Every opposition supporter would be wondering why their team was sleeping on this and that player because these players were just that good. Everyone wished they could have rather joined their team as they were green with envy.
These players would get here and make an immediate impact! They were good enough to make the starting line-up at their respective teams and everyone would feel their presence. These players would fit into their teams and change the status quo as they immediately challenged the domestic fan-favourites in terms of popularity as they become instant hits. Those where the days! Those were the days! I’m talking about players who would command a lot of respect and admiration from the opposition players and supporters alike just as they would from their teammates and their own supporters. They would do so with their performances on the field, not their reputations, and you’d hardly know anything about how they landed on our shores. They would play just one full season here before teams from bigger and more financially stable leagues would come knocking on their teams’ door for their services. Such was the quality of players our teams made an effort and spent money to bring to our football.
It didn’t matter which team they played for, whether they were challenging for league honours, were a Top Eight team or even a relegation candidate, almost every foreign player who was brought in had something that we could rarely find in the country. They were, in most cases, better than the players we had, which goes to show that for anyone to cross over our borders, they had to have something special, something more important than just knowing someone who knows someone from this side of the border. That justified the need for our teams to travel the world in search of their quality. Those players were not just great for their clubs but for South African football at large because they contributed immensely towards uplifting the quality of our game. They pushed our good players to become even better.
Those were the days!
What has happened since then? We’ve decided to change our modus operandi by taking shortcuts which lead us to more quantity than quality. We no longer do a proper background check on these players, we just play by the ear. If a contact recommends them, then they certainly deserve a chance – that seems to have become our new strategy. Because of the poor methods used to identify and recruit these players, some of them have come amid fanfare only to be whisked out of the country, quietly, without making any impact. How do you explain a foreign player who comes here and spends two seasons, injury-free, and yet can’t even get to 10 league games? How do you explain an acquisition that spends seasons without giving anything back to the club? So much that even your own club supporters wouldn’t even recognise your player if they met him at the mall? Can you believe it? What really went wrong? Back in the day, these players were identified and then scouted properly, through an analytical eye which detailed every aspect of the player’s game on and off the field. Most of the time, that was done without the player even knowing it. Legend has it that one of our big-name players missed out on an opportunity to sign overseas after undergoing a trial, where his true colours, (read South African lifestyle) didn’t do him any favours and ruined any chances of him signing as someone was placed to monitor his every move as to give the technical team a thorough analysis of his off-the-field behaviour before they even engaged in contract negotiations. Can you see the attention to detail in ensuring that they don’t bring a rotten apple to spoil the whole bag?
We have also seen deals happening behind the technical teams’ back, orchestrated by either club owners or officials who have little input on technical issues, only to realise that the player isn’t anywhere near the quality they were made to believe he was or doesn’t even fit the into the team. The saddest thing about this madness is that it is not only isolated to the so-called small teams. We’ve seen our ‘big’ teams sign foreign players, only to either loan or release them without them having contributed anything to the club. Gone are the days of the likes of Roger Feutmba, Ernest Mtawali, Joe Frickleton, Augusto Palacios, Absalom ‘‘Scara’’ Thindwa, William and Wilfred Mugeyi, Jean-Marc Ithier, Esrom Nyandoro, Tinashe Nengomasha, Peter Ndlovu, Edelbert Dinha, William Shongwe, John Maduka, Jeremy Brockie, Denis Lota, Chris Katongo, Alje Schut and many others who came here and delivered consistently. These are some of the players you’d wish were born in this country so that they could add their weight in our national team. Gone are those days because now it is like anyone is good enough to come here. This habitual signing of mediocrity doesn’t only hurt the teams but football at large because these same players are getting recycled across the different leagues.
We need to go back to the drawing board and do things by the book. We are in this messy situation because we decided to cut corners instead of trusting the process of investing in a diligent scouting system. We don’t screen foreign players enough and this doesn’t help anyone. We should be targeting foreign players of higher quality and standard so that they consistently help towards taking our football to the next level. No foreign player should be coming here and feel comfortable sitting on the bench or in the stands. That’s unacceptable!