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Middendorp: We Must Be More Professional

There can be no clearer message to SAFA than a young supporter climbing over the signboards and running straight past the Bafana team to get to the Brazilians – a team that just annihilated them. Clearly the passion is there for the game, but so let down by the team he was supporting, it’s the performance of the opposition that he identifies with. If a young South African fan gets onto a field on which the Springboks or the Proteas are playing, you can be sure he would run straight to them. In South African soccer, this is not the case. We’re giving our youngsters nothing to aspire to and no way of getting there either. 
 
But I’ve said enough about South African soccer’s downfalls in the past, so in a Soccer Laduma first I’m handing this column over to Bloemfontein Celitc coach, Ernst Middendorp, who sent an email to me that I feel the rest of the country should see. I hope SAFA cares as much about South African soccer as Ernst does. Over to you Ernst…
“In light of all the recent noise coming from all corners of the country regarding the national team and their performances, I would like to raise a few points.
 
I would like to word this as strongly and as meaningfully as I can, as I feel that as custodians of football in this country we have a responsibility to improve the state of the sport.
 
The messages via the media and the various stakeholders regarding soccer, especially after the resounding loss to a strong, very good Brazilian team and the failure in the Chan tournament are, in my opinion, bull. I apologise for my language but I feel very strongly about this and I want to emphasise my point. If it takes strong language, then so be it, as we have reached a critical stage and we have a responsibility as coaches.
Reasons for failure like a lack of development, foreign influences, culture etc. are, in my opinion, rubbish.
 
I want to make this clear that this is my opinion and not that of Bloemfontein Celtic. I have a different and very clear opinion regarding the failings of the national teams and the general weaknesses of the PSL and NFD.
 
The facts are simple: We (PSL and NFD Coaches) are not aggressive enough in our day-to-day business and we are not emphasising the message enough that players must give a 24/7 approach to their professions. I do not have the exact solution or answer, but if we ask the right questions then probably we can get closer to the solution.
 
The failures of our national teams are not because of poor development and infrastructure and all the reasons bandied about. The main problem is we are not aggressive as coaches on a level that demands 100 percent from our players. What I mean by aggressive, and why I am repeating this point, is that I feel coaches should not be afraid to be strict and assertive. We have not been successful in developing a consistent professional attitude amongst players so certain habits and attitudes have been allowed to fester.   
 
Being a soccer player means dedicating your life to the sport 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We haven’t convinced our players to take this direction. Some players, in fact most players, adopt an attitude that four hours or seven hours or 10 hours a day is enough. IT IS NOT ENOUGH if you want to compete at the highest professional level!
 
There are so many aspects to consider when being a professional, from nutrition, individual training, discipline, attitude to dedication that we have to enforce in the NFD to the PSL right up to the national team.
 
We must stop blaming and start building. We have a problem on a daily basis, not just when our national teams play. We are not aggressive enough. We do not have the required energy. Often the response is ‘easy-come, easy-go’ or ‘unlucky’, and we do not push each other enough. The onus is on us, the coaches, and management, and the players to push ourselves to a higher professional mind-set. 
 
In addition, there is not enough communication between SAFA and the coaches of the PSL and the NFD. There is not enough input from senior advocates of the game in changing the mind-set and setting realistic targets based on changing attitudes. Everything regarding football in this country is consistently well-discussed, but not executed enough. Theoretically we are good and we are prepared to implement, but logistically and practically we have a lot of space for improvement.
 
The buck stops here! We have to take a stand and force ourselves into a more professional life. And if we can do this quickly and efficiently, our national teams will compete more aggressively against top teams in the world.
 
Let’s stop blaming and start working. Soccer is like life – it requires perseverance, often self-denial, hard work, sacrifice and respect for authority. 
 
Regards, Ernst

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