Why Kanu Is Spot On
Here at Soccer Laduma we are in the fortunate position that every now and then we are able to speak to the legends of the game. Last week we received an invite from Absa for some one-on-one time with Nwankwo Kanu, the Nigerian and Arsenal legend.
What an eye-opener to speak to a legend that tells it like it is. His message was simple: with no planning, with no desire to be better, average is the best you can ever expect.
I hope with all my heart that all the bigwigs at SAFA, the PSL club owners and bosses, and of course the players, pick up this edition of Soccer Laduma and read the Nwankwo Kanu interview.
I asked Kanu a question as to why African youth teams do so well at junior World Cups and at the Olympic tournaments, and to be honest I was trying to approach the subject of claims of age-cheating by African youth teams. Heck, even Kanu himself has been the subject of speculation regarding his real age and I thought this was a very clever way of getting into that subject. Let’s face it, how is it possible that so many African youth teams can win junior competitions, but never has an African country reached the final four of a senior World Cup?
The answer that came back from Kanu was simple, straightforward and honest. In a nutshell, he said there is more than enough African talent to compete with the best teams in the world. However, he pointed out that the main difference at senior level was the degree of preparation and planning that is needed to get a team to a World Cup final. A team, after all, is an organisation and it is everything around a team that helps you to reach the final of a World Cup, not just the players alone.
Little things like: setting up a base camp that is comfortable, away from noise so that players can sleep well; ensuring that the individual diets of the players are taken into account; organising travel arrangements that are comfortable; that the training, the recovery and the injury management is monitored and scientifically carried out. These little things add up to a country going all the way.
That is why teams like Germany, Italy and Brazil are able to repeatedly get to the latter stages of this tournament, not because their players are so much more talented than African players.
It makes sense, and especially rings true for South African football. How often have we spoken to our overseas-based players who are hammered when they turn down call-ups, only to hear of instances where players are asked to arrange their own travel plans to an international fixture, having been told that they will be reimbursed later? How often do we hear of teams travelling to honour fixtures, only to find out that there is no adequate training facility, that the hotel is not of a suitable standard or that the trip took longer than they thought it would?
Hell, sometimes we don’t even know the rules of a tournament and think we have qualified for the next round only to find out we have not – enter from side stage Bafana dancers…
Then I thought about it, and while I agree this may be the case for Nigeria and Ghana or Ivory Coast, I’m not sure it’s the same for Bafana. We don’t produce as many players who play in top teams in Europe as the African giants of football, and who can honestly say they are able to go head-to-head with the big boys at the World Cup.
Why does the PSL not export as many top players to top teams anymore? Why have we stopped placing players in the Serie A, in La Liga, the Bundesliga and the English Premier League? Where are our Lucas Radebes, Mark Fishs, Shaun Bartletts, David Nyathis, Bradley Carnells and Benni McCarthys? Possibly the answer lies in what Kanu goes on to say… South African players are in a comfort zone. There is no need to leave the PSL because they earn very good salaries. They don’t really have to push too hard and, often, the level of play here is one that they feel represents the best.
But let’s be honest… the PSL is a huge marketing success on the continent, however when it comes to the standard of football, the season past is possibly the worst we have seen in a while. We’re slipping behind big-time when it comes to world standards, and it shows. It shows in our teams when they play on the continent. It shows in our national team. It shows by the empty stadiums around the country.
Now is the time for a new rallying cry for South African soccer. As we head into the 2014/15 season, the league’s focus should turn from money to standards. It’s time to raise the bar, because it’s only when South African soccer bosses and coaches start saying to players, “No, this is not good enough,” that players will be forced to improve. It’s only when players start saying to coaches and club bosses, “No, these standards are not professional enough,” that the proper environment for South African soccer to improve will be created. South African soccer fans started saying, “No!” a long time ago, as can be seen by the empty stands… but maybe, if things change, we’ll start to say, “Yes!” again.