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Something Is Wrong With Our Football

You know something is seriously wrong with South African football when a former national U20 captain, as well as an U17 and U23 regular, finally makes his Bafana Bafana debut… at the age of 26!

Born in Ga-Mphahlele in Limpopo, Ramahlwe Mphahlele finally made his Bafana Bafana debut under Coach Shakes Mashaba in the recent 4-0 AFCON qualifier win away to Gambia. This was only the second time the Mamelodi Sundowns utility defender had been called up to the national team, following his very first call-up in August 2014, right at the beginning of the 2014/15 season.

So why do I say something is wrong with our football? Well, to put it into perspective, while playing in all junior national teams, at Moroka Swallows – who were recently relegated to the ABC Motsepe League – at Mamelodi Sundowns, on loan at Pretoria University – where his stint was cut short by Sundowns when they recalled him before the end of his loan deal owing to his brilliant displays – and at his mother club Sundowns, Mphahlele has been one of the best and most consistent defenders in the PSL.

Affectionately known as Rama, the bearded Rick Ross-looking defender has been an ultimate professional, completely dedicated to his craft. He has never been one to go off the rails and at all times has remained professional and disciplined, both on and off the field. He’s got a big heart, too. His leadership qualities have always been there for everyone to see, as we are talking about a young-gun who captained seasoned campaigners like Siyabonga Nomvethe and went on to prove his worth in a star-studded Sundowns team. Who can forget the bravery he showed on the 23rd of September 2015 at Lucas Moripe Stadium, when a section of Sundowns’ supporters hurled missiles at the club’s head coach, Pitso Mosimane, and, along with his teammates, Rama formed a protective guard to guide the coach off the field?

To think this talented former U20 captain, who led his troops to the 2009 FIFA U20 World Cup in Egypt under Coach Serame Letsoaka, almost missed out on representing the senior national team is unbelievable. Some of the notable faces Rama has captained include Thulani Serero, Andile Jali, Kamohelo Mokotjo, Kermit Erasmus, Dino Ndlovu, Daylon Claassen, Mandla Masango and Darren Keet, who are all plying their trade abroad.  

While I was trying to figure this one out, I also remembered the puzzling fact that another Mamelodi Sundowns gem, Keagan Dolly, was making only his second appearance in a Bafana Bafana jersey since turning professional in the 2012/13 season. The influential midfielder has been in fine form for Sundowns as well as for our national U23s, whom he successfully led to Rio Olympic qualification.

As if the bizarre exclusion of these two players from the senior team wasn’t enough, the mass exodus at Kaizer Chiefs continues to steal the limelight, with the Players’ Union now accusing the Naturena-based club of not exercising fair labour practices after allegedly receiving phone calls from some of the 20 sacked players, who claim to have been released from their contracts without having been engaged by the club. If that is true, surely it is unacceptable for the club to go public with their plans without allowing proper procedure to take its course. Imagine a player going public with his intentions to leave a club he’s contracted to without giving them prior notice. Surely that player would be liable to a fine and a disciplinary hearing? By the same token, Chiefs have the right to place players deemed surplus to requirements on the transfer list, which is completely different to being released from your contract. A transfer-listed player remains with his club until they find a buyer. It is then the club’s duty to either find a suitable loan or permanent move for the player. However releasing a player outright is another story altogether…

Still on player movements, former Ajax Cape Town shareholder, John Comitis, has completed the acquisition of Mpumalanga Black Aces’ PSL status and has also confirmed that the club will be relocating to Cape Town before the start of the new season. While this comes as great news to Mother City football lovers since Chippa United’s move to the Eastern Cape robbed the province of a top-tier club, it is the last thing the on-form Aces players saw coming after recording their best season since their promotion to the elite league, finishing fourth on the PSL log. Now Comitis has also confirmed that they will only retain about 15 of the team’s players. But what about the rest of the players? What are they supposed to do when they went to the off-season with their training programme, a pre-season schedule and looking forward to a new season, only to hear through the grapevine or formally that they will have to look for a job elsewhere?

One of the most disciplined footballers I have come across in my young journalism career, Joseph Makhanya, once told me, “You know what, we, as soccer players, are sometimes treated like vegetables! You receive a call that you are sold or sent on loan to this or that other club without your consent, and all you have to do is report to the new team’s training.” So, in a nutshell, whoever wants you can get you, whether you like it or not.

I also know of a player who turned down a pre-arranged six-month loan contract between two clubs who were on almost opposite ends of South Africa. The player’s contract with the mother club was due to expire at the end of the loan deal and there was no mention of an option to retain his services at the new club. We are talking about a family man who had to leave his family behind for six months without any idea of what would happen after that. Surely no man wants to go through that, but unfortunately that’s something some of Aces’ players will now have to deal with, kicking and screaming as they do so. Relocating from Johannesburg to Cape Town before the start of the season is going to be one hell of a challenge in every way for Aces, whatever the new name of their club may eventually be.

When club bosses are allowed to buy or sell teams at the snap of a finger, relocate, change names and everything that goes along with that all within the space of two or three months, then you know that something is really wrong with our football. 



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