Missing World Cup is a blessing
I believe that not qualifying for the 2014 Fifa World Cup is the best thing that has happened to South African football. Before you accuse me of being unpatriotic allow me to explain….
With the broader picture in mind, had Bafana Bafana made it to Brazil, I’m a firm believer that the real issues hampering our football in this country would have been masked.
For me, the issue of youth development is the elephant in the room – everyone knows it’s there but few have offered practical solutions to address the problem.
However, with the Safa elections on the horizon, I believe our administrators will now be forced to tackle the issue head-on and the transformation of South African football will now come into effect.
As the custodians of the senior national team, Gordon Igesund and his players will bear the brunt of many disappointed national team supporters for missing out on Brazil. However, the reality is that they do not deserve to shoulder the full blame. There is no doubt in my mind that Igesund should be retained in his role.
The real issue at play is that our youth development system and age group levels are failing South African football. In my view having an Under-23 age group side is a waste of time, money and expertise. At that age, it’s far too late to develop players from a technical, mental and tactical point of view.
I believe that the vast majority of our financial and coaching resources should rather be ploughed into under-13, under-15, under-17 and under-20 age group levels. At those ages, it’s still possible to mould players into the ideal footballers and, as Igesund has underlined, it’s imperative that we build a database of players in this country.
In addition, it’s essential to create competitive, well-run inter-provincial and national tournaments in order to identify and develop playing potential. Moreover, I have long called out for an under-19 league in South Africa.
Having headed the School of Excellence in the mid-90s, which produced Steven Pienaar, youth development is unsurprisingly a topic I’m passionate about. I have seen the benefits of coaching young footballers first-hand.
While current under-23 head coach Shakes Mashaba possesses a wealth of experience and should be redeployed in the system. I would suggest that SuperSport United head coach Cavin Johnson would be an ideal candidate to drive our youth development system forward.
Having worked closely with him, first at the School of Excellence and then at Sundowns, it’s clear that his developmental background and coaching methods extract young players’ maximum potential.
While Johnson has a strong technical grounding, one of his primary strengths is to develop players with the right mentality and tactical awareness. South African players possess the skill but at times lack what I would term ‘streetwise.’
In order for our youth development system to be successful, buy-in for all stakeholders in South African football is non-negotiable.
A bottom-up approach needs to be implemented in order to harness the rich playing potential in this country. The ultimate goal should be focused on long-term sustainability rather than short-term fixes.