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SA can learn from England's woes


I listened to Greg Dyke the other day and his words have set me thinking.

Greg Dyke is the chairman of the English Football Association. At a press conference he raised some very interesting issues that have created ripples in England. He X-rayed the state of football in England.

The Barclays Premier League is the best-organised and most lucrative football league in the world with some of the best football infrastructure. It also attracts some of the best and highest paid players and some of the clubs have a large global fans base and followership. These are all facts.

Yet the last time England won a major international football trophy was 47 years ago when the country hosted the World Cup. Since then, even as the game has advanced and England has led its global growth, the country has not won anything else. Why?

That’s the question Greg Dyke asked and illustrated with some interesting perspectives and statistics.

At the start of the present Premiership season, only 30 per cent of the players were English. A total of 60 per cent of the Premiership clubs are also now owned by foreign investors.

It is revealing and startling - the best football league in the world is dominated by foreigners.

Does this have anything to do with why England has not smelled the aroma of victory since 1966? Is the business of football in England succeeding at the expense of the development of the indigenous English football player?

Mr Dyke did not provide the answer but instead threw a challenge to the Football Association to fix the problem and achieve two ambitious targets.

The first is that The Three Lions should get to the semifinals of the 2020 European Nations Cup. The second is that they should win the 2022 World Cup.

What is wrong with England’s grassroots football development? Why is there a drought of new English talent coming through the Premiership ranks? Does it have to do with the level, quality and nature of coaching at the grassroots level? Is restricting the number of foreign players in Premiership clubs the direction to turn to?

Mr Dyke admitted that the English cannot have their cake and eat it. They cannot build the best football brand in the world, through attracting the best foreign players, without attracting consequences. The English FA must therefore look beyond the league to achieve the ambitious goals set by him.

I am interested to see what the English FA will do to develop new talent that will win the European Nations Cup in 2020 and the World Cup in 2022. The process may provide useful lessons for Africa.

One country that will definitely benefit is South Africa. Is the country not suffering from a similar malaise as England?

When South Africa rose from the ashes of Apartheid, the country’s football exploded with a bang. Exceptionally gifted players emerged and graced the African football scene. They won the Africa Cup of Nations, went to the World Cup and played exceptionally well, sounding a loud note of warning to the rest of the continent.

A few years later, like England, the infrastructure, organisation, revenue and coverage of its domestic football became the best in Africa. That’s why it became the first and only African country to host both the World Cup and the Confederations Cup.

I do not have the actual statistics but it would not surprise me if the South African league does not also have the largest number of foreign players from neighboring African countries in its league in Africa. For sure many players from the travelling army of Nigerian players now find South Africa a good alternative to Europe.

Why then is the country, with all its resources, experience in organiszation, development, excellent facilities and good business environment not presently producing high quality players and winning major trophies?

Player quality seems to be in the decline after the days of Doctor Khumalo, Jomo Sono, Mark Fish and many other great South African stars of the early to late-1990s. Why is there a present drought of exceptional talent? Is it the coaching? Is it the influx of foreign players?

The answers from England may provide some insight into this dark tunnel for South Africa and, indeed, the rest of the continent.


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