Sundowns: The quest for excellence
sundowns
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CONGRATULATIONS are in order for Mamelodi Sundowns Football Club for astounding the staunchest of critics by winning the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Club Champions League Final in the most hostile of conditions.

The team from Pretoria triumphed over great adversity to lift the coveted cup in Alexandria, Egypt.

Mqondisi Dube, a journalist at the Mmegi Newspaper of Botswana, recently questioned CAF draws for club and national team competitions whereby teams from Southern Africa always play the final and deciding match away from home.

Is it always bad luck that for World Cup qualifiers and other major competitions, Southern African teams play important matches away from home. It smacks of downright favouritism.

However, despite all the factors against them, Mamelodi Sundowns have made South Africa and Southern Africa very proud. Sundowns will be representing Africa at the prestigious FIFA World Club Championships in Japan.

Sundowns have shown that with sound development planning, anything is possible in the world of sport and all aspects of life.

The process of transforming and developing football in Southern Africa is both simple and complex. It is a paradox in the sense that finances are needed but they are not the only prerequisite to development.

Of course, money is needed to construct facilities, organise development programmes and run competitions. In this connection, many football administrators and leaders always have a ready-made excuse for lack of planning as well as not being innovative and proactive in managing their sport development programmes.

“The government or FIFA has not provided the funds” are popular statements given for things not happening. However, the former President of the African Development Bank (AfDB) Donald Kaberuka begs to differ and rightly so. He stated categorically that:

“It is not money that delivers development. It is the policies that bring good return to that investment in addition to delivery capacity.”

National football association (FA) and club leaders choose to ignore the fact that winning the CAF Champions League is just the cherry on the cake.

There is a lot of hard work that goes into developing football players over a period of at least eight to 10 years before they are able to compete with the best on the continent and the world at large.

Junior football development is therefore the bedrock of success in the future. Without exposing large numbers of young football players to competition, developing their skills and sustaining their interest, there is absolutely no way that Southern African clubs are going to be winning in continental competitions.

Southern African clubs may win the odd competition but that is as good as it gets because in many countries there are no systematic talent identification and development programmes.

In some instances, FAs and clubs may have nicely written development programmes and strategies but there is very little practical application on the ground.

According to the world renowned US Army General, Colin Powell, “If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.”

This is very true for sports development in Southern African football clubs. Southern African FAs and clubs simply cannot expect to conquer the continent of Africa or the world for that matter, when the standard of sport in their countries and the region as a whole, is very poor.

There are simply not enough junior competitions in the region to provide rigorous preparation for continental and world events.

Southern Africa does not have many Under-15 and Under-17 competitions to develop talent among boys and girls in football. But this is where the stars are born and prepared.

There is need to increase these age group tournaments to ensure that there is fierce competition at national and regional level before venturing into the continent as well as world competitions.

Southern African countries have not yet won the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Under-17 and Under-20 competitions. It is, therefore, naïve to expect them to perform consistently at the Africa Cup of Nations or in the CAF Champions League.

The victories of South Africa in 1996 and Zambia in 2012 at the respective AFCON competitions were more of luck, individual flair and talent rather than a result of well-executed development programmes.

The same applies to the victories of Orlando Pirates at the 1995 CAF Club championship and Mamelodi Sundowns FC in 2016 respectively. Dynamos FC of Zimbabwe were in the 1998 finals without success.

Regarding the 2016 edition of the CAF Club Champions League competition, it is gratifying that two Southern African clubs, Mamelodi Sundowns and ZESCO were in the semi-finals. It is just ample confirmation that Southern Africa possesses an abundance of football talent. However, this should not be a fluke or a mere once-in-a-while phenomenon.

While the celebrations will continue for some time in South Africa and the region, it is time for even deeper and sober reflection on how improvements can be made in Southern African football.

Southern Africans should not wait for another two decades to see their clubs in the finals of the CAF Champions League.

The Southern Times Sports Forum celebrates with all Sundowns FC fans in South Africa and the region as a whole. We can only wish them even better luck at the FIFA Club Championships in Japan. Halala, Masandawana, halala!