Back to the drawing board for Southern African football

By Andrew Bonani Kamanga

THE mountain has fallen, literally! Issa Hayatou, the Cameroonian giant, is no longer at the helm of African football. The man who dominated the African game like a colossus has been effectively removed from the presidency of the organisation.      

It took the united resolve of the Council of Southern African Football Associations (COSAFA) to dislodge the Hayatou from his impregnable fortress. As the incumbent for 29 years, one could be forgiven for being sceptical about efforts to remove the most powerful and influential man in the history of African football.

It is indeed important that as African football leaders celebrate the demise of Hayatou and company, they also take time to reflect on the mixed legacy of the Cameroonian. He took office when Africa had only two slots at the FIFA World Cup and worked with others in African football, to increase them to the current five slots which the continent currently enjoys. This is an important achievement so it was not all doom and gloom under Hayatou.

However, what caused serious concern is the corruption at the top echelons of CAF, where African representatives on the FIFA Executive Board were at the centre of bribery and corruption scandals. This tarnished the image of football in Africa, implying that African football leaders had no principles and their votes could be bought by the highest bidder.

The other serious shortfall of the Hayatou administration was its lack of strategic direction in the development of African football.

Most developments in African football have been due to FIFA, especially during the era of Sepp Blatter. This is embarrassing considering that CAF itself commands serious resources and can even mobilise more for the all-round development of the African game.

CAF has not been able to negotiate deals with sponsors and television broadcasters for the benefit of African football. This has rendered African football competitions unattractive, especially for African teams, at both club and national levels.  For example, African clubs spend colossal amounts of money engaging in continental competitions and have nothing to show at the end of the day because of the peanuts paid in prize monies.

It seems CAF has not learnt anything from the UEFA Champions League business model, which is a money spinner for UEFA and the participating clubs. Clubs in Europe will do anything, literally, in order to qualify for the EUFA Champions League. However, here in Africa, some clubs, are not interested in the CAF Champions League as it is as serious waste of time and money.

Instead of blaming Hayatou or celebrating his demise, Southern African football leaders must go back to the drawing board to plan for the serious overhaul of CAF and their own structures. It is now a fact that Southern Africa does not have world-class players at the moment.

The development structures in the several of the country of the region are not simply producing respectable talent that can get coaches, agents and scouts from Europe excited. Gone are the days when Southern Africa was represented in top leagues in Europe by the likes of Bruce Grobelaar, Kalusha Bwalya, Lucas Radebe, Benny McCarthy, Adam Ndlovu, Peter Ndlovu, and Benjani Mwaruwari. These were outstanding performers who could fit into any team in world football.

The decline of Southern African football is also illustrated by the fact that no team from the region qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Looking at current trends and performances in the qualifying tournaments for Russia 2018, it is likely that Southern Africa will not be represented at the tournament. Southern African teams are ill–equipped to compete with the best in Africa, let alone in the world.  The reasons for this malaise are quite obvious to any lover football.

To begin with, the environment established by the football leaders is not conducive to the development of the beautiful game. The football leaders do not provide dynamic and visible leadership for the acquisition of skills at a tender age through well-structured grassroots programmes. Furthermore, the adoption of modern scientific means of talent identification and development is alien to most of the various football administrations.

There is an overwhelming tendency to opt for quick-fix solutions for success by hiring and firing national coaches. A quick survey of the various football administrations will most probably reveal that very few of them have a 10-year technical development programme for the production of players who are capable of competing with their peers on the continent and beyond.

The football leaders think that players like Pele, Maradona, Messi, Drogba and Ronaldo are going to crawl out of the woodwork, somehow, through some kind of astonishing miracle. Well, this is time for a reality check! In addition, most of the football leaders are quite comfortable to sit back and relax, waiting for the respective governments to utilise public funds to bail them out of their problems.

They do not have viable strategic plans and marketing initiatives to make their associations financially viable. Even with the abundant financial support that has recently been extended by the world–governing body, FIFA, most Southern African football associations have no clue as to what is really needed to transform the game in their countries.

The time for the blame game is over! It is time for hard work to transform football into an industry capable of generating wealth and employment for young talented players. It is time for COSAFA President, Philip Chiyangwa and his team to show their true colours.

March 2017
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