Southern African football sinking deep into the abyss
By Andrew Bonani Kamanga
The evening of Friday, 10 November 2017, confirmed what is already public knowledge, that is, Southern African football is sinking deep into oblivion.
Bafana Bafana capitulated at home without a whimper to the Teranga Lions of Senegal. South Africa’s downfall marked the end of Southern Africa’s active interest in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Zambia and South Africa remained the only two countries with a fighting chance to reach the finals in Russia next year.
The rest of the teams from the region were dumped out of the competition a long time ago, with Zimbabwe’s campaign torpedoed by the maladministration of the country’s football governing body.
The country was thrown out of the qualifying rounds of the 2018 FIFA World Cup due to unpaid debt to their former national coach. It is indeed very difficult to understand how such as simple matter could be allowed to sabotage the ambitions of the current crop of players.
Submissions have been made in the past on this column on the need for Council of Southern African Football Associations (COSAFA) to transform football in the sub-region.
COSAFA needs to reinvent the game in the sub-region and spearhead development especially of junior teams.
There is need for COSAFA to enhance exposure of junior players to the world of professional football. Perhaps, the time has come to have invitation teams at the COSAFA Under 17 and Under 20 tournaments.
Teams from other regions can be invited to participate in the regional junior tournaments. Clubs such as Ajax of Amsterdam, Barcelona and Southampton in England have world renowned junior football development programmes.
Even teams from the South American nations of Argentina can help spice up the tournament and raise the quality of football at these events.
Even at the senior COSAFA tournaments, there is need to raise the standard of competition. Continuing to organise the competitions in the same old style will not help improve the standard of football in the region.
Even the coaches also need exposure in terms of working and/or training attachments at established clubs in the world.
Southern African coaches should be accorded opportunities to visit clubs in Europe and South America for two to three months to gain practical knowledge and experience in preparing teams for major competitions.
Administrators can also learn how to create and sustain environments that are conducive to producing world-class footballers.
In order to transform Southern African football, it follows that you have to change the thinking of the administrators and coaches.
The administrators and coaches are the bedrock on which a strong football culture is developed and sustained.
The need for regional workshops and coaching clinics cannot be overemphasized. Capacity building and development must be undertaken by COSAFA in an unprecedented manner.
Obviously, resource mobilisation will have to be undertaken to support the capacity development and transformation.
The targets for the capacity development activities should be the 2022 and 2026 FIFA World Cups where the region should be measured in terms of how many teams qualify for the World Cup.
Furthermore, Under-17 and Under-20 teams from the region also need to qualify regularly for continental and world tournaments, as the juniors will feed into the national teams.
In transforming, Southern African football, there is no substitute for experience.
COSAFA and its member associations need to tap into the vast knowledge and experiences of former football stars that have plied their trade at the highest level in world football.
There are players such as Peter Ndlovu of Zimbabwe, the first African to play in the English Premier League, Benni McCarthy, Quinton Fortune, Lucas Radebe of South Africa and Leeds FC captain as well as Kalusha Bwalya of Zambia, to mention just a few.
These gentlemen have unrivalled experience and expertise at the highest level. However, most of the time, they are marginalised and are not part and parcel of development efforts.
These former great stars will be lucky if they are given token ceremonial roles at special events because most of the time, they are relegated into obscurity.
They can play a more meaningful role in development programmes, helping to provide the much-needed motivation to junior players.
The failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup by Zambia, “Chipolopolo” and South Africa’s Bafana Bafana, should serve as another timely wake-up call. It is a wonderful opportunity for change.
The COSAFA members, individually and collectively, must engage in paradigm shift and embark on a total transformation of their talent identification and development programmes.
Without these transformations at regional and national level, COSAFA will remain as a glorified club of “whipping boys”.
There is no doubt that Southern African has an abundant reservoir of raw talent. These talents need to be identified, nurtured and prepared for international competition.
If COSAFA tournaments at Under-17 and Under-20 levels are of high quality and rigorous competition, then the benefits will not take long to be realised.
As Regina Tucker has aptly stated, “You can give a person knowledge but you can’t make them think. Some people want to remain fools, only because the truth requires change”.