Durban – That the current state of South African football is a great threat to the future development and success of the game in this country is an observation that awakens the general football-loving public every time an international competition comes around.
The South African men’s football team, under head coach Hugo Broos, recently concluded their plans and preparations for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Liberia and Morocco.
Bafana geared up for those encounters with friendlies against neighbours Botswana and Sierra Leone in September, before moving on to Mozambique and Angola more recently. Broos described those matches as ones his side should use to reclaim a winning mentality, almost suggesting that Bafana were expected to beat those nations.
However, the most unpopular opinion around Bafana at the moment is the fact that they are at the same level as a majority of the countries considered to be lowly. Gone are the days when the South African name could be placed in the same brackets as the powerhouses of African football.
The ongoing Fifa World Cup in Qatar has, more than anything, provided us with a much-needed perspective. If any of the five African representatives (Cameroon, Senegal, Tunisia, Morocco and Ghana) were to be pitted against Bafana at the moment, they would head into the match as huge favourites to defeat our beloved national side.
An even more worrying factor that requires strong consideration would be an analysis of how poorly the African teams are performing on the global stage, which makes one wonder how Bafana would have fared if they had somehow snuck onto a plane to Qatar.
The overriding feeling among South African football followers should be one of anxiety as our national team watches the World Cup from the comfort of their homes. If the country wasn’t afforded the opportunity to host the 2010 World Cup, the discussions right now would be around a fifth edition of the global spectacle without Bafana.
The naive level of arrogance South Africans continue to harbour (perhaps understandably so, considering our football history) might also be one of the factors holding us back. The sooner facilitators of the growth processes – and football fans at large – understand our current position, the quicker we can start working out a way forward.
Broos touched on a few of those factors in the early stages of his tenure and was considered disrespectful by many, an indication of how highly we rate the current group of players who continue to underwhelm at every opportunity.
After the memorable 1996 Afcon triumph, Bafana maintained a strong reputation in the years that followed, finishing second in Burkina Faso in 1998, before managing third in 2000 in Nigeria/Ghana, a trend of performance and managing expectations that could only be associated with the best.
However, in the past 22 years, the side has disappointed regularly, managing just two quarter-final finishes in the seven competitions they were able to qualify for (including the one they hosted in 2013).
Perhaps it is not the most accurate way to fully measure the performance of what South African football lovers describe as a "footballing nation" without including the underwhelming nature of the domestic league.
The Premier Soccer League has always been a platform for some of the best players on the continent to showcase their skills and contribute to the overall success of the institutions within.
The domestic league has played host to the likes of Roger Feutmba, Raphael Chukwu and Collins Mbesuma, players that set the stage on fire during their eras. However, their outstanding performances contributed to an already high-quality environment.
Fast forward to 2022: Peter Shalulile walks away with the Player’s Player of the Year award for the second time, while Angola’s Hugo Marques claims Goalkeeper of the Season. Although the reliable Themba Zwane deserves a fair shout, is it about time South Africans start smelling the coffee with regard to the development of top-level players.
Prior to the beginning of the 2022/2023 campaign, Amakhosi head coach, Arthur Zwane revealed his intention to sign a left-footed centre-back as he assembled his side. After weeks of searching, his efforts led him to the Mozambique captain Edmilson Dove, who had returned to his country after being released by Cape Town City the year before.
This particular scenario speaks to either one of two factors. It’s either all the academies in South Africa have failed to produce a left-footed centre-back that fits the level of Chiefs, or the club is reluctant to spend on local players of a certain calibre. However, both reasons contribute to the regressing nature of South African player development.
In line with continental standards, we are one of the "small" nations at the moment, and even smaller on the global stage. If it wasn’t for Qatar’s dismal showing at the World Cup, we would still be the proud owners of the title "worst-performing hosts" in the tournament’s history.