Thursday, October 6, 2016

Incoming: The Youthful Revolution of South African Soccer

Several years from now, South African soccer will experience a rejuvenation of talent as the youth of today grow older.

By: Charlie Hatch
Produced & edited by: Alex Lumley
A young fan watches Bafana Bafana take on Mexico in the 2010 World Cup. Photo courtesy of Marcello Casal Jr. of Agência Brasil.

Doubt is clouding over South African soccer, as Bafana Bafana, the national team, has struggled on the international stage.
After hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup, South Africa has quietly become a byproduct in the international scene.
The latest FIFA world rankings have the country placed 64th overall, and more alarmingly, 14th in Africa. With the continent only receiving five places to compete in the upcoming 2018 World Cup in Russia, the latest rankings are a justifiable concern.
But Shawn Bishop said there’s no reason to panic.
“We’ve seen the future,” he said. “It just needed a bit of patience.”
Bishop may be right.

The Future of South African Soccer Is Bright
A heavyweight in South African youth soccer development, Bishop serves as assistant coach for Bafana Bafana’s under-17 national team and is the head of the youth academy of Mamelodi Sundowns — one of the country’s biggest club teams.
Essentially, Bishop oversees the country’s best players currently, as well as future talent to recruit.
“From what I’m seeing on the ground level and grassroots level, there is a massive boom of talent in this county,” he said.
The movement started, ironically, as the international spotlight ended. As the World Cup concluded, more investment in youth player development was injected.

Cape Town Stadium is home to two major Premier Soccer League Clubs. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia user Maryland Pride.
Premier Soccer League clubs- teams in the country’s top domestic league- heavily recruited in players that were born, for the most part, between 1996-2000. In 2010, they were 10-14.
Six years on, the youth development has transformed into a new generation of talent beginning to feature in international competition.

“From what I’m seeing on the ground level and grassroots level, there is a massive boom of talent in this county.”
The u-17 squad, which Bishop coaches, played in the 2015 u-17 FIFA World Cup for the first time in South African history.
The u-20 team has a breath of talent, with 18 of the players currently playing in the PSL. And the u-23 team, which appeared in the 2016 Rio Olympics, played well and tied Brazil, the eventual champions.
Bishop sees the benefits of talent paying off; now it’s critical the rest of the country sees the same.
The problem, though, is success is judged at the senior level, where South Africa still remains 64th in the world.
“In terms of competitiveness, we are in between,” said Phumzile Andries, a journalist for Soccer Laduma, the country’s largest soccer publication. “We don’t know whether we’re going forwards or backwards.
SAFA — the South African Football Association — has devoted itself to focus on 2022, when this current batch of youth molds into the majority of the Bafana Bafana senior team.
But in recent squads picked for the team, the dedication to youth players isn’t as obvious.
“The way we outsiders understand it, things are not happening the way we think they should happen,” Andries said of a core group of players continually being selected. Selecting youth talent has a complicated process, too.

Youth Talent Often Comes From Poverty
The majority of talent comes from the townships, the pre-dominantly black cities that were previously segregated under Apartheid. There Bishop and other PSL recruiters find communities ripe with gifted players with stunning technical ability.

Soccer provides opportunity for social advancement to impoverished South African youth. Photo from
Most South Africans understand this.
“It’s easier in the townships,” Godfrey Chauke, a doctor living outside Pretoria, said. “That’s where football comes from. There are a lot of opportunities with soccer.”
With townships being impoverished areas, that does not bode well for middle class families interested in their kids playing soccer.
Ndia Magadela also lives outside Pretoria, and said she’s interested in getting her 3 and 5-year-old sons into soccer. But living in a better community has hurt her chances of finding a youth club.
Soccer remains the most popular sport in South Africa, but rugby remains a predominantly white sport. In schools with higher white student enrollments, such as situation the Magadela children, the emphasis on soccer weakens.
“For the past couple of months, I’ve been trying to get them into a development team,” Magadela said. “There’s not enough at lower levels for them to grow up to be professional soccer players.”
As soccer development in South Africa continues to experience growing pains, younger players have been able to capitalize.
Percy Tau, a 22-year-old winger for Mamelodi Sundowns, said his club’s commitment to youth has allowed him to feature into PSL league matches.
"There are a lot of opportunities with soccer.”
For the club, it’s a chance to use younger talent to gain experience; for Tau, playing experience can enhance reputation and potentially mean offers to play overseas for foreign teams, mostly in Europe.
“There’s interest,” Tau said of playing where opportunities arise. “Circulation and new flesh blood is forever needed and the country is making progress.”
It’s a process that, if Tau and South Africans can abroad, should help the country grow in soccer influence, Bishop said.
While there’s an initiative to keep young talent playing in the domestic league, Bishop said PSL clubs acknowledge the importance of playing gaining experience abroad.
In fact, PSL clubs regularly meet to insure South African soccer will continue to strengthen.

“If we produce players in the national team that can play in Europe, then let’s go to Europe,” Bishop said. “We encourage the boys to go. For them, outside of the white lines of football, it just makes you a worldly person.” 

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