by Soccer Laduma
Apr 22, 2020 07:59 AM
There was a time when there was little money with more quality in our football, but things have, to a certain extent, changed around. We now see a lot more money in the Beautiful Game with very little to show for it, compared to the times gone by.
It has become an accepted norm that people expect more improvements with time, even more so with enough resources. We’ve had both, but have we really progressed at the rate we were expected to? Have we done enough with what we have? With more money and resources, have we been able to live up to the bill? I’m certain that’s one of the questions that set fire below most of the former players’ bellies. Surely that’s what makes some of the legends’ blood boil when they compare their time to now, with a lot more money and resources, when all they had was the passion for the game. They played for fun and the love of the game, which is why they have very little to show for their exploits. Some of these guys are struggling to make ends meet because the game they loved so much and served with a great deal of passion, didn’t repay them enough to be able to stand on their feet once the curtain had been pulled on their careers. Whereas if they were to play today, they’d hang up their boots as multimillionaires. The fact that we still talk about those legends and still hold on to the Class of ‘96’s Afcon successful campaign, 24 years later, bears testimony to this argument. With more money and resources, we’ve never really covered enough ground and that’s a sad reality for what is supposed to be a soccer-mad country.
I’m not, by any means, comparing the current generation to their predecessors. This is more about football in general than just the players. When there was not enough money to make out of football, we had and produced a lot more quality players, attracted more supporters to the stadium, ranked among the best in the continent and the world, but the more our game improved financially, the lesser the output. There are obviously a number of factors that contributed to the current status quo, but I believe money is one of the main factors that lead to this change of the landscape.
Remember when Orlando Pirates had no less than nine development products in their senior team, playing regular, entertaining and exciting football under coach Kostadin Papic? Remember when their starting line-up was dominated by development products? Remember when they spent far less on foreign imports and rather focussed on developing their own players? Remember when only a few exceptionally good foreign players made their way into local football? Remember when almost every new foreign signing caught everyone’s attention, because they were special and better than what we already had? Remember how difficult it was for any foreigner to break into a local team? Remember how most teams had more than four, local, household names in their squads? Remember when there was rivalry all around the league because every group of players, not just individuals, wanted to outshine the other? Remember when supporters coined nicknames for their players because they felt the need to show appreciation for their good and consistent performances? Remember when supporters’ trips from the stadium were all about ‘Did you see that?’ as they reminisced about some bits of the action that captivated them? Do you remember when players were loyal to their teams and the teams were equally loyal to their players? Remember when playing for one club meant more than just football, as it was a life commitment? Remember when leaving a team for their rival was tantamount to treason? Those were the good old days, but they’re sadly gone! Now it comes as no surprise for one player to move around and play for eight out of the 16 Absa Premiership teams because it is all about the money. Teams also can sign whoever they want and replace their players at a snap of a finger. Remember when it was every player’s dream to play overseas? Now, with enough money here at home, not everyone dreams of going abroad and therefore the commitment to the game has dwindled because there’s nothing pushing most of our players to stand out so that they can attract an overseas move.
Don’t be surprised when we hardly export to any of the top leagues anymore because we have dropped our standards. Now our best players go and play in obscure leagues if and when they finally make moves abroad. We used to export to top leagues with our players enjoying regular game-time which, in turn, benefited our national team. It also gave locally-based players something to work towards but, with more money in our league, we’ve seen players making almost as much as they’d do in a foreign country and therefore deem the move unnecessary. We’ve also seen a drop in standard of imports coming into our league because, like I said, teams can afford to buy and replace anyone. We have a number of foreign players struggling to make the bench, let alone the starting line-up, and that never used to be the case. You look at the goalkeeping department – we have seen an unprecedented influx of foreign goalkeepers into our league and you’d think the goalkeeping production line has been banned in South Africa. What does that influx do to the national team? It means the national team head coach, Molefi Ntseki, will have to scratch his head when it comes to team selection, should anything happen to his regular goalkeepers. We need to go back to the drawing board, do things the way we used to, so that we can get back to being one of the best footballing nations in the continent and the world. It doesn’t help much to have our league as one of the best in both the continent and the world when most of our teams are far from being able to stand their ground against the best.
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