In most of the nations, Botswana included, the structures are weak, youth football development or grassroots football, which includes the leagues are ignored, despite the abundance of talent. Further governments and the private sectors do not give much as they should.
Take the case of Botswana. None of the players who made it to the Morocco 2013 Youth finals have either been registered or given play time by any of the premier league sides where all the players have been selected from. Currently a sombre mood is hitting the entire East and Central Africa as well as the Southern Regions, as they introspect on their national teams' failure to reach the last stage of the world cup. FIFA, the world football controlling body is ready to conduct the draw of the remaining 10 African nations who still habour ambitions to qualify for 2014 Brazil world cup next on Monday September 16. Of the remaining 10 , only five nations will represent the nation in Brazil.
Failure to qualify for most nations means one thing, the coach or technical staff must be relieved of their duties. So far only 10 coaches are sure to keep their positions, these are Vahid Halihodzic of Algeria, Paul Put (Burkina Faso), Volke Finke (Cameroon), Lucio Antunes (Cape Verde ), Bob Bradley (Egypt), Sewnet Bishaw( Ethiopia), Kwesi Appiah (Ghana), Sabri Lamouchi (Ivory Coast), Stephen Keshi (Nigeria) and Alain Giresse of Senegal. But the million dollar question is,why are the same teams from West and North African teams always dominating?
While most of the respective nations in the African countries are calling for the outright dismissal of their head coaches or technical teams following their poor run in the qualifying rounds the football administrators have a different view. BG Sports spoke to reputable football administrators and learnt that although the technical teams are part of the pieces in the puzzle, putting the blame squarely on them is as good as one who tries to run away from one’s shadow. FIFA Development Officer based in Gaborone whose jurisdiction covers the region as well as the East and Central Africa, Ashford Mamelodi ‘s view is that the general performance by the countries in the Southern part of Africa that took part in the qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup resulting in no team qualifying for the play-off stages came as no surprise to him.
He argues that there is far too much focus on senior national teams, to the total exclusion of structured football development in some cases. “There is a perception out there that we can ‘reap where we have not sown’ at the top level of football.” He said participation in continental competitions in the Youth, Junior and Women’s Football categories by most of these countries has in the majority of cases been mere participation and very little competition. “Failure to give due attention to youth football development including grassroots football together with Youth Leagues, will continue to dictate in the main, our less than satisfactory performances at the top national team level. This is a fact and we must stop being surprised by it.” And until leaders of the game pay due attention to youth development and prioritise it, the status quo will not be altered significantly.
“Given the array and abundance of skilled footballers in most of our countries, we will often be misled into believing that we can compete with the best in Africa and the world simply by winning a few games,” he observed. Another tragedy is failure on the part of leadership to manage the expectations of supporters or fans at this level of competition, resulting in the wrong people being blamed for our misfortunes on the field. It is quite sad and a clear sign of a lack of knowledge in football when coaches are made scapegoats when top national teams lose as a result of the circumstances highlighted above. In serious football countries, coaches are challenged to deliver results only when they are adequately resourced both with quality players (through youth development) and having their programmes well implemented. “We need to accept the reality sooner rather than later that there can be ‘no short cut to success in football.” The President of Zambia Football Association and former coach Kalusha Bwalya finds that although we come from the same region, yet we are different. “In Zambia, I believe we are not far from making it. All we need is to believe in ourselves and ability to perform.
The fact is we have talent, but maybe we do not have enough depth because when one player is down it is not easy to replace him. My experience as a coach is that we were close for the 2006, 2010 and 2014 world cup, but we failed because it was difficult for our players to concentrate. The boys always lose points unncessarily, take how we drew with Lesotho and Sudan after leading them 1-0. Going forward, we need to work on the mental strength of our players.” Lesotho Football Association (LEFA) CEO, Mokhosi Mohapi’s view is that regional football leaders have to get serious because the current situation is just too individualistic, there is no collaboration in a region that has some of the talented players in the world. “We are not working in tandem when compared to our brothers in the west. This is evident by the fact that we do not take pride in even our own tournament COSAFA Castle cup as we field our respective second string teams.”
When any of our nations request for a friendly game in order to get a tough match practice, they can bet for sure they will play a second string team and this is not helping .”Our behaviour as a region coupled with the fact that we hardly call any meeting for our technical persons to meet and discuss the problems that we face just like the adminitrators always meet, forms part of the reason why we play second best during AFCON finals as we are always first to exit .” Mohapi says the plain truth is that “We are still football novices, there is no reason why with so much money, we can not host big competitions.” He appealed to all the COSAFA members to sit down and plan the future to avoid a repeat of the same fate in 2018. National Football Association of Swaziland President, Adam Mthethwa said that most countries are having challenges with resources, but South Africa has everything and it is a question of attitude. “In our case, our problem is financial which will help to develop players at all levels until they reach the respective national teams .”
Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA) CE0, Jonathan Mashingaidze says that we are the only region that has orgainsed football because our leagues are run better than in other countries in the north. But the question is which material are we using to play for the national team. “In most cases we are looking at the premier league teams for selection. We need to cast our net wider to search for talent in our lower divisions. The other issue is sometimes we are let down by the professional foreign based players because they do not perform to the best of their ability fearing they may get injured. Otherwise we need to play more regularly at club, and all national levels,” The CEO of Namibia Football Association, Barry Rukoro says that as a regional bloc we must look at the factors that make it difficult for us to compete against the West African, only then can we really start looking at the things that we have no control over. “What works for West Africa is the fact that they are all within a radius of 500 kilometres and are able to play against each other at any level.
This helps their players to quickly adjust to international standards and stand the test of time when facing us. As Namibia we take our Under 23 to Acrra, Ghana where they are able to have practice matches including with other neighbouring nations at a very reasonable price, but if we were to try it in our region, it becomes more expensive and these are the things we do not have control over.” Secondly , he faults the mentality of parents in Southern African states who unlike their western counterparts, chose school over football as one of the gateways to success. “In West Africa there are so many academies owned by former footballers and this brings competitions, hardens players and prepares them for major competitions while here a player qualifies because you can play football and was selected after a short session. In West Africa young players go through the sub - teams of the region before being called for the regional select and finally the national team. Players are prepared at a tender age hence they easily make it. An example is the do or die match between Ghana and Zambia which Ghana won because of experience. “The last aspect is that our governments are not giving enough money.
Until the time when our governments seriously invest in football, we will forever be fighting againt the odds. We have good facilities but how many times do we hold the competitions? It must be remembered that Ghana government invested USD 18 milion to prepare the team for the 2010 World Cup and they went to the qurterfinals.” Botswana National Sports Council chairman Solly Reikeletseng summed all the arguments when he said that in Botswana we need to strengthen all the structures in order to start getting results.