Chan has its merits, but it’s not world football

2014-01-18 00:00

THE Caf African Nations Championship (Chan) is receiving mixed reviews around the country as football lovers contemplate whether or not the tournament is worthy of their attention.

A look at the dismal crowds who have made their way to Cape Town, Bloemfontein and Polokwane this week suggests that South Africa couldn’t be bothered.

In Bafana’s 1-1 draw with Mali at Cape Town Stadium on Wednesday night, the grandstand was a sea of empty seats, as only the smallest group of supporters turned up — something which still boggles the mind when one considers that this is international football.

Ah, but is Chan really international football? The fact that countries aren’t allowed to field players that play outside of their national league suggests not. No Yaya Toure, Dean Furman, Asamoah Gyan, Jon Obi Mikel or any African footballer doing great things in another part of the world.

It is easy enough to see where Caf is coming from. The tournament should be viewed as an opportunity for African countries to showcase the strength of their domestic leagues, while it also gives domestic footballers an opportunity to play on an international stage. Both of these desires are admirable, but one shouldn’t be tricked into believing that this is international football of the highest quality.

Bafana’s role in the tournament is an interesting one. We hear all too often from the local football authorities that the Premier Soccer League (PSL) is the best league on the continent. Some even go so far as to say that it is one of the 10 best leagues in the world.

What defines “best” here is unclear, but it certainly isn’t the performance on the pitch. The PSL has more money and resources available than any other league on the continent. We should be streaks ahead of our opposition when one considers that none of them can call on their overseas-based stars.

Maybe the PSL isn’t as superior as we’d all like to think. I don’t know much about the Malian Premier Division, but it only turned professional in 2004. The truth is that a group of that league’s players who took on Bafana’s PSL stars on Wednesday were unlucky not to come away with all three points.

Gordon Igesund couldn’t select his Orlando Pirates players as they look to catch up matches in the PSL, and that has forced him to cast his net elsewhere. On Wednesday night, Bafana had eight PSL clubs represented in their starting 11, a far cry from the usual Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns combination that pulls on the national jersey. It is encouraging seeing the likes of Matthew Pattison (Wits) and Lindokuhle Mbatha (Platinum Stars) taking their opportunities with arms wide open. If we had the Pirates and overseas players in the mix, then players from the smaller local clubs wouldn’t get a look in, and this is one positive to emerge from a tournament that otherwise appears hard to justify.

Igesund has actually done a good job of balancing experience and youth in the two group A matches so far. As fantastic an opportunity as this may be to bleed new blood, Chan is still a continental tournament and there is still a trophy to be won at the end of it all. It may not be the most important trophy in world football, but Bafana’s trophy cabinet couldn’t be more desperate for activity, and Igesund knows that.

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