A generation rises

2010-10-09 00:00

AFTER a period where it appeared the talent production line had stalled in South Africa, a new generation of young footballers is emerging who will have their eyes fixed on competing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

One position that Bafana appear not to have to be concerned about for the next decade is defensive midfield. While current incumbent MacBeth Sibaya is 32 and almost certain not to play a role in Brazil, there are a few players coming through who appear capable of filling the Russian-based player’s shoes.

Already there is Kagisho Dikgacoi, the Bafana midfielder currently trying to carve a starting place for himself at Premiership side Fulham.

But a few youngsters might still prove even better prospects than the former Lamontville Golden Arrows central midfielder.

Among these is Andile Jali, the 21-year-old defensive midfielder who seemed to be Orlando Pirates’ sole candidate for man of the match on their path to winning the MTN8 with their penalties victory over Moroka Swallows in last week’s Durban final. Jali was a key player in the South Africa team that reached the last-16 of the Under-20 World Cup in Egypt last year, losing 2-1 to eventual winners Ghana. He was part of Bafana’s World Cup training camps before having to withdraw from the squad to have a heart condition tested.

Bucs’ great rivals, Kaizer Chiefs, have not been as successful in making signings as their Soweto neighbours this season, and Amakhosi’s chances hinge greatly on the ability of some of their rising stars to back up World Cup players such as Siphiwe Tshabalala, Reneilwe Letsholonyane and Itumeleng Khune.

Skilful playmaker Mthokozisi Yende, pacy forward Mandla Masango and young left-back Punch Masanamela are going to get plenty of game time this season. While he is still to break into Chiefs’ first team with as much regularity, forward Lucky Khune’s stunning strike against Pirates in the Telkom Charity Cup final suggests Itumeleng’s younger brother might one day have a chance of filling a role at the other end of the field to Bafana’s No.1 goalkeeper.

Moroka Swallows’ young left-back, Keegan Richie (20), was called up by Bafana coach Pitso Mosimane for the African Nations Cup qualifier against Niger in Nelspruit in September. Wits University goalkeeper Darren Keet is another member of last year’s U20 World Cup squad who was part of the World Cup build-up and is currently in the Bafana squad doing duty against Sierra Leone in Freetown today.

Ajax Cape Town are a steady source of new talent, season after season. Currently SA U20 and U23 international striker Thulani Serero is among the most exciting.

Lamontville Golden Arrows are another team renowned for being able to identify some of the best young talent in their KZN region. In recent years Papi Zothwane, Dikgacoi and Abia Nale have emerged from the Umlazi-based team. Thanduyise Khuboni is the next star produced by Arrows and another potential successor to Sibaya in defensive midfield for Bafana. Khuboni broke into Bafana ahead of the World Cup and impressed in the one game he played in the tournament, the 2-1 win over France in Bloemfontein.

Overseas, too, some youngsters are making their mark. Former SuperSport United youth player Kamohelo Mokotjo impressed on loan to Excelsior Rotterdam last season and has been recalled to Dutch giants Feyenoord’s Premier League squad.

Far better known is the KRC Genk right-back, Anele Ngcongca, whose form in Belgium this season is reported to have caught the attention of several Premier League clubs. The lanky full-back has been the young revelation of the year for Bafana with his gliding runs down the right flank.

Also based in Belgium, with Lierse SK, is Daylon Claasen, the midfielder who captained SA at the U20 World Cup, and who was also part of the pre-World Cup training camps.

Striker Kermit Erasmus has also had experience playing overseas. Erasmus scored three goals for the SA U20s in Egypt. His return to play for SuperSport United in South Africa after, like Mokotjo, having spells with Feyenoord and Excelsior in Holland, is not necessarily a step backwards as it should allow a young player to gain game time. A similar move worked for another South African striker who has since gone on to get his game back on track after a move back from Strasbourg in France, Bafana’s prolific Katlego Mphela.

While the emergence of a new generation of potential stars is always pleasing, it is notable that most of these players are in the vicinity of 20 or 21 years old. In Europe and South America, young stars start to make their names from 17 or 18, and there aren’t enough players of this age coming through in South Africa.

Until suitable grassroots and development structures are put in place in Africa’s richest country, players will continue to be identified a few years later than they should. Chiefs’ and Pirates’ new young players have mostly not come through those clubs’ development structures, but have been spotted and bought from lower league clubs.

South Africa continues to produce talent despite its lack of grassroots structures simply because it is a football-mad country with 1,5 million registered and three million unregistered players. But to become a threat on the world stage, in the style of South Korea or the USA, this country needs to emulate those countries’ superb feeder structures and fully harness the potential of its vast player power.

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