No Absa Premiership side used more novices in the 2010/11 campaign than Bidvest Wits.
When the likes of Mamelodi Sundowns went on a spending spree to bolster their squads, Wits opted for their home-grown talent.
Coach Roger de Sa says the group of young players that made their debut in the season that has just ended was the fruit of a plan that he had drafted with his deputy, Eric Tinkler, four years ago.
The players promoted by Wits at the beginning of the season were Enrico Adolph (19), Tshepo Seoketsa (23), Asive Langwe (17), Letsie Koapeng (19), Katlego Pule (20), Brad Phillips (23) and Christopher Flandorp (20).
Striker Bhongolwethu Jayiya (21) was the last to graduate when he emerged during the January transfer window but, incredibly, finished as the club’s top scorer with 10 goals in eight starts, while Langwe went for trials at Italian Serie A club Udinese.
With this group – which accounted for 44 starting berths and 13 goals between them – De Sa’s side attained their only second top eight qualification since the club’s return to top flight soccer in the 2006/07 season.
They also recorded the fourth best home record, jointly with champions Orlando Pirates, of eight wins, four draws and three losses in 15 outings.
Wits’ sixth-place finish this season matched their Premiership ranking of three seasons ago.
“I’ve always been a believer in youth and a big plus is that we have a fantastic development set-up which is taken care of by our former players – Tinkler, Wendel Robinson (goalkeeper coach), Ashley Makhanya (Under-18), Charles Yohane (Under-16) and Peter Rabolele (Under-14),” De Sa told City Press this week as he paid tribute to the club’s youth structure.
“Before I look outside, we look at what we have in our development to see if we have any player that matches the profile of our transfer targets. This season was one of our most successful,” he added.
De Sa said it was a case of enjoying the fruits of their labour over the years.
“It was something we started four years ago with Eric, who is our head of development. The synergy is simple as our development coaches work directly with the senior team.
“We also have our reserve team – the Bid Boys under coach Paradise Moeketsi – in the Vodacom League, which has also complemented our structure.”
Another reward for Wits last season was the massive representation they enjoyed in the national teams with 21 players called up at all levels – Under-17, -20, -23 and Bafana Bafana.
“We have to make our players available if they are called-up to the national teams.
We see it as a development stage of life because they experience different environments and cultures in different countries,” said De Sa.
Meanwhile, top-rated sides Chiefs, Sundowns and Orlando Pirates hardly utilised the youth they promoted at the beginning of the season.
Apart from defender Lucky Baloyi who was given a run in the last two games of the campaign, Chiefs’ other graduates featured only in the Telkom Charity Cup, while Sundowns’ Buhle Mkhwanazi made a few appearances.
No Pirates development players played in the senior team in the past season.
While SuperSport United and Moroka Swallows are the other local sides that invest heavily in their youth, their juniors hardly cracked the elite league last season.
SuperSport’s “jong span” however made it into the youth national teams, particularly in the SA squad for the African Youth Championships two months ago.
» This feature is based on the 2010/11 season