Let the youngsters play!

Sport24 columnist S'Busiso Mseleku (File)
Sport24 columnist S'Busiso Mseleku (File)
The inactivity of South African junior national soccer teams is cause for concern.

For quite a long time now it has been a norm that these teams - from Under-17, Under-20 to Under-23 - are only assembled once there is an international tournament looming.

In between, these teams’ coaches just sit around twiddling their thumbs.

And then as a nation, we jump up and down when our teams get eliminated in the early rounds of their respective tournaments.

The junior teams are a foundation for any football playing nation. The world over, the most successful national teams, are a result of proper development structures and the success at junior level.

When you look at the Spanish team that is breaking all records by being European and World Champions and even successfully defending their continental title, is made up of a bunch of players, most of who have been together since the Under-17s.

While in South Africa, a 27-year-old is referred to as a “youngster”; you don’t have to look any further than Brazilian sensation Neymar who at 21 is a full-blown international, making waves on the global scene and have just been grabbed by World Club Champions Barcelona.

Proper development ensures that players are introduced to international football at a young age. By the time they reach the senior national team, they are used to the rigours and heavy demands – physical and mental – of the international game.

This is not so with South African players.

Some are even lucky to get those sporadic appearances with junior teams before making the senior team, but the majority only cut their international teeth with the senior national team.

It is nothing unusual for South African players to get their first Bafana Bafana call-up in their late 20s or even early 30s.

This point was made by Brazilian Carlos Alberto Parreira when he was still Bafana Bafana coach prior to the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

The story goes that when he was in a conundrum about his strike-force, he suggested to his assistant, Pitso Mosimane, that maybe they should rope in the then 27-year-old Kaizer Motaung jnr. Mosimane’s response was: “But he is still young.”

And the shocked Brazilian retorted: “Ah! In Brazil, they are thinking of retiring at that age.”

To make matters worse, even the Premier Soccer League (PSL) – much as they can be forgiven as development is not their domain – does not have a reserve league.

So this calls for the South African Football Association (SAFA), who are the custodians of the game in this country with their main task being development, to set up proper structures that will ensure that young players are kept active and are properly developed.

Keeping these players and their respective age-group coaches active, will ensure that there is always a readily available pool of players for the junior national teams.

This will keep them competitive and ensure that come competition time, they are ready to not only tackle but compete with their counterparts from other countries.

As it is always said that you cannot build a strong house without a strong foundation, until we have strong junior teams, Bafana Bafana will continue to struggle.

This is pure logic and none of it is rocket science.

S’Busiso Mseleku is regarded as one of Africa's leading sports journalists and an authority on football. He has received some of the biggest awards in a career spanning well over 20 years. He is currently City Press Sports Editor.

Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.
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