Bafana Bafana

Why aren't more SA players like Zungu securing moves to top Euro leagues?

Bongani Zungu (Gallo Images)
Bongani Zungu (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - With news of Bafana Bafana midfielder Bongani Zungu's impending transfer to La Liga side Mallorca, it highlights an urgent need to reinforce pathways for local players to Europe's elite leagues.

Zungu was spotted on Thursday evening by media arriving at an airport ahead of his move on transfer deadline day and will become only the sixth South African to play in Spain's top-flight.

In comparison, Senegal (17), Nigeria (35), and the Ivory Coast (22) boast vastly superior numbers of players from these countries playing in La Liga alongside producing some of the world's best players across the rest of Europe.

Even if you had to look closer to home and compare our current Bafana Bafana squad to the golden generations of the 1996 AFCON and 2000 Amaglug-glug squads, it shows a rapid decline in exporting SA's best talent.

Parallel to this decline in player-talent has been the men's national side's alarming free-fall down the FIFA world rankings.

Why the dramatic decline?

Football structures

With the traditional African superpowers, a commonality that they all possess is the presence of a centralised world-renowned soccer academy that focuses on producing talent at a young age.

Academies such as the Pepsi Academy (Nigeria), Generation Foot Academy (Senegal) and the famous Mimos Sifcom Academy (Ivory Coast) have produced legends of the game such as Jon Obi Mikel, Sadio Mane and the Toure brothers.

Due to South Africa having arguably the best soccer league in Africa, it's understandable why we differ to the rest of Africa in this youth academy model.

Instead of a centralised system, SA has clubs who set up their own academies to develop players that potentially has greater rewards both on the field and financially.

The best solution though, could be a combination of the two models as our current method of developing talent has tipped over too much in favour of the clubs may put their own interests first.

This often creates a misguided aim of acquiring the best financial rewards for clubs, instead of developing the best talent to the benefit of the country.

Next generation making strides in Europe

With the surprise emergence of young South African players across Europe, a solution to Danny Jordaan's badly implemented "Vision 2022" debacle may well have fallen into his lap.

In 20-year-old winger Thakgalo Leshabela, SA has an exciting prospect impressing in Leicester City's U-23 side leading to inclusions in Brendan  Rodger's first team squad.

Leshabela is a remarkable example of a few players who have totally bypassed any SA youth structures after relocating to England with his parents at the age of two.

Siphesihle Mdlalose (18), of Southampton has a similar story and too is earning rave reviews at the Saints' academy - who are regarded as the best youth academy in the UK.

Added to the two mentioned above are players such as Lyle Foster (AS Monaco), Tashreeq Matthews (Borussia Dortmund), Nikolas Tavares (Crystal Palace), and the pair of Leo Thethani and Dean Solomons of Ajax Amsterdam, in Holland.

The outlook of our footballing prospects immediately looks brighter when the task of nurturing young talent is taken out of our hands at an early stage.

With this exciting bunch of new players all we'd have to do is select them.

But even this has proven too much to ask for with people like national U-20 coach Thabo Senong failing to start overseas-based players with Mdlalose even failing to make recent squads.

We seem to have a very dysfunctional youth system in South Africa where there is a disconnect between local clubs and SAFA which is causing us to lose further ground to world standards.

So for these young players to stand a chance to realising their dreams to secure big European moves, if not done sooner, cases like Zungu's will continue to be few and far between.

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