Better Retirements for South African Footballers – An Ideal

2016-06-17 18:19

8-year-old Thabo kicks a football for the first time and is immediately hooked. On the dusty and rocky Sterkspruit streets, he discovers that this form of expression is not unique to him; it is a favourite pastime for many a peer. At the end of the day, he returns to the reality that has so far denied him a pair of boots and socks. He lives with his drug-addicted brother, now 23, who at one point showed flashes of becoming the next Mooki. Injury stopped him in his tracks. His father is rarely sober; he is oftentimes found in a catatonic state. His mother, the de facto breadwinner, barely brings enough from the textile sweatshop she labours in.

At this point, shibobos and tsamayas ensure that Thabo remains oblivious to his lived reality. After all, the poverty he grows up in is undetectable and is a normalcy every time he meets fellow enthusiasts at the sandy terrain they have come to know as Ga Lekolea. At age 12, the prodigious Thabo stars in a local tournament and is spotted by a scout from one of the nation’s top clubs. He swiftly joins their academy and makes it up the ranks. His meteoric rise is capped when he makes his senior debut in a cup final. With the scores tied at 1-a-piece, the coach thrusts him in the 85th minute and he makes an immediate impact. He cuts once on the left flank, shows his number, dummys and delivers a pin-point cross that meets the club’s leading marksman. Goal! Champions! Thabo, the hero. Thabo becomes an instant celebrity.

You probably recognize this fairytale. There are many Thabos. Yet, many of them do not stay up there. Some stop developing; others are plagued by injuries. In Thabo’s case, however, the fame came too soon and without any street smarts. With a debaucherous lifestyle in good company, Thabo’s career was virtually over by the time he reached what should be every footballer’s peak years. At 27, Thabo was now plying his trade in South Africa’s lower divisions, while simultaneously running a spaza shop suffering from stagnation. Bad eating habits and a gross neglect of his fitness also meant that he could not replicate the evergreen exploits of Arthur Zwane and Lucky Lekgwathi. Career over.

At the height of his financial muscle, no investments were made, no property was bought, and no trust funds were established. Bar the 2 rooms he did add to the family home, he has few achievements to write home about. As a new entrant in the nouveau riche network, he became a private and public failure while driving flashy GTIs fueled by Johnnie Walkers.

This story is too familiar. With some effort, you can name at least 10 players who have fallen victim to this trajectory. Many believed their own hype; most lacked mentorship and discipline. Clubs do not have the capacity to employ all of their former players, regardless of expertise and cult status. Similarly, not all players can convert their cross-field passes into tactical nous on the touchline as coaches. Few make it as pundits. Without the required virtues, there will be many stories akin to that of Junior Khanye and Lovers Mohlala.

While the South African Football Players Union (SAFPU) has launched a Financial Literacy programme, perhaps it would be better for such an initiative to also be introduced at an academy level to yield greater fruit. Youngsters should not only be inspired by Teko Modise’s GPS-like passing ability; his budding business acumen should be a lifelong lesson.

May we never hear of another legend passing away and those left behind struggling to raise burial funds...

How can we ensure off-the-field success for our players?

Tweet me @uncle_uhuru.

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