Africa’s splendour reigns supreme in the eyes of the world after the successful organization and hosting of the 2010 Fifa World Cup, but its shame and failure lurks in the shadows! While South Africa, and Africa in general, proved deserving of being counted in the league of the best in the world following the successful organization and hosting of the 2010 Fifa World Cup, only the exact opposite can be said about what Africa has to offer on the field of play! Taking into account the very large and ever increasing number of African players who contribute to the success and better quality football in Europe and elsewhere the 2010 WC in South Africa was supposed to be the scene where African teams should have produced both excellent results and African inspired football. However, the soccer showpiece provided yet another rude awakening to African teams as Africa glaringly failed in this unique and memorable mission.
South Africa became the first hosts in the World Cup history to fail to progress to the knockout stages of the tournament – a record for a very wrong reason! Red lights started flashing in the opening match when the hosts looked lucky to get a point out of Mexico. Five days later, the host team looked out of depth when they succumbed to a 3-0 loss against Uruguay, which virtually dashed South Africa’s chances of advancing to the Round of 16. A seemingly much-improved performance in the ultimate encounter against a dilapidated French team was still not enough to grant South Africa their much-hoped-for miracle. They crashed out!
Despite an ageing team, Nigeria raised hopes for Africa when they staged an almost plausible performance in their opening match against Argentina even though they eventually lost 1-0. However, once again, it wasn’t to be for Africa as The Super Eagles went on to suffer a loss to Greece, who fought back their way into the game from a goal down to win 2-1. Their final match, which ended 2-all against Korea Republic, failed to see them through. They also crashed out!
Algeria’s campaign also got off to an unsavoury start with a 1-0 loss to Slovenia. The loss was followed by a 1-all draw against the misfiring English team. A 1-0 loss to USA marked the end of their participation in the tournament as yet another African team crashed out!
Cameroon would not do any better as they also got their campaign off to an undesirable start with a 1-0 loss to Japan. The loss was just the first of the two more defeats to Denmark and Netherlands, both by a 2-1 score margin. They, too, crashed out!
Cote d’Ivore looked promising when they played to a goalless draw against Portugal, but it was their 3-1 loss to unconvincing Brazil a few days later, which exposed serious inadequacies in the Ivorian team. Their 3-0 win against Korea DPR, who had not qualified for the tournament since 1966, was not enough to see them through. They crashed out as well, wrapping up a bleak competition for African teams on the African continent.
Except for Ghana, who somewhat controversially lost to Uruguay, on penalties, African teams were badly exposed in their own backyard. The Black Stars of Africa, as Ghana are known, hit the ground running with a win against Serbia. The victory was followed by a 1-all draw against Australia. That win gave them enough four points to be the only African country to advance to the knockout stages of the tournament, despite their 1-0 loss to Germany in their final group match. They proved too strong for USA in the Round of 16 as they won 2-1. They looked en route to being the first African host country to reach the semi-final before Suarez parried Dominic Adiyiah’s goal-bound header away seconds before then end of extra-time. Seconds later Africa rumbled as Asamoah Gyan’s subsequent penalty kick rattled the crossbar! Nonetheless, Ghana had salvaged some pride for Africa!
As usual, whenever there is underachievement or defeat in football, TV analysts, newspaper reporters and the always self-proclaimed experts recycle eternal criteria of justifying poor results which invariably lead to criticizing the following causes:
- Late changes in the technical leadership
- Insufficient time for preparation
- Wrong selections for squad and/or line-ups
- Wrong system of play, i.e., Why 4-3-3 when a 4-5-1 was the right one?
- Wrong substitutions
- Bad or biased refereeing
- Clashes between players and the coach
- Divisions between players
- Discipline problems in camp
- Lack of commitment, and so on….
Like a virus conveniently retrieved from the recycle bin, during the 2010 WC all these and more causes were mentioned repeatedly, as the real or only reasons why African teams performed below par. There are even ‘experts’ on each of those negative aspects – if you have listened to SABC and SuperSport panels of analysts then you know what are we talking about. But that’s the simplistic and tentative story.
Unless we would accept to commit a crime to our football as well as to tens of millions of football followers across the continent by intentionally denying the real reasons behind African football’s historic collapse at the 2010 WC, the above insignificant causes of Africa’s failure can be considered as valid.
With little or no interest and limited expertise to investigate the huge technical setback of African football, the experts, analysts and observers failed, inadmissibly, to identify what went so terribly wrong.
Only few isolated and timid voices were heard alluding to the fact that there are far more serious problems with African football than the trivial errors in teams’ formations and their play systems.
Quality before Performance
Lucas Radebe, after wrongly and unfairly blaming former South African Nation team coach, Carlos Parreira, for not producing the expected result against Uruguay because of ‘a wrong attacking system’, he conceded that ‘SA does not have the quality players requested at this level (WC Finals)’. Isn’t that obvious that if the team doesn’t have the quality players requested at the level of a WC tournament, then the debate on what attacking systems or tactics the team may employ against vastly superior oppositions becomes completely irrelevant or even lunatic?
On the same note, Stephen Kashi, former Nigerian National coach, with vast experience in African football, in contemplating Nigeria’s deplorable exit from the tournament, admitted ‘we do not have quality players to do well against superior teams. We must look at our development (of players) if we want to compete, especially against the South Americans’. In fact, proof confirming such views is in the in-depth technical analysis of Africans’ performances. Factor by factor, this sombre story unfolds:
The assessment of ball technique – the ability where African players could outclass the rest of the world – revealed some starting findings. In the matches played between Cameroon and Japan, Ivory Coast and Portugal and Nigeria against Argentina during the group phase of the 2010 WC, the number of technical errors on ball control, passing and dribbling made by the African players was more than twice higher than their opponents’! A staggering one-third of situations, when the ball was lost, were the result of poor ball control! Which tactics, formations and fitness solutions can then produce winning results under such circumstances? Arguments about who should or shouldn’t play; how many strikers in attack; or debating the appropriateness of substitutions are not only useless, but irrational as well.
Limited to very basic technique and restricted arsenal of improvised and disguised movements African players were unable to control play through possession or any creativity in attack. Despite having employed a five-man midfield formation against Mexico’s three-man midfield approach, South Africa still failed to dominate ball possession as they chased shadows throughout the game. Tragically, the same was the case when even a lowly-regarded Japanese team controlled the flow of the game against Cameroon. Exposed to game styles that employ huge ball skill diversity, intricate off the ball moves, sustained fluency of actions and tight space and opponent marking, the African teams were annihilated in any attempt to get results.
It makes no sense to discuss or criticise the game plans, formations or team tactics of Nigeria, Ivory Coast or Cameroon since those advanced technical features were severely missing from the abilities and performance of their players, rendering the application of any useful tactical action or plan futile. Unless there is an agenda to exploit the naivety of African people who follow the game or an attempt to intentionally promote a philosophy that is anti-African football, the truth about the technical quandary of continental football, as seen at the 2010 WC, should be unequivocally told.
‘Big stars’ as Eto’s, Drogba, Kanu, Kalu, etc., have lost their predatory mentality, which was eminent with sharp dribbling, tricky manoeuvres and quick acceleration whenever necessary. Those traits have been replaced by predictable and no-risk feeble answers to situations on the field of play. Dribbling past an opponent in a one -on-one situation thus creating tactical advantage was something extremely rare in the African game concept at the 2010 WC. These players were seen to be frightened to take initiative or improvise. Everything was stereotyped and ‘rationalized’ under the ‘no frills, no tricks, safety first’ survival formula.
It became obvious that the vast majority of African players do not have their playing skills developed at the level of exquisite detail, sophistication and improvisation as it is mainly displayed by the South American and few European teams. As a result of such technical handicap frustration and negative thinking led to excessive aggression and costly fouls that did more harm to the African teams.
In the game between Brazil and Ivory Coast, after a play sequence in which Brazil kept possession of the ball for 1’17’’, the Ivoirians became frustrated and resorted to uncontrolled aggression, kicking their opponents, as several consecutive fouls and yellow cards immediately followed. This is a defectively distorted nature of African players. It was as if something very sinister had happened to them that transformed their positive, joyful and creative identity into a destructive and even brutal behaviour. But let’s address those causes later.
Moreover, the better performances and technical standards of Ghana, Algeria and SA form a different case where certain aspects of their players looked of a higher quality and more competitive. The difference can be explained by some favourable factors and conditions such as better youth development (Ghana) or more competent coaching (SA and Algeria). Columnist Papa Appiah wrote, “For the first time in Ghana, an under-17 side graduated to form a powerful under- 20 team following the inclusion of new players like Dede Ayew, the son of Abedi Pele, who became captain and led the team not only to the African championship but also to become the first African team to win the World Under-20 Championship. The youngsters who excelled in that tournament, including Inkoom, Adiyah, Ayew and Jonathan Mensah were drafted into the Black Stars team that had been the first African country to qualify for the 2010 South African World Cup. They brought along with them, a good helping of enthusiasm and a winning mentality.” This goes on to show how serious the development of soccer and continuity in it is taken by the football authorities in Ghana – something the rest of Africa can learn from. Rabah Saadane had led Algeria to the 1986 World Cup participation before he led the country again to the 2010 edition 24 years later. Carlos Alberto-Parreira’s coaching record in Brazil, having won the 1994 World Cup with the Selecao among other achievements, stands him a good stead as one of the best coaches on the international scene. His achievement with Bafana Bafana, having got the team to play the South African way, and Saadane’s success with Algeria further strengthens the need for African countries to employ coaches who can identify with their particular teams’ strengths and weaknesses. Only such coaches can get the best out of their teams instead of imposing foreign and extraneous game mentalities on those teams.
‘Physicality’ is out of fashion
Before the games started the general belief among observers, the media and even technicians was that the robust physiques of Nigeria, Cameroon and Ivory Coast (read height, muscular built and aggression) would constitute a significant advantage in the competition. One strong view was that those African players who played in the English Premiership like Joseph Yobo, Dickson Etuhu, Alexandre Song, Emmanuel Eboué, Didier Drogba were key factors in their respective National teams’ dominance against ‘physically weaker oppositions such as the Asians i.e. South and North Korea and Japan.
Like a bolt out the blue, it, however, came as shock to all those who regarded ‘physicality’ as a determinant factor in performance when the detailed analysis of factor-by-factor teams’ performance revealed the opposite. In all matches played by Cameroon, Nigeria and Ivory Coast against the ‘physically weak’ opponents like Japan and South Korea, not only did the taller and more powerful African teams fail to impose their physical superiority in the games, but were clearly exposed for the lack of agility and quickness. Bluntly, the ‘big’ Africans looked clumsy. By contrast the nippy Japanese and South Koreans were dominating play with rapid, sharp and creative moves at a level where their African opponents found no answers, except to resort to foul play. Subsequently, Cameroon committed 29 exceedingly hard tackles, for which they were duly penalized. Obstructions and opponent holdings also marred their game in their game against Japan, who recorded 19 infringements.This hazardously misleading misapprehension that big and muscular players can still determine the outcome of matches was, further nullified when other teams like Algeria (against England), South Africa (against France) and Chile (against Switzerland) imposed their skilful, dynamic and creative styles. Blatantly, technical ignorance is still plaguing the mentality of those assigned to analyse today’s football. They miss the point by not acknowledging that for some game technicians ‘physicality’ also comprises agility, coordination, quickness and explosion – irregardless the size of one’s body.
Based on their potential and play mentality, players’ work rate could have been an advantage to the ‘big’ three – Nigeria, Cameroon and Ivory Coast – but it did not! The pattern displayed by Cameroon in their match against Japan was very significant. Constantly required to spend high energy through sprinting and acceleration at short intervals by Japan’ quick short passing style of play, Cameroon had serious difficulties in responding efficiently both in defence and in attack. It was obvious that African players were far more comfortable with traditional concept of fast long runs followed by longer recovery as contained in the long and high ball style, which characterised the English concept. Interestingly, the rate of errors on the Cameroon’s performance was visibly higher during the play periods where the players were chasing the ball as the Japanese used high frequency sequences of short inter-passing and dribbling of high intensity. Clearly, Cameroon’s players were not prepared to deal with such a superior work rate where recovery between actions is very brief. This pattern characterised Nigeria and to a lesser extent Ivory Coast.
Some years back, studies, research, technical analyses and statistics did not play any major role in the way football was played or developed in Africa. Today, the story is vastly different. Precise info about the local environment, biological frame and specific predispositions of African players allow us to see their strengths, potential and what could be the best approach for their football.
On the back of that knowledge, it should not be surprising or exaggerated if one concludes that the nature of African players when optimally developed for competitive football can exceed the impressive technical standards shown by the new world champions, Spain. Spain’s concept of unprecedented combination of play features – mainly perfect and diversified passing, dribbling, improvised tactical movement and harmonious blend of exceptional individuality and collective effort – could be achieved at a higher level in African football. That’s because the native qualities of African players are ideal for such an exquisite and imposing style. With the existing crisis that is crippling the development and obstructing the right playing mentality, this glorious perspective remains inaccessible.
A detestable example of how discordant foreign influence coupled with technical ignorance could curb the progress to a talent rich society is South Africa. Carlos Alberto Parreira, who led the South Africa to a decent performance at the 2010 World Cup by South Africa’s standards, is the only coach that managed to develop a style of play mostly based on the strengths of SA players such as natural ability for ball work, movement creativity, disguise and capacity for high work rate. Parreira, for the first time in the activity of SA National team has produced football that is based on fluent passing, patient possession and quick attacking actions. Obviously, it is not yet highly competitive, but definitely represents the best way SA can afford to play the game. It is the ‘South African ID’ as promised by the Brazilian coach and enthusiastically received, applied and enjoyed by the players and many supporters.
It was with great dismay and shock for local fans and visiting observers, to hear and read the outburst of criticism and blame directed at Parreira for ‘letting the nation down’ by using ‘wrong approach, game plan, line-up’, and other ‘blunders’ when the team lost against Uruguay. At the same time when many reputable foreign experts and their media applauded the way South Africa had changed into a more skilful and competitive outfit, some local coaches, reporters and TV commentators were hinting that Parreira was useless, overrated and overpaid. The same hypocrites who had never scientifically researched and analysed best features SA players and their culture could offer to the country’ football style, had maliciously turned against the man who had finally delivered it. Considering the manner in which alien football is played at the youth and PSL level it is quite obvious that Parreira’s critics haven’t done anything to develop the right game’s concept in the country. Had those self-declared experts, ‘top’ SA coaches and the so-called ‘patriotic ‘media contributed in any way to a better development of youth or improved technical standards in the PSL, most probably the national team would have discovered its strengths and ID long ago and possibly could have gone far in the tournament. It is terribly shameful and anti-African!
What Technical Assistance?
To sum up the chronic shortcomings on vital performance factors of African teams, mainly Nigeria, Cameroon and Ivory Coast, the only realistic conclusion is that with the current level of players’ quality superior results are simply not possible.
For the past twenty years or so, the number of coaching qualification and courses has been vastly increased and the youth development programs are mushrooming throughout the continent and yet there are no results to match the potential and expectations. The big conundrum is how can African football’s declining standards persist despite all the development projects initiated by FIFA, CAF and UEFA? Is the technical assistance offered to Africa by FIFA through CAF and CAF itself useful and efficient enough to produce qualitative changes in the game? Or are all these interventions by Fifa somehow void of relevancy and compatibility? Are the technical and coaching solutions developed and used in other game environments, e.g., European football, providing the complete or even partial answers to the needs and conditions of African countries? Isn’t it correct to assume that if, for example, the concept and methods used to develop and train players in England, France, Holland, Germany, etc, as currently recommended to the continent do not reflect the immense diversity and specificity of bio-social players’ profile and environmental conditions of African countries? This would then explain why African football cannot benefit or progress from such misplaced methodologies?
Undeniably, the concept and methodology currently used in the development of the vast majority of African youth and the playing mentality, in general, in the continent are incompatible with the objective of producing advanced, competitive and specifically African football. All sources of reliable information in this regard, from East to West and South to North of Africa, concur with this conclusion. There are very few exceptions where richer clubs or academies manage to put up some reasonable programs for youth development but considering the massive need for large and systematic development in the whole of Africa, these minor projects only serve as a placebo.
Technique won the WC
All analyses, statistics and statements of coaches and players at the 2010 WC concur: Technique was the decisive factor in winning the WC! Spain’s clear superiority on all aspects of ball technique and intricate movement associated with it shown by all players, regardless of positions, is undisputable. This aspect should be very carefully considered for improvement by all countries, but at a larger scale in Africa, as it gives a strong indication of the future trends in the progress of the game. African countries have a history of inadequacies with regards to fulfilling the technique-potential of players.
Harmful coaching oversights start from the learning stage. The development of ball skills is limited to few basic techniques which are to control, pass and shoot at goal. This is just to satisfy the minimum requirements of an obsolete game mentality that says ‘football must be played in the simplest, fast and direct to the opponents’ goal manner’.
According to Dr. Louis Jevantaham, an eminent football researcher, more than two-thirds of ball skills, variations and related intricate movements displayed at the game’s highest standards are not considered in the coaching syllabus of youth coaching in Africa!!
The time allocated to practicing ball techniques in youth training is scarce compared, for example, to the time used for ‘improving’ fitness, which in most cases is charaterized by aimless running. Incredibly, the majority of youth programs in Africa have only one ball for 15-20 players! Even where the footballs are available the coaches were not given the necessary knowledge on how to use them optimally.
Restrictions on the way skills, any of them, should be applied in games far exceed the encouragement given to the players to use their own initiative and add innovated technical executions and tactical creativity. Children as young as 11 -12 are requested to play one-touch football, not to hold on the ball, not to dribble, not to pass the ball backwards, not to take any risk, not to stop running forward, not to give space to opponents, not to miss tackling, not to ‘waste time’ in making decisions or when shooting, and so on…
Amazingly, these kids can hardly control the ball, turn with it, shield it, disguise or score a goal. They play ‘positional football and are taught play systems and ‘defence organization before they are able to juggle the ball ten times.
Without rich and diversified ball skills young players cannot progress tactically, they cannot improvise, be creative, control play or have a strong identity. Later on, the same players cannot be successful in international competitions and they cannot be expected to do well at the World Cup.
Too many African coaches and technical administrators are docile servants of those foreign sources of ‘assistance’ in the development of the game. African football’s technical dependency on Europe’s expertise has to stop. It does not serve the interest and emancipation of the game in the continent. With very few exceptions the European football is behind times when it comes to advancements. This is the conclusion reached by a plethora of leading analysts and has to be seriously considered. How can the game benefit and progress when, for example in prominent youth academies in England the kids and those coaches, some from Africa, who are understudying ‘scientific’ methods of youth development are told that fitness and tackling are the most important qualities in ‘modern’ football?!
The leading European footballing nations, from where African countries are so tempted to copy training and play systems, have acknowledged the need to modernise many aspects of their technical structures and performance technology. We are now aware that the traditional youth development expertise that enabled, for example, Holland and Germany to produce, for decades, quality players are, today, behind in adopting new concepts and discoveries that would innovate youth development. Such recent information includes new solutions for Pre-Development Football, Activation of Genetic/Predispositions, Dynamic Learning, Technique Integrated Physical Training, ‘Aerobic Ball Work, Multi- Factor Resistance Training, etc. Complete and tested knowledge on this crucial field of activity is available, but not in those outdated and stereotype coaching courses or commercialized DVDs, books or pamphlets – some ‘made’, ‘approved’ or ‘recommended’ by FIFA.
Those genuine sport science sources are available for Africa to design its own advanced methodology and move ahead. The new generation of young international stars, especially from Spain, Germany, Mexico, South Korea, Japan or Ghana shows that the future world supremacy in football will be decided by the efficiency of new and innovative training solutions in the youth development. It’s here where the race will be won or lost. That’s why it is imperative that Africa should cease importing technical answers that are not only obsolete, but irrelevant – most of them being already discarded in Europe – and proceed with confidence and authority to implement truly advanced programs of its own.
Then, from a young age, African boys and girls should be allowed and encouraged to DRIBBLE the ball as much as they want and enjoy it. The first step in learning the ball skills SHOULD NOT be ‘first time pass’ (one-touch) as it is wrongly prescribed by the European old methods that are embedded in the current coaching mentality of African youth coaches. Why dribbling first? It is so because, as the sport science of the brain explains, dribbling the ball or running with the ball is the key in the formation and development of a player’s BALL SENSE. When dribbling or running with the ball, the player makes the highest number of ball touches of any other exercise, e.g., four times higher than in normal pass-and-receive static learning routines. NB: a high number of ball touches is a pre-requisite in the formation of ball skills. These elements, in combination with elements of agility, balance, timing and concentration leads to players’ enriching their basic skills and confidence, which is essential for advancing, and later, to developing the complete and diverse passing ability. These formative components of basic skills are responsible for optimizing passing, dribbling turning with the ball, direction changes, etc., that were so clearly missing in the performance of African teams at the recent WC!
Football specific and African specific training
Observing the content of training provided to African players either in local leagues or in preparation for the 2010 WC there are discordant findings. The actual specificity of the game is almost lost in the training sessions. The stereotype of warm-up rigid exercises, static work with the ball, horse-like endurance running, boring talking tactics and game activity inhibited by tackles and coaches’ screaming instructions is all about ‘modern’ training in Africa.
Physical trainers at work show shocking lack of football knowledge. In general they are obsessed with ‘athleticism’ as in athletics and have no clue on the decisive influence the ball plays in football conditioning. The ‘physical training’ programs provided to the African teams at the WC 2010 did not address those specific factors demanded to maximize football performance – with the exception of South Africa and Ghana. The shortcomings on quality movement, work rate and speed of execution during WC matches, as mentioned earlier, confirmed that the respective physical trainers are not aware of advanced developments in physical conditioning such as:
- Physical training in the African context has extensive objectives and extra priorities as compared to the European models of fitness, due to the African players’ early age lack of physical education programs,
- For maximum efficiency and judicious effort expenditure, a large variety of ball work, intricate movement and basic tactical tasks should be incorporated in the content of physical training,
- The structure, complexity and volume of work on physical factors must be strictly reflecting the nature of the game and the style of play,
- Lack of excitement, enthusiastic attitude and unrelated general work do not benefit football specific conditioning and could impair performance,
- The higher the level of individual playing ability, mainly the skill factor, the greater the need for individualized physical conditioning. Wrong solutions here can nullify individual performance potential.
- The rate of effort expenditure and recovery must be addressed according to the specifics of physiologic effort adaptations and responses that characterise African players.
- Free-weight exercises (own-body weight exercises) are more effective than weight and/or machine exercises in the context of football factor complexity,
- The role of nutrition for high performance has to be reviewed in the context of African traditional diet and the value of local food ingredients,
Optimal synchronism between perfect and diverse technique and superior physical conditioning are the determinant factors in developing a winning style with its components of tactics and team organization. Tactical factor is, primarily, the product of relevant technical development and training specificity and not of a particular fashionable philosophy or genius coach. Since both sets of these conditions are not implemented in African football expectations and debates on finding winning styles, tactics and play systems are futile.
The power of football cultures
As always, in the history of the WC the winning nations are the exponents of well established and highly competitive football cultures. Without exception, those successful cultures represent the best traditions with regard to a country’s national sport and football mentality – determined by the respective biological profile of players, game environment, past experiences, social, physiological and economical factors. A nation’s mentality on how to play football is both genetically and environmentally determined. It is neither adopted from those who have used it successfully or not, nor is it decided by the so-called expert. It is inherited and has to be stuck to or risk complete failure! Depending on new experiences, successes or failures encountered by the respective football society, it can change, improve or decline, sometimes. But it’s impossible to transfer, import or export football cultures from one nation to another with the aim of duplicating the other’ success.
During the WC in SA, Wayne Goldsmith, an internationally acclaimed sport scientist, wrote: ‘A team plays like, acts like, thinks like, performs like the culture that creates it’.
Today there is an ideological storm in Brazilian football as Dunga the former national team captain and coach tempered with the glorious culture of fluent, creative and imposing football. Changes introduced by Dunga in his dream of mixing Brazilian skill and individuality with a ‘realistic’ mentality – simple approach with more direct play and counterattack, backfired terribly. It proved, once again, that mixtures of game philosophies and imported tactics lead to disorder in performance and ultimately defeat.
A national or club team surrounded by great traditions, particular competitive play features and style, innovative coaches committed to excellence and players striving for high performance success, is consistently competitive in world’s top competitions.
The football culture at the club levels should either complement or reflect the national culture. The wonderful example of FC Barcelona where the club’s style of inspiring football based on intelligent possession and superior individuality is also responsible for the successes of the Spanish National team. That idea should be unreservedly followed in Africa. Similar cases can be found in Brazil, Holland, Germany and other successful nations. How many top clubs in Africa mirror the style of the respective National teams?
In South Africa the goal of creating common playing mentality as the root of the National football culture is extremely difficult as compared to other African countries. It is currently unachievable. There are over 80% of players who are the products of a specific South African playing mentality that values creativity, short passing, dribbling, individual actions, rapidity and dynamic work rate. There is less than 20%, of players who are under the influence of foreign, mostly European, cultures and would adopt the direct, basics only and physical game as their improvised ‘culture’. Further exacerbating the situation, coaches from Holland, Germany, Croatia, Greece, Slovenia and other foreigners, alongside local PSL coaches who have been professionally educated in highly contrasting coaching philosophies emanating from England, UEFA, FIFA or cosmopolite CAF, have widened the gap for a nationally developed style of play. It is inconceivable to aspire at progress and high performance if this situation persists. Based on the progress made by South Africa in finding a style of play based on the strengths of over 80% of SA players, Carlos Alberto Parreira’s guidance was commendable in this sense. His vast coaching experience, especially working extensively with Afro-Brazilian players enabled him to recognize similarities between the SA players and South Americans and then activate the dormant football identity in South African players. Even though there’s no tangible medal for Parreira to show for it, his achievement with the South African National team could be argued as unparalleled by any coach who once coached the team. No local coach has ever managed to instil such a sense of identity with the SA National team in the past.
It would be imperative for SAFA to continue with the dissemination of requirements and responsibilities at all levels of participation so that the SA general concept of play becomes a reality. As the work begins on the 2010 WC legacy projects, the task of unifying the football mentality as the decisive factor of progress in football must be first priority. Since the 1996 success when South Africa won the African Nations Cup, each coach that has come in had to start the rebuilding process from scratch. Despite a few common players from different coaches’ reigns, the style of play has always had to be reconfigured entirely with each new coach. This DOES NOT have to be the case again if the SA National team is to overcome its demons from the past.
In the interim, there are very useful sources of assisting the process, both locally and internationally. All those who were engaged in the preparations of the SA National team and acquired experience in compiling the new playing mentality in the national team should assist in expanding the concept through workshops.
Spain, the recently crowned world champions, exhibit many style similarities with what SA and Africa in general would expect to be naturally reflected in an African/South African football mentality. In fact, Spain’s winning play concept could be even more prolific if developed in the talent rich African environment. Already, China, following the same progressive thinking and will soon select 40 of the best teenagers- all under 15 – and several youth coaches to train long term at Spanish club Barcelona. The reason behind the scheme is explained by the new CFA president Wei Di; ‘The similarities in physical stature, creative mind and ability to master ball skills between the Chinese and the youth at Barcelona makes this the best option to develop our talent’. This is a very positive and effective way to start high performance projects that later will become winning traditions and, possibly, a successful national culture. Yes, positive experiences and successful trends of a style of play could be used or adapted in other environments that possess identical or close similarities of conditions and players’ nature.
African football is still divided by zones of influence that are conveniently supported by the European football and therefore its main objective is to liberate itself from such confinement.
Media must play a leading role in the promotion, building up and protection of distinct football culture(s) in the continent. There must be an effort to educate ‘en mass’ the absolute value of football identities and cultures. Without them there will be no future and any call for patriotic feelings and support for the national teams! Those who refuse to learn or adapt to local football traits that reflect the strengths of the majority of players and the SA conditions should be warned that there will be no compromise on this crucial issue. Those who unpatriotically deny the need for a national football style identity should be exposed and discarded form the sport.
The perpetual propensity to address the symptoms and not the root cause of the current dilemma has to stop if local football is to flourish on the international scene. The chronic regressions to blame tactics, team selections, substitutions, etc. like a convenient retrieval of the virus from the recycle bin, for sheer ignorance or just when it suits us, have to be done away with. It’s time the virus is eliminated from the recycle bin indefinitely so we can deal with even more pressing challenges with only one generally-shared objective – to instate Africa, and South Africa in particular, as a winner on the field of play too!
This rare opportunity to take Africa and in particularly SA football to the level where it can compete for world dominance must not be missed or compromised! Or else we should find home in a state of mediocrity, as we, to an extent, already have!
Researched and compiled by
Ted Dumitru and Sipho King K Kekana