Just as it takes anything between 7 to 10 years to develop a top-quality player, so it seems it takes the same period to develop a champion team, at the international level.
As the dust settles and the victory on Saturday 23 July 2022, at Prince Moulay Abdella Stadium, in Rabat –Morocco, starts to sink in and make sense to the team members, individually, it is also time to take a closer look at the team itself and the journey travelled, to the summit of African glory. Hopefully, all the accolades and the praises will still be showered to the well-deserving Banyana Banyana players and staff.
There are a number of things one may look at regarding this achievement. Whichever way we look at it, there can be no disputing the fact that it took time.
Taking this team on this journey since 2012, one observes a number of very interesting indicators. They went to the Olympics in London with Joseph Mkhonza as the head coach and of the 23 players that were in the 2022 team in Morocco, 4 were in that Olympic Team and 2 were Reserves.
This team has had 3 coaches since then and the current coach has been in charge since 2016 (after the Olympics in Rio.) The current coach Desiree Ellis, is in her 6th year as head coach and has won 3 Cosafa Cups.
Table 1 below, shows that while only 4 players (and 2 reserves) were at the London Olympics in 2012, as many as 11 (and 1 reserve were at the next Olympics-Rio 2016) and even more were at the FIFA WWC in 2019 (14). This is not a coincidence nor is it just a haphazard or chronological event, like the calendar. It is born out of a clear process that evolves with time.
Now that the foundation has been laid, we will not need another 10 years to achieve similar outcomes. However, to sustain this success is going to require that everything is done at a level of high performance/excellence, at all levels, and by everyone.
Developing a team takes time. Developing a national team takes even longer. Contrary to popular belief that at the national team level there is “no development” required, a national coach does not get champions from the different teams. It should be noted that not all clubs, teams, coaches, and players have the championship mentality. Granted, they may have the winning mentality but that is not in itself a championship mentality.
For instance, we (SA) have beaten France and even Spain, at some point. We won, but they are champions and we are not. The difference between winners and champions.
Even if this Banyana Banyana team had not won the final, they would still have achieved success by staying the distance and playing the game they know. The make-up of the team in terms of caps (with veterans of 180 caps and novices of less than 10), age (youngest 18 years oldest 36), and international exposure (Five WAFCONs, 2 Olympics, 1 WWC while others were in their first WAFCON and had no caps before this tournament), was in itself a well-crafted unit. It is a championship team.
Developing champions takes even longer as the players you get are not all from championship team(s). That mentality to play under the pressure of results every match, while playing to your strength, demands a lot from all involved, and even more from the coaches.
At the international level, unlike in the normal leagues, there is hardly a second round. Each game decides the next level.
The experience gained over an extended period (close to 10 years), has yielded the results. First the process then the results.
Keeping the coach for an extended period of time bears fruit, as this establishes and maintains stability, progression, and confidence in the process from all involved, particularly the players.
At the national team level, Germany had Joachim Low from July 2006 until July 2021. In this period, he won one World Cup and one Confederations Cup. His team actually bombed out of the 1st round in Russia-2018, and no Euro championship out of four.
At the club level, Mamelodi Sundowns women’s team has had only two coaches since 2012. First, it was the late Brian Dube and the current, Jerry Tshabalala and they are the African club champions.
Without a doubt, and with six players on the national team, that experience contributed immensely to the success of Banyana Banyana, in Morocco.
There are too many bad examples on this one, but staying with good ones, serves the purpose here.
Allowing players (and coaches) to gain international experience is vital. This is not only about the national team. It is high time our club teams treated this matter seriously. Waiting to qualify for the CAF places, is not enough. Even if you want to do that, only four teams in the whole country each season may get that opportunity.
More importantly, is to recognise that not much is gained by players who are already at the senior level and have well-established habits and patterns. The best is to give young players (Youth Teams) international exposure. That way a lot of experience and maturity is gained long before they become established senior players.
This international participation is not just about going to national teams, which is limited to a few players. Here, it is about a club youth team engaging in international matches, tours, and tournaments, for the purposes of developing its players and coaches to prepare for the future. Inviting teams from other countries and visiting them is one such option. A good start is with our neighbours here on the continent.
Creating an environment where the coach, and their staff, are able to navigate their way to the desired destination is key. It is clear that a lot of attention was not so much focused on this team over the period that it was getting “developed”. Not many knew (and even now) the names of players that are in this championship team.
This alone has afforded the technical team space and time to do what they were appointed to do, “freely”. One may only hope that such conditions continue to prevail for the advancement of this team and indeed the country.
The road ahead is going to be difficult. This team will need all the resources and support to ensure that it keeps the momentum. While the National League has helped in providing the needed competition at that level, there is even a greater need to establish youth leagues or programs for girls in all our communities (LFA). Without that kind of base, the current levels of achievement may as well be the last ones. We are more experienced now than we were then. We should know better.
The World Cup in 2023 (like all others) is a different ballgame. Not only are the expectations but also the challenge is much, much higher. Just like in the men’s World Cup, if you do not have your own philosophy that you believe in, you are as good as the first three mandatory matches, and it is the end.
One would hope that the same mentality which has allowed some of our girls to get offers from clubs outside our continent, will continue. They are being sourced because they bring something different. They play in a different way which allows them to “add value” to those teams. They make the difference. Otherwise, who wants what they already have?
It is an appeal to all the coaches (men and women) of our girls/women teams, not to change their original coaching approach. They, like everyone else, need to enhance what they have as it works, already. It has delivered both in terms of producing African Champions at the club and national team level, as well as providing Individual players the opportunity to be wanted by bigger clubs in bigger leagues with more money and higher quality, which only assist in enhancing our national team.
As the Banyana Banyana coach, Desiree Ellis said, “All the women/girls team coaches at all levels have contributed to this success”.
I challenge them to do even better and bring more and better quality for all our national women and girls’ teams. That, they are able to do and have done it, but we need more of better quality.
By Ziphozonke Dlangalala