When we see most of our players playing the same way or all looking like middle-field players, we should know instantly that we are looking at them with a foreign eye. They will always look like that because that is how they are, when one uses foreign tool/criteria. For an African eye, they are made like that and think likewise. It is in that look-like middle-field player that we should have read the nature and inclination that our players are pre-disposed to. Their creativity and desire to cares the ball-the uninhibited attraction to artistic mode during play, is one great assert that we should have treasured and ensured that the game we engage them in, exhibits the same attributes-as those found in them naturally. As a matter of fact, we all are like them. At least, naturally until we are diluted.
It makes us feel acceptable and progressive to be seen as “the master”. We do everything and anything to feel accepted and to get approval from those who represent “the master” even when they did not ask for anything. It has been engraved in us to look for this approval, otherwise we feel we do not have the capacity to stand by ourselves and achieve success on our own. The desire to be associated with, to be affiliated to, approved by, “the master” is hard to resist for most. It is this mentality that prevails which undermined the indigenous cultures, languages, restricted people movement and freedom to associate, to think, to explore, to design, to invent, to discover, etc. It directed what people should learn and not learn.
It is a “total control” approach of life. It attempts to control even what people think. Given the slightest opportunity, it dictates LIFE to each and every person who is supposed to be subordinated (and limited) to its wishes and desires.
Football under these conditions cannot be sustained never mind develop. This system (Social System of Apartheid) Failed. Nothing that resembles it can survive.
Maybe the playing field is level. Maybe the number of players is the same. Maybe the goalposts are in fixed positions. But what seem to be different are the rules - beyond the rules of the game.
It is a kind of an “Animal Farm scenario”
If one listens to our radio stations (with particular reference to those funded by our taxes), you can think you were elsewhere, but Africa. You hear all sort of music and hardly hear South African music, never mind African (as in the rest of the continent) music. The fact that there are specific slots for African Indigenous music is a paradox. Should we not have slots for music from elsewhere and have African music dominating all the rest of the airtime? Some type of local music is only played once a week on South African (specific) Radio.
In this kind of an environment, given our socio-economic background and the body politic that was based on race, a fertile ground exists for tendencies towards the past to prevail. In this way it is ipso facto to see things change more and staying the same. Looking at the game of Football through a particular lens/glasses, would inevitable result in the game looking in a particular manner. Are we using the proper lens/glasses to look at the local game? Are we using African lenses/glasses to look at the local game as it is in Africa? Are our lenses/glasses coloured to give us a special feeling? Are we ready to bring something new to the world football or are we content with walking on established paths-thus following pioneers? Can we not produce something rather than continue to consume what is already in the market? We are entrepreneurs and have skills thereof. We need to develop them and show our own ideas to the world. In our Football, we need to create something new for the world to sit up and take note. The players that are making the news are not those who have the same make-up as their predecessors. It is always players who bring something new, something special, something spectacular. If not, there is no reason to pay huge amounts of money or to bring someone from far away only to do what anyone could do.
Influence of the European Technicians (mid 80s to 2000)
There was a very strong influence of foreign coaching concepts in the middle of the 80s to late 90s. The impact was to be felt much later. From the turn of the century, it has become harder year by year, for the local game to produce the kind of performers that we use to have in the 20th century. The “play-it-simple” concept, has taken over and because it is in contrast with the mentality and the nature of the African culture, it is eliminating creativity and replacing it with “simplicity”. A form of mediocrity. Football the world over would not be such an attraction if it was dominated by the “play-it-simple”, concept. The fact that the most skilful players are the most expensive proves this point. None of the “simple”, players make headlines on their moves never mind their price.
The African Culture and more specifically, the South African Culture, including Football is based on the “show”. See this in all our events-the opening of Parliament, at Weddings, Funerals, at Football Stadiums, at Churches, at Malls and everywhere. We have style. We are expressive by nature. This is why our players have (use to have) nicknames that go with the action: Aaaace, Shooooes, Eeeeasy Ways, Dancing Shooooes, Suuuugar, Fireeee, Yyyyster, Kalamazoo, Ndunakandaba, Julukaaaa, Professoooor, Wireeee, Waya wabuya, Lakhiza lakhemezela, Chippaaaa, Riiiiichman Die, Nonoooo, Rhooooo, Skheshekheshe, Kae kapa kae, Chillies, Scaraaaa, Shaaaakes, Killeeeer, Rheeee, Peleeee, The Cat, Eeeexpress, CCCCCCCV, Fetch and Carry, Cuuutter, Computeeer, Braaains, Mastermind, City Council, Roadblock, Cool Cat, Let Them Dance and many more.
These names are not derived from one-touch football. Not even, one-two type of the game, as a general concept of play. They come from original, creative, innovative, expressive play actions of individual players during the game.
The spectators could give these names as they were able to converse with the players using them while the game was on. It was not possible that the crowd would keep quite or just clap hands while their heroes were expressing themselves on the field. Each player expressed himself differently inside the field for the team. This is how the spectators expressed themselves as well from the stands while the game was on. Every name would be called out in a very special way directed to the actions that the player showed consistently. These names were always given to the player based on very specific elements of their game. A player called Nono (a clean someone in isiZulu) was the one who hardly got himself dirty. It was the player who used more his brains than legs-a smart player, often dressed immaculately throughout the game: tuck-in, socks up.
Fire was often a player with lightning speed and very aggressive. Almost all of them would be wingers-where there is space to show these qualities. As the player was in full flight, the crowd would shout Fire-fire and this would inflict fear on the opposing players as the man on the ball would really represent fire, as he approached. There was unison between the player (and his actions) and the spectators who were cheering him on. This created that compatibility which sustained the interest on both the spectators and the players. There was this emotional contract between them.
The Clubs themselves were no different. They have (had) formal names and then nicknames that made them stand-out from the others.
African Wanderers-AbaQulusi-Omacaphuna kusale, AmaZulu-Usuth’olumabhesh’ankone, izingane zikaNkotheni, Bush Bucks-Izinsingizi-Umdak’omnyama olal’ekhwanini, Benoni United-The Rabbits-Onogwaja, Witbank Black Aces-Amazayoni-Abefundisi, Moroka Swallows-iziNyoni ezibomvu ngenkani, Orlando Pirates-Ezikamagebhula ezagebhul’umhlaba weny’indoda, the list goes on. These were some of the expressions of pride, of belonging and of emotional value.
The practise and habits in each of them demanded from the players that they maintain these values and expressions. The erosion/deletion of these values would bring the total eradication of the African value in the game and the blurred concept of both play and spectatorship.
We of this culture do not get excited by the well-coordinated moves that have been drilled over time. In fact, the more time we spend on rigid drills, the less interest we have in that activity. Even a traffic officer, might be seen dancing to some form of music while manning the speed camera on a highway and ready to pounce on over-speeding drivers. It is our nature and cannot be substituted by anything else no matter what. To a foreign eye, such a traffic officer should be charged with misconduct. He is not serious. He is a “joke”. To us it is normal and natural.
This is one reason the most talented/skilful players (our Messis, Iniestas, Pirlos, Riberys, Neymars, Modrics, Robbens, etc) have been the ones who have suffered the most. They have been ostracised, victimised (for their superior talent) in their own country. This has happened because we have always used the foreign yardstick to measure our own. This is the price that we are paying for all the wrong tendencies that were brought about by the system of punishing the victim, imposing foreign cultures as the norm and superior, exalting European/white as a superior race above everything and anyone else.
Remember Ronaldo de Assis Moreira aka Ronaldinho from Brazil!!!
Think about Jose Rene Higuita Zapata (the Colombian International Goalkeeper) and his many heroics including what was called the scorpion kick against England in a friendly international in Wembley, in1995. He had the ability to play. He played outside his penalty area as much as he did inside it. He would play combinations, start and support the attack. This he did long before there was the deliberate pass with the foot to own goalkeeper-rule. He scored penalties as much as he saved them.
Think about Jose Luis Chilavert (the Paraguayan International Goalkeeper) who took exceptional free kicks for his teams, including at the FIFA World Cups, (remember France 98, Bulgeria?).
These two goalkeepers redefined their functional area and expanded it to what many see today, long before the game demanded it.
I am certain that had all these players I have mentioned above grown up in this country, none of them would be half of what they achieved or are today (technically and obviously-financially).Even worse, they may have never reached the Professional level in Football.
Conversely, all those that could have reached the summit but happen to be born here, are nowhere near their full potential. This is the same thing that happened with the talents of people who did not fit the Apartheid Criteria-They were eliminated by the system and never reached their full potential. They could not be pilots. They could not be engineers/nuclear scientists/captains of vessels/drive trains/control air traffic/manage a town/own mines or any of the big industrial entities. They were systematically ostracised and ended up blaming themselves for not making it. The system ensured that the “victims” blamed themselves for their own predicament rather than blaming the “perpetrators”. This is critical in maintain the status quo.
In our Football it is the same. The most talented players are the ones who are being blamed for their failures rather than those/the process that has eliminated them. The perpetrators are, again, getting away with “murder”.
The Approach to the Game based on Alien Concepts
The relegation of the innate-natural qualities and the promotion of alien practises (working on exceptions rather than the rule), ensures that our strengths are undermined while our weaknesses are exposed. This has rendered our abilities in the game, redundant and unwanted. It is the same thing that is experienced by an African child when they look down out of respect, and find themselves judged to be hiding something (by someone who believes that avoiding eye contact is a sign of guilt).
The African culture has been eroded in our game and the “new” culture has been imposed. This is the same thing that happened with the Apartheid System. It undermined the culture of everything African and often bedevilled anything that would suggest it had a place in the bigger scheme of things. African culture was ridiculed in the same way that expressing oneself on the field is labelled, “showboating, Mickey-mouse, township football, etc, using many derogatory words and expressions. The pinnacle is when the same people who should be applauding these expressions of prowess and triumph are the ones who vocally, dismiss them. Even worse those who exhibited them during their playing days join the chorus.
That is where the System wins the Battle.
Ever wondered whose agenda this is? Who determines what can be displayed or not except in the Laws of the Game? Why should we please others, and not ourselves?
This is done in order to diminish the value and impact of these exceptional actions that most of the highly talented players are able to execute. It is very interesting that while these labels are gaining momentum in our local game, these exceptional actions are solving problems at the highest levels and in the most complicated situations in the game today. In many instances, the difference between winning and losing has been decided by these intricate actions on the field of play. Those who have them are the most sorts of them all. By contrast, we condemn them to die young.
The fact that we see a lot more football from Europe than anywhere else is reinforcing this approach. There is hardly any Football from elsewhere around the world. Consequently, there many more people in this country who are supporters of clubs in Europe than there are supporters of local clubs. This I can say because, 99% of supporters of local clubs also have at least one club that they “support” in Europe. Over and above these local club supporters, there are many more who support no local club but are very “dedicated supporters” of football clubs in Europe. These may be the same number, if not more, than the first group. When you put the two together, you are overwhelmed.
It is not by chance. It is born out of trying very hard to match the standards set out on foreign appeal and wanting to achieve conformity to the set criteria. Our young players aspire to play in Europe. If it was to play in the top Leagues and in top Clubs, it would make sense. Regrettably, they just want to play in Europe, irrespective. For Europe represent the ideal, the ultimate, the pinnacle, of life. In the context as is presented, this cannot be surprising.
Had football started in Africa, I wonder how this game would have developed and how many people would have played it in the world, given the African dynamism to LIFE, football included l!!
The Criteria based on Foreign Assessment Tools
The same detrimental approach has been used to eliminate the majority of players using their physical appearance. There has been a long standing practise of determining the “ability/probability” of the players’ success based on their height. While this has been used in our country to the disadvantage of the majority of our highly talented players, the world over has proved that height is the least of determinants, if at all, for football success, in particular, at the highest level.
The last two world Cups, have given credence to this assertion.
The 2010 Champions, Spain had 5 players in their starting 11 in the final (and most of their matches), who were no taller than 1.78m and 7 of the 14 that played in the same match. This is 50% of the team. The tallest was Pique (1.92m). This team beat Germany who had only 2 players shorter than 1.80m, in the semi-finals-Lahm (1.70m) and Trochowski (1.68m).
Their opponents (Netherlands) in the final, had 3 (Van Bronkhorst-1.76m, De Jong-1.74m and Sneijder-1.70m) who in their starting 11 were no taller 1.76m. The rest were 180-197m.
In the last FIFA World Cup in Brazil, last year, Argentina (who lost to Germany in the Final), had 6 players in their starting 11 who were no taller than 1,77m, and 9 of the 14 that played were no taller than 1.78m. The rest were between 1.84 and 1.92m
The winners, Germany had only one player, Lahm who was shorter than 1.80m, at 1.70m. Ironically the winner was scored by Gotze who is 1.76m (second shortest in their team).
As a matter of fact as per Wikipedia Average height around the world: the general population average height measured in 1998 in SA was 1,69m and 1,73 for Argentina while estimates in 2010 were: Germany-1.80m, Netherlands-1.83m and Spain-1.75m, for males.
In the Final of the UEFA Champions league, in May 2015 the winners (Barcelona), had 6 of their players at 1.75m and shorter (Mascherano-1.71m, Alves-1.75m, Alba-1,70m, Iniesta-1.70m, Neymar-1.75m and Messi-1.69m).
These are European Club Champions!!!!! Does height really matter?
More of other qualities of Football are becoming important determinants of success rather than height. If height was still such an important factor, winners would not come from these teams at the highest level. Height will continue to dominate among countries whose population is tall, like Germany. This will always be the case as players (including exceptional players) are drawn from the population of each country. It should however, be clear that it is not a determinant of success. Anyone who still wants to use it is suffering from Apartheid Football Syndrome (AFS). It is mostly characterised by Technical bankruptcy, imagined supremacy based on myths and ulterior motives driven by parochial self-interest, among others.
The first Heart Transplant in the world was done in Cape Town, South Africa. Had the late Dr. Chris Barnard, waited for the foreign tools/criteria to attempt this procedure, he may not have had any joy. Surely, this procedure would have taken some time to be operational, if at all. Today we all benefit from it. The world follows this procedure. A South African invention. The world listened to South Africa and followed. It is a practical example.
Can the same happen in other spheres of life, like football? I think yes, provided we use our own tools/criteria, our own way.
Are we any better today?
It would seem that the wrong seeds had been planted. The first stage is when the foreign concept is planted and consolidated by its “master”. The second stage is when it is assimilated and internalised (owned) by the “victim” who then feels like the “master”. The third stage is when the “victim” rebels against it and the last and final stage is when the “victim” regains himself and re-establish his own set of criteria and philosophy of life.
To accelerate these processes you need men of principle and character. Those who choose to do it are risking isolation, aggression, and even paying the highest price.
In this concept/environment, merit is the least of criteria, if at all. Other man-made factors are the dominant principles that decide who gets what, where and when. These criteria may include, preference based on alike, choices to please/appeal to stakeholders, imposed or perceived conformity factors, etc.
As the name suggest, it is a collection of many items/factors/bacteria/viruses/opportunistic illnesses/alien anti-bodies/etc. The outcome is a Functionally Weakened (paralysed) Body/Game.
This is what I call the Apartheid Football Syndrome (AFS)
Fortunately, as strange as it may sound, we do have it within us to reverse the process.
First and foremost is to want to be African.
Once that is done, one is able to look within oneself and solutions will be rediscovered. These solutions are lying there (within us) like raw stones (gemstone) that need to be cut and polished to realise their full potential-glittering diamonds.
Technically, we do have solutions/tools/criteria and tested ones. They apply to coaching/training. The tools/criteria are there to give meaning to our own unique football attributes and natural tendencies which appeal to our psycho-social make up. We need to work tirelessly, continuously challenging ourselves, to reach our true (not artificial) potential. Only then can we unleash them to achieve global glory.
Like every dark cloud, this one too without exception, has a silver lining. The Sport School of Excellence (not so much the support units- administration, marketing, ambassadorship, etc), but the technical approach, the philosophy behind it and the technical expertise of the coaching staff is one such silver lining where local solutions were able to produce the best that we could be. There is one or two more examples thereafter which followed the same philosophy based on our own unique attributes and produced similar results. The National Teams are profiting from such results.
Anything else will keep us in the crowd and we will never reach the podium.
I am an African
A Scholar of the Game who has and still studies the Game and has produced many writings on the Game. He is also a teacher by profession (College Diploma). He is a Sports/Football Scientist, with a University Honours Degree. He has coached Football (players and Coaches) for many years at all levels