SA soccer squad lacks more than just hunger to succeed
ORLANDO Pirates striker Benni McCarthy has given weight to the "lack of hunger" theory that seeks to explain the poor competitiveness of our football.
The theory holds that "lack of hunger" to succeed discourages players from competing globally.
On the face of it, the explanation by the beer-bellied striker in a recent radio interview is too compelling to be ignored.
The cause of the "lack of hunger" is that the domestic league is lucrative enough to turn players into stars. And being a local star comes with perks like flashy cars, cash and other incentives in addition to the priceless fame that fetches the typical model wife.
The result is that local players are too happy playing in the domestic league. It's a comfort zone of sorts.
The negative implication for this does not end with the failure of South African players to compete successfully in a highly competitive leagues. The repercussions extend to the competitiveness - more accurately, the lack of it - of the national team.
When the going gets tough in the field Bafana Bafana psychologically accept a loss because they know they will return to stardom in the domestic league.
Why then should they bother trying to win difficult matches for their country? Why should they take the trouble when good things await them in their home turf? Why would they fight and risk injuries?
This is in contrast to other African players and their national teams. The domestic leagues in many parts of the continent do not churn out cash and big cars for stars.
A real star has to cut it in Europe or other highly competitive leagues on other continents.
Thus, hunger, according to this theory, comes about as a result of abject poverty that surrounds many African countries. Even though South Africa has a large number of poor people and has huge inequalities, it is doing well compared with the rest of Africa.
World-class sport infrastructure, like stadiums, that our players are exposed to is perhaps another indicator. It dwarfs anything available on the African continent and compares favourably with the best in Europe.
McCarthy is not alone in propagating the "lack of hunger" theory.
Philippe "White Witchdoctor" Troussier, who had a stint with Bafana Bafana and has a wealth of experience coaching in West Africa at both club and national level, has espoused a similar theory.
He was once quoted as having said that South African players worry about their cars or music systems being stolen more than losing a game.
Quinton Fortune, who had a successful stint at Manchester United, also recently made similar remarks.
There is, in his view, a correlation between the failure of local players to compete with the world's best and the dismal failure of the national team to compete at the World Cup and the Africa Cup of Nations.
But does this theory make sense beyond the "face of it" kind of analysis? Why is the "lack of hunger" theory not applicable to the Springboks?
They play with the best sides in the world and yet even when they lose, one often takes off one's cap to them.
Yet many of the rugby players are born of highly privileged families. Thanks to our apartheid past, many of the rugby players had gone to excellent schools and they could have done well in life without going through the tough game of rugby.
Are they driven by "hunger"? On the other hand, for many soccer players, their skill is just about all they have. Once their form has waxed and waned, they immediately plunge into unmitigated poverty and hunger. Literally.
The list of those who have fallen onto bad times is endless. Jabu Pule and the late Thabang Lebese are among those whose careers declined almost simultaneously with their life opportunities.
From this point of view, the prospect of the hunger they face at the end of their careers should propel local players to seek to be at the apex of world football. They should aspire to play in Germany's Bundesliga, Italy's Serie A, Spain's La Liga and the UK's Barclays League.
Not that local players are not aware of the dangers that come with the comfort zone. They know. Not that they don't fear being plunged into poverty. They do. Besides, human nature is crafted around the insatiable appetite to succeed; the instinct to get more than what you need.
The need to get more than what is on the list of Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs is what has created the likes of billionaire Patrice Motsepe.
It has turned soccer teams like Manchester United, Barcelona and others into business empires whose influence spreads beyond the borders of the UK and Spain.
The need to get more in life inspires innovation. There is never a shortage of customers of new products, the outcome of innovative thinking, be it gadgets or a new type of football.
Considering all these factors, it would appear we have a bigger problem than simply "lack of hunger".
Firstly, the standard for our soccer is very low and thus success is defined in much narrower terms that players reach the finishing line before they even leave the starting position.
Secondly, they lack the bug that triggers creativity and hard work and this cannot be linked to "lack of hunger", since we have demonstrated that hunger is out there, waiting to bite.
Thirdly, there is the tendency to pass on the challenges to others. Helped by a public that is always in search of scapegoats, local players are always looking for someone to blame when they lose games or fail to make it in top leagues.
Unfortunately, all of these problems are also to be found in our body politic.