What's making SA stars return
THE PAST few seasons have seen something of a "homecoming revolution" with South African exports opting to return to the Premier Soccer League in favour of remaining in Europe.
Some are nearing the end of their careers and for them it's either a final chance to settle some old scores on the domestic front, or fulfil an ambition to play in the PSL, having left these shores in their teens.
But others are in the prime of their careers and their returns are a financial decision based on the salaries being paid by PSL clubs. The ability of South African teams to pay a salary that is comparable with the likes of Belgium, the Scandinavian countries, Israel or Eastern Europe makes the often difficult move abroad less attractive.
And it is not just South Africans who are eager for a move to the PSL. Players from the rest of the continent, most notably Nigeria and Ghana, see the PSL as a good destination.
Benni McCarthy is the most high-profile of the South African returnees in recent years, of course, and what a success story he was for Orlando Pirates last season.
His decision was based not on money, though his monthly salary of R250000 is significant, but rather a desire to conclude what he saw as unfinished business in South Africa. Having won league and cup titles in Europe, most famously the European Champions League in 2004 with FC Porto, there was little for him still to achieve there.
But the aspiration to become the first player to win the Champions Leagues on both the European and African continents was what drove his decision, as well as a craving to shut up the boo-boys who gave him a torrid time during his Bafana days.
In this transfer window alone Delron Buckley signed for Maritzburg United, returning to his home province of KwaZulu-Natal after spending 17 years in Germany, Switzerland and Cyprus.
Once a top Bundesliga star who played for current champions Borussia Dortmund, at 34 his career is winding down, but he still claims to have turned down offers to stay in Europe.
He said seeing how former Bafana teammates were enjoying their football lured him back to South Africa.
"I always looked on the Internet to see what Benni (McCarthy) and (Sibusiso) Zuma were doing, and (Siyabonga) Nomvethe. And I saw they had great seasons," Buckley said. "The action they put on the whole year was amazing and that made an impact on me and motivated me to come back."
Siboniso Gaxa, who in January was linked to Scottish side Glasgow Rangers, opted to sign for Kaizer Chiefs from Belgian side Lierse rather than take up other offers in Europe. At 28, he should be at the peak of his powers and was coming off an excellent season in Belgium. But still, the lure of Chiefs was too strong.
"I made the decision myself, taking into consideration a lot of factors including my family and my daughter," Gaxa said.
Bevan Fransman has joined SuperSport United from top Israeli outfit Hapoel Tel Aviv, for whom he starred in the European Champions League two seasons ago.
They finished as runners-up again this year and Fransman would have enjoyed more European club football as a regular in the side, had he not opted to return to the PSL.
His agent, Steven Kapeluschnik from Stellar Africa, confirmed that money-wise Fransman is earning on a par with what he received in Israel.
Kapeluschnik has brought a number of SA players back to the PSL from abroad.
He said that unless a player went to Europe early in their career, there was very little chance of a 27 or 28-year-old being picked up out of the PSL by a club in one of Europe's elite leagues.
Another returning player is new Ajax Cape Town forward Bradley Grobler, whose story is quite different. He has taken a pay cut to return to South Africa, despite having a good season in Turkey with second-tier side Goztepe.
He moved from Platinum Stars to Turkey at the start of last season, but after just one year in Europe, where his performances were lauded, he found the environment difficult to work in, according to his agent Ryan Hartslief.
"The language, the religion and the volatility of Turkey were all factors for Bradley. The money in Turkey is very, very good, so he had to take a pay cut, but Ajax also made him a very attractive offer so there was some give and take," Hartslief said.
Bidvest Wits are set to complete the signing of South Africa's most capped international, Aaron Mokoena, in the coming weeks once he has extricated himself from Portsmouth, where he will go from earning more than a R1m a month to around R60000.
But for all of these players, Buckley and Mokoena included, the lure of home is made stronger by a determination to rekindle their international careers.