We need to nurture, not destroy, our talent

About a week ago, I met the national coach Carlos Alberto Parreira in the corridor of the 2010 Organising Committee offices and chatted to him.

Naturally, the subject was the selection and recall of Benni McCarthy, an issue that surprisingly for me was causing so much consternation among sports journalists.

For whatever reason, many of our soccer writers seem to be so riled by this player, who to some of us football fans is a natural choice to solve our embarrassing lack of goal-scoring ability in our league.

The coach assured me that he had had only a five-minute chat with the player and he was satisfied that the impetuous star from Cape Town was ready and willing to bring back honour to himself and his country.

Let's face it, our national team has not done well on the goal-scoring front in so many outings against semi-decent sides like Scotland recently.

A couple of days later I saw the readily derided McCarthy turn on the magic for his English club, Blackburn, against the tenacious Manchester City. Benni was in his element, playing like a real quality global player should. The commentators and reviews of the match were glowing.

Sadly, the general commentary here at home was scathing about the wisdom or lack thereof of selecting Benni for the Zambia match on Sunday.

I always thought, naively perhaps, that the game of football was about the honour of winning and winning was determined by the number of goals scored as opposed to those conceded.

Many commentators seem to suggest they do not want Benni to play for the country because they cannot stand his arrogance to the media and his ready expression of irritation towards those he disagrees with. But what is the relevance of that to his goal-scoring prowess and the fact that the national team itself is not doing well on that front?

My concern is that those who write and comment on young talented people who continue to achieve elsewhere in the world should reflect on the damage they may be causing to our aspirations and the repu- tations of these players.

I must admit I was a tad jealous when I saw delirious celebrations of the Blackburn supporters when I imagined that the very same player used to give so much joy to the Bafana Bafana supporters.

I was still mulling the deve- lopments around Benni when I was jolted by the news that a very promising talent, Gift Leremi, had died in a car accident. He also had his share of troubles but seemed to be on his way to a successful turnaround under the mentorship of Gordon Igesund at Sundowns.

As it happens, I recently read his interview in a Sunday newspaper which revealed a confident and aspirant star of the future. I was quietly pleased and happy for him that Patrice Motsepe was giving him another chance to realise his potential.

That his life was cut short so early and so tragically less than three years before the World Cup, an event he was looking forward to playing in, is very sad indeed. Gift Leremi, I strongly believe, was going to make our national team. But now he is no more.

Our sympathies at the Organising Committee go to his family, colleagues and friends. As a nation and as professionals, let us celebrate our talent and let us support and nurture our youth to become the best they can be.

l Tim Modise is the 2010 World Cup SA Local Organising Committee's head of communications. - For your suggestions, queries and more on 2010 e-mail TimM@2010saloc.com