LAST chance for CHANGE

Ramatsiyi Moholoa

Ramatsiyi Moholoa

Southern Africa countries have produced an array of great soccer players like Steve "Kalamazoo" Mokone, Lucas Radebe, Kalusha Bwalya and Benjani Mwaru- waru.

Other greats from the region include Eusébio, Manucho, Albert "Hurry Hurry" Johanneson, Ernest Mtawali, Collin Benjamin and Benni McCarthy.

Some of these players went on to play in the highest leagues in the world, which helped to promote the beautiful game in the region.

Unlike Northern Africa, where Egypt this year successfully defended the Africa Cup of Nations, Southern Africa is lately a laughing stock of the continent.

The brothers up north have been monopolising the African Champions League and Confederations Cup with Al-Ahly and Zamalek being consistent performers.

West African countries like Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon have also been doing well, though it is more an individuals plying their trade across the globe.

At junior level, the situation is getting from bad to worse as the usual suspects - Ghana, Nigeria and Ivory Coast - have been dominant.

Southern African countries' failure to export players to England, Spain, France and Holland has been attributed to the downward spiral of the region's game.

In the last three World Cups, from 1998 to 2006, only two countries from this region - South Africa and Angola - have qualified for the finals.

The once powerful Bafana Bafana featured in the World Cup twice in succession - in France (1998) and Korea/Japan (2002), with Angola making history by reaching thefinal in Germany (2006).

Both bombed out in the first round, which is cause for concern for many people in the region.

In fact, with the recent developments surrounding South African soccer, Bafana would not have qualified for the 2010 edition if the country had not been hosts.

The problem is compounded by agents who decide on where our young players go on the basis of money.

Giants such as Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Cameroon send theirs to the lower leagues in France, Germany and Belgium for experience.

Sowetan spoke to presidents of regional federations and they put the blame squarely on the lack of proper development structures and no representation in Europe.

But they don't agree that sponsorship would guarantee success on the field of play.

Adam "Bomber" Mthethwa of Swaziland said if money alone were enough to spur players on, South Africa would be tops.

"South Africa, you have everything in terms of money and facilities, but the standard of soccer is not improving."

Mthethwa said it was important to have proper development structures, with the focus on coaching, refereeing, administration and sports medicine.

Malawi's Walter Nyamilandu, a former Flames defender: "We have to go back to development at school level.

"It's a shame that we do not even have a quarter of our players in the big leagues of England, France, Germany and Belgium.

"There is no doubt that if we have more players in Europe, our national teams would do well at the Africa Cup of Nations and World Cup."

On the failure by clubs in the region, Nyamilandu said: "We are doing a chain of wrong things at federation and club level.

"We do not have resources, compounded by poor administration. Here in Malawi, we are struggling to find sponsors for our league.

"Our league winners can't participate in the African Champions League due to financial constraints. It's bad," said Nyamilandu.

John Munjo, president of Namibia, said: "There are no vibrant youth programmes, that is why we can't even have 10 players playing regularly in the big leagues in Europe.

"Namibia have only one player in Europe (Collin Benjamin, Hamburg FC, Germany), but all of Ivory Coast's senior national team players are based in Europe.

"Our players are shrinking and can't compete with those giants from Cameroon and Nigeria," he said. "We also need the money to introduce scientific programmes."

Sidat Fezal Ismail of Mozambique said Southern Africa should start long-term development programmes.

"Quick fix solutions won't take us anywhere. There is also a need to take development to schools, where we should have competitive national leagues.

"We have to start producing quality players to attract international scouts. Right now in Mozambique, our best player is (Elias) Pelembe.

"We have big teams like Costa Do Sol, Maxaquene and others doing well, but we can't really go further on continental club competitions due to a lack of resources."

Salamane Phafane of Lesotho argued that the assistance of business would help in developing the game.

"With the exception of South Africa, our financial support is bad. We have foreign companies, but they don't care about local soccer.

"Our players are unable to realise their potential because of economic factors in our region.

"National teams rely on funding from government, but it's not enough. While Bafana have too many sponsors, we can't get one big sponsor.

"In Lesotho, the majority of players are students and can only attend training after 5pm. (Likhopo qualified for the Champions League last year.)

"Some of those young boys still carry school bags to training for the national team.

"There is no transport for them, some of them do not have basic equipment like shirts and boots.

"Club owners can't help for a lack of sponsorship."

Zambia's Kalusha Bwalya and Wellington Nyathanga of Zimbabwe also called for the introduction of sustainable development programmes.

"We need to make it compulsory for our Premier and Super League clubs to have Under-14s, 17s and 20s playing competitively reguarly," said Bwalya.

"The problem is that when players are selected for senior national teams for the first time, coaches must start by teaching them basics.

"They are supposed to have learned the basics at junior level. We have learnt the hard way, the time is now for us to channel all our energy into development."

Nyathanga said: "The federations are to blame as they don't have good developmental programmes. This also affects our national teams.

Repeated attempts to speak to Angola's Jose Fernandes proved fruitless.

With the World Cup coming to our shores in 2010, one can only hope that we will get our act together before then for the good of the region.