Wits academy fills development gap

IF SAFA is not going to develop the game at grassroots level then leading Premier Soccer League outfit Bidvest Wits will.

IF SAFA is not going to develop the game at grassroots level then leading Premier Soccer League outfit Bidvest Wits will.

The club has launched its multimillion-rand youth academy with 23 Under-17 players and the goal, said Wits head youth coach Eric Tinkler, is threefold.

"We need to produce players for the club's PSL side, for Bafana Bafana and for budding young stars to reach their goal of playing in the top leagues in Europe," Tinkler said.

Wits have given themselves a four-year deadline to start producing new talent for not just their club, but the country as well.

"In four years we want to see these 17-year-olds playing in the PSL, Bafana or overseas. That is the objective," said Tinkler, a former Bafana star who won a winner's medal in the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations final.

"We have looked at the situation as regards development in this country and found very little was being done, especially by Safa. So we have decided to do it ourselves.

"We have spent a fortune on building up our facilities and will not just teach the kids to play soccer, but we will bring in teachers to educate the players in the classroom as well."

In opening the new training facilities at the old Sturrock Park grounds on the Wits University campus yesterday, the Clever Boys' chief executive, Stan Whiting, outlined a plan for promising local youngsters to get a chance to reach their potential and receive an education at the same time.

"We have seen the way some really talented youngsters have gone off the rails when they make it big in the game. We want to guide them and teach them their responsibilities, both on and off the field when they are young, and developing their skills," Whiting said.

He also said the Dutch team, who recently qualified for the World Cup in South Africa next June, would be training at Wits University's east campus during the soccer showpiece.

"We have been working closely with the Dutch FA and our upgraded facilities are so good that a powerhouse like Holland are going to be training here during the World Cup." - Sapa

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