Bafana defender Siyanda Xulu urges SA players to try their luck overseas

Mahlatse Mphahlele Sports reporter
Bafana Bafana defender Siyanda Xulu is one of the players in the national team who is based overseas.
Bafana Bafana defender Siyanda Xulu is one of the players in the national team who is based overseas.
Image: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Bafana Bafana defender Siyanda Xulu has urged South African players to get out of their comfort zones and try their luck in Europe to improve the senior national team. 

Xulu, who plays for little-known Turan Tovuz in the Azerbaijan Premyer Liqa, said African countries like Fifa World Cup semi-finalists Morocco are doing well because most of their players are based in Europe.

The only players based outside the country in the Bafana squad to face Morocco in their Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifier against the Atlas Lions on Saturday are Xulu, Luke le Roux (Varbergs BoIS, Sweden), Njabulo Blom (St Louis City, US), Mihlali Mayambela (Aris Limassol, Cyprus), Bongokuhle Hlongwane (Minnesota United, US) and Percy Tau (Al Ahly, Egypt). 

“I always thought plying your trade overseas gets you out of your comfort zone and it improves you as a player,” Xulu said as Bafana converged for the camp at University of Pretoria to start preparations for the Morocco match. 

“We are seeing now with Morocco, about 90% of their players are playing in Europe. That’s why they are able to compete at the highest level — it is one thing we need to make sure we try to do as South Africans.

“We need to import more players so we can compete with bigger countries. Those countries have more players playing in the Champions League and Europa League.

“They have that bit of advantage of playing competitive football week in and week out. When we play against them, we don’t have that much experience but as a country we need to take more players to Europe and compete in the big leagues.” 

Xulu, expected to be one of coach Hugo Broos' central defenders in the starting XI against Morocco, said the senior national team should have a majority of its players based in Europe. 

“For us to improve and compete with the so-called big countries, we need to have at least 60% or 70% of the squad competing in big leagues so that it is much easier to compete. 

“When you have six to seven players in your first XI who ply their trade overseas, they know how it's done and what it takes to win football matches at that level. 

“I think Morocco have done that well and that is why they were able to compete at the higher level at the World Cup. It is because they have so many players competing in higher leagues. 

“They have invested a lot in their football and taking it back to what [Al Ahli Saudi and former Bafana] coach Pitso Mosimane said earlier, he was brutally honest to say that we are still way behind. There is a lot of money that was spent in Morocco's game.

Xulu's well-travelled career has taken him from a start at Mamelodi Sundowns to three seasons for Rostov in Russia, then a return to the Premiership for Kaizer Chiefs and Maritzburg before a move overseas again to Hapoel Tel Aviv in Israel, then last year's move to Turan. 

“It was an interesting year for me [in Azerbaijan] — I was new and playing for a team from the lower division that was promoted to the premier division [ahead of Xulu's arrival].

“I think I did quite well, that’s why I have attracted interest from bigger clubs, which is good for me as a player. It is clubs in Azerbaijan, Turkey and a few in Saudi Arabia. 

“I would like to stay with Turan Tovuz because the league is quite good and we have so many good players who come from different countries and leagues. That makes the league competitive and we have three to four teams that play in the Europa League and Champions League. 

“It is a level where I would like to stay because I know that being fit and at the top of my game will benefit Bafana.” 

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