Playing on world stage is a no-brainer for SA players
If they really want to move to the next level they need to experience the higher intensity of overseas football
While the Premier Soccer League (PSL) has improved significantly in the past decade in terms of technical quality, the slowdown in players plying their trade abroad is being felt by our national structures.
The reasons fewer players are moving abroad are numerous, with the under-performance of the national team sullying the reputation of SA football to the watching world and the big pay packets local players can earn among the top two.
It has resulted in a struggling national team, with even Bafana Bafana’s qualification for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt made a much harder slog than it needed to be.
The progression of Banyana Banyana in recent years is the perfect example of why it is still important that our players broaden their football horizons.
It is no coincidence that at a time Banyana Banyana have gone from under-achievers to World Cup finalists, so has the number of their players plying their trade abroad increased.
Last season they had the key trio of Janine van Wyk, Linda Motlhalo and Thembi Kgatlana playing in the best domestic competition in women’s football – the National Women’s Soccer League in the US.
Goalkeeper Kaylin Swart and forward Jermaine Seoposengwe also played college football in the US, along with Kelso Peskin.
Refiloe Jane and Rhoda Mulaudzi featured for Canberra United in Australia, while Leandra Smeda turned out for Gintra-Universitetas in Lithuania, turning out in the UEFA Women’s Champions League.
Ode Fulutudilu was in Finland with ONS, and would have played a part at the African Women’s Championship in Ghana had club commitments not made her participation complicated.
In just a few years, Banyana, who played their last World Cup warm-up match at home against Jamaica in Durban on Sunday, went from virtually no overseas players to several, and the majority of them key players in the team.
I have spoken to just about all of the them over the past few years and they agree: the higher intensity of professional football compared with the amateur game in SA was not only a big eye-opener, but also a welcome boost to their careers.
They were forced to live, train and act like professionals, and to a player they felt it improved their game no end.
National team coach Desiree Ellis has also spoken at length about it, and she can see the difference in the players over a short time.
It is not just about the level of opposition they face, but also about learning off their own teammates with whom they train every day.
The World Cup will no doubt provide opportunities for others to play overseas, and that can only be a good thing for the future of the team.
Motlhalo and Kgatlana will play this season in China, Smeda in Sweden, and Fulutudilu has moved to Malaga in Spain, which will all provide further opportunities for growth.
The men’s national team is no different – look at who were the star performers in the side during Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers – Percy Tau, Lebo Mothiba and Kamohelo Mokotjo probably stood out the most. All play at a high intensity overseas.
That is not to say the PSL is not a strong league, but many players will only ever go so far in their careers by playing at that level.
After that they stagnate.
If they really want to move to the next level, then testing themselves on bigger and different stages is a must.Look at past Bafana players who are considered legends of the team for the contribution they made on the pitch. Just about every one of them spent a sizeable portion of their career abroad.Doctor Khumalo is probably the one that bucks that trend, though he did have brief spells in Argentina and the US.It is encouraging then to see that our latest crop of young hopefuls – the likes of Tashreeq Matthews, Luther Singh, Lyle Foster, Bradley Cross and Dean Solomons – are all already abroad.That can only be good for their football development and knowledge, and provide for a much stronger Bafana Bafana over the next five to 10 years.