Cape Town – It was rather ironic that two documentaries telling the story of two talented footballers and their fight against alcohol abuse were aired on the same day this week.
Incidentally, the stories are also about two of my all-time favourite footballers, who made me stand in front of the television before being screamed at to sit down because other people couldn’t see.
Paul Gascoigne and Jabu Pule are two of the most gifted footballers I have had the privilege of watching.
I remember “Gazza” in his prime for Tottenham Hotspur and England in the late 1980s and early 90s. The football field was his blank canvas and he filled it with bright colours every time he touched the ball.
His genius in the 1991 FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal is what led me to support Spurs in the first place. However, it was his love for the game that sealed the deal for me.
His passion for the game was also unbelievable, and I remember shedding a tear with him in the semi-final of Italia 90 after receiving a yellow card, which meant he would miss the World Cup final had England made it.
But then there was his temper, which often overshadowed his artistry on the football pitch. The red mist seemed to follow him throughout his career, with Gazza bringing an end to his 1991 FA Cup final against Nottingham Forest early on when trying to hurt an opponent.
The lesser-known Pule (on the world stage that is, not in Mzansi) is often talked about as being one of South Africa’s most skilful and talented footballers ever.
Veteran coach Muhsin Ertugral has actually said on record that he is the finest player he has ever coached.
“Shuffle” was like a magician on the ball, and like one of those pro yo-yo players he had the ball on a string and could do anything he wanted with it.
However, his affection for brandy and other spirits overshadowed a career that could have reached the heights of a Benni McCarthy or a Lucas Radebe.
And over the years there have been many players in South Africa whose career has followed a similar path.
Masibusani Zongo and Mbulelo Mabizela are the most well-known current players that have pissed their promising careers away. But there are many more players who are wasting their talents because of alcohol and substance abuse.
There is a saying that all geniuses are flawed.
But all geniuses also need guidance, and it’s time that the people running football in this country do more to protect our talented youngsters from falling by the wayside.
Most South African footballers come from very poor backgrounds and become rich and famous stars overnight. That’s why most of them are so comfortable to stay in South Africa instead of going overseas to become better players.
With all the attention they get here, it’s almost like a “big fish in a small pond” scenario. And that is usually where the trouble starts, because these players can’t properly deal with the attention.
South Africa produces some of the best juniors in the world, but in most cases the head honchos have failed to develop them as proper footballers. That is slowly being addressed at the moment. However, the next big challenge may be developing these footballers into proper human beings.
TWEETS OF THE WEEK
@sweswethomas (the Wits defender tweets after watching Pule’s documentary): What a sad story Jabu Pule, but guys we need to learn from this story of his, it empowers the youths n even older people, HIS STORY!!!!!
@GaryLineker (the former England striker tweets about another footballer who struggled with alcohol abuse): Really hope Gazza gets better. He was an unbelievably talented player and the funniest bloke I’ve ever worked with. Love him!
WHO TO FOLLOW
@fellainiM: New Manchester United signing Marouane Fellaini was ridiculed in the press for his performance in the Manchester derby. Follow the Belgium midfielder to check if he can cope with the pressure.
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