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What is wrong with football in the Mother City?

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Cape football is in a state of decline. Football writer Rodney Reiners looks at some of the possible reasons why. Photo by Shaun Roy

These are the bald facts: 2011, Vasco da Gama relegated from the PSL; 2012, Santos relegated from the PSL; February 2013, Ajax Cape Town and Chippa United in the bottom three on the standings.

There’s more: At the weekend, three Cape clubs – Ajax, Chippa and Milano – crashed out of the Nedbank Cup.

To eleborate the point further: Over the last few years, there has been a steady, worrying decline in Cape representation in Bafana Bafana squads.

It all suggests a definite downturn in the fortunes of football in the Mother City. And it’s a deterioration that should have club owners and administrators scurrying around for a solution. If not found, and the rot continues, a city so rich in raw talent and football tradition could disintegrate even further, and possibly leave it, embarrassingly, with no club in the PSL, the highest level of club football.

So just what has gone wrong? What are the problems?

Former top players, men who are still actively involved in the sport and follow it closely, weighed in on the subject, and they had some interesting opinions on the matter.

Mauritian Jean-Marc Ithier was a stalwart striker with Santos and played an influential role in the club winning the PSL title in 2001-2002. For him, the main problem is simple: “The way the modern game has evolved, football is a business. That is understood, but I think, often, because of this, clubs forget the football aspect of the sport. They become attached to the rands and cents, and forget the beauty and passion of the game.

“I think Cape clubs need to go back to the basics of football. Once they start enjoying the game again, and stop focusing on the money, then perhaps winning results and performances will follow.”

George Dearnaley, a former Bafana striker, played for AmaZulu in Durban and Seven Stars and Hellenic in Cape Town. He is currently the owner of Second Division side, Old Mutual.

He said: “Look at a club like Ajax Cape Town, they have probably the best talent identification programme in the country. But, at the moment, they are just developing players for rich clubs in the north. I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that because Ajax have always maintained that they are a selling club.

“But the problem is that when the best leave, there’s nothing to fall back on. The youngsters, who replace those who have left, as talented as they are, have no experience and quality to learn from at training and in game situations. As such, they are thrown in the deep end and this is why the team performs so inconsistently.

“I think what we are seeing now, at both Ajax and Santos, are the repercussions of a talent drain.”

Neven Payne, a former player with Hellenic and Santos, and a coach who has a Uefa A licence from the famous institute Lilleshall in England, agreed with Dearnaley and added a few thoughts of his own.

“I think Ajax have to realise that they cannot keep selling their best players and expect things to remain the same on the field,” said Payne.

“There will be consequences, disappointing ones, and this is what Ajax are experiencing at the moment.

“As for Santos and Vasco’s relegation from the PSL, well, to be honest, I don’t think either of those teams had any long-term vision.

“Take Santos... they are an old club, established in 1982, they won many trophies in the old Federation Professional League and they won the PSL title in 2002... yet never has the club built on any of that success. After 2002, they should have built the club into something special, they haven’t.”

As Dearnaley also suggests: “Too many Cape clubs plan only for short-term success, that is why eventually they all struggle in the long-term.”

Payne further stressed that the problem, perhaps, had even deeper roots than just the PSL clubs. He believed that, in the Cape, at amateur level, the city was losing far too many highly talented youngsters.

“Back in the old days, Cape football won virtually everything in national tournaments, but not any more. And, for me, having been involved in coaching at junior level, the over-age factor destroys many good players.

“Many 14-year-olds, for example, give up the game thinking they are not good enough to make it... but then it transpires that they have, in fact, been playing against 19 and 20-year-olds.

“Also, in the new South Africa, football has to compete against rugby and cricket, sports that enjoy great success, media attention and have fantastic financial rewards. If a youngster is talented enough in more than one sport, and he has to choose, rest assured, football loses.

“Another point to remember is that back when we were playing there was nothing else. Football was all that mattered. Today, there are so many other attractions for kids.

“It’s difficult to get kids to play these days. If football wants to attract talent, then perhaps officials need to look at marketing the sport better. It’s a big, wide world out there and everybody is competing for attention. Football needs to realise this.” - Cape Argus


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