Bongani Zungu and Keegan Dolly are among the players to watch as they ply their trade in Europe. Photo:

JOHANNESBURG – If you have a calendar, preferably a hard copy as it has more dramatic effect than the one on your cell phone - mark down November 4 and December 20.

These two dates could see South Africans come up against each other in two of the top leagues in Europe, France’s Ligue 1 and Portugal’s Primeira Liga. 

On November 4, Keagan Dolly’s Montpellier takes on Amiens – Bongani Zungu’s new home after he completed a move from Vitoria de Guimaraes of Portugal on the last day of the transfer window. 

In Portugal more than a month later – on December 20, Sporting Lisbon, which Liam Jordan and Siphephelo Sithole call home, come up against Benfica, who signed Thabo Cele on a five-year contract.

The chances of seeing South Africans in the clash between Benfica and Sporting are slim as these youngsters need to work their way into the first team. 

But Dolly and Zungu, former teammates at Mamelodi Sundowns, are likely to come up against each other as they have established themselves in Europe. 

These five players represent a change in the South African football landscape.

Our players are once again attractive to Europe. If it wasn’t for a failed medical Rivaldo Coetzee would be with Scottish giants Celtic. 

Lebogang Manyama signed with Turkish side Konyaspor. Dolly and Zungu owe their moves to Europe to the exposure they got from playing in the CAF Champions League as well as traveling the continent with Bafana Bafana.

Bidvest Wits chief executive Jose Ferreira boasted that the club sold broadcasting rights to Egyptian media for a record fee for their clash against Africa’s Team of the Century, Al-Ahly. 

Interest on Phakamani Mahlambi from the Egyptian giants sparked from that two-legged clash in the Champions League. 

Dolly criss-crossed not only the continent but the world thanks to his involvement with Bafana, Sundowns in the Fifa Club World Cup and the Olympics with the national Under-23 team.

Dolly and Zungu’s progress in Europe can only develop our game as it inspires other players to follow in their footsteps. 

The mindset has shifted from teams like Sundowns, Chiefs and Pirates being the ultimate goal for youngsters. Those clubs are now, at best, a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

Sithole and Cele didn’t even need those clubs to go to Portugal. Heck, they didn’t need any club in the Premier Division to move abroad. The pair went straight from the KZN Academy to Portugal without playing professionally in the country of their birth. 

This shows the abundance of talent in the country, which needs clubs to ditch looking for talent only through agents and do it the old-fashioned way of having an efficient scouting network. 

Few clubs in South Africa have such a network – which results in them being force-fed mediocrity by agents who are out to make a quick buck.

Without disrespecting any of the diligent, hardworking and above-board agents, relying on them for finding talent is an unholy alliance because at the end of the day their driving force is about making money.

I have lots of respect for people like Themba Sithole, Mandla Mazibuko, Kwanele Kopo and James Mabena who scour the country and even the continent to find raw talent, nurture it and transform it to something special that shines for everyone to see.

The state of the transfer market, with ballooning figures, is unsustainable and not every club can compete. 

To counter that, clubs need to spend money in strengthening their scouting networks and development structures to nurture talent as that will bring more money when those players go abroad. 

This approach would be a smarter financial model for clubs that don’t stand a chance to win any of the trophies on offer, that are worth a combined R28 million.

Unlike winning a trophy, selling a player means the money made from the sale goes to the club and they don’t have to share it with the players like they do with cup winnings. 

Recycling washed-up players who have a list of former clubs longer than their list of honours doesn’t help anyone. But if you don’t do enough to search and refine talent, that’s what you will have to contend with.

I don’t have a hard copy of a calendar because I am not a dinosaur. 

But I can’t wait for a moment when almost every month we see a top clash or two in Europe featuring South African players.


Saturday Star

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